Tor Bay or not Tor Bay, that was the question.

Sometimes it doesn't go to plan, and sometimes the backup plan doesn't work either! So go prepared, and prepare for the unexpected also.

A few people have said they'd heard I'd had some challenges recently, so I thought I'd share the story for those who hadn't.

Plan A: With a NE F4 what better than a trip across Lyme bay to Brixham. What a seemingly fantastic start. After a 10am pass through the inner passage, the Bill was soon disappearing into the haze. With my newly acquired (second hand) spinnaker set, my little boat was making 6.5 to 7 knots - this is close to maximum hull speed - it never goes this fast! It looked like a record passage was going to be made. Lunch in the sun. Life was good.

Sadly, it was downhill from here on.... yes that F4 became F3, then 2, then 1 then flat calm... the spinnaker hung limply like the proverbial washing on the line, and the mainsail and boom swung uncomfortably from side to side as the boat rolled in the gentle swell. There is only so much of that state I can put up with, so time for:

Plan B: With about 12 miles left to run to Brixham, this should be comfortably covered in 3 hours with the little Sabb 10hp single cylinder diesel thumping away. The autohelm could take care of the less interesting motoring - what could possibly go wrong? Well it was timed to perfection... having got established in the 'heads' so to speak, the autohelm decided to its final hour had come and just encouraged the boat to go round in circles. Not ideal in the circumstances! I have another autohelm, but that only works with a wind vane - not much use with no wind! I'm not sure what stopped me chucking them both over the side. But it didn't end there; the speed of the engine was falling... full throttle did no good... sure enough it slowly petered out and silence engulfed me.

Well actually you'd probably have heard the swearing in Lyme Regis! The next few hours were spent checking and replacing fuel filters with those spares you carry and hope not to have to use whilst at sea. There wasn't any evidence of a blockage and nothing more than a teaspoonful of water in the separator - as you'd hope considering all the regular maintenance had previously been done. The only idea I could come up with was that there may have been more water in the separator previously, and during some rather violent weather with F8 gusts a couple of weeks earlier, it had been passed on through the system? So completing the bleeding bleeding of the fuel line the engine burst into life... at last... but, not for long... 20 minutes latter back to square one. It would run at tick over and make about half a knot at best. Hopeless!

By now I had a very light breeze, but it was dark and I was running out of steam. Time for:

Plan C: Heave-to (one thing these old cruising boats do do well). Go down below and cook dinner. Eat dinner. Get some sleep with regular 'look-outs'.

Well no problem being woken up regularly.... I have an AIS receiver on my radio and an alarm can be set to alert of any converging vessels (that have AIS transmitters of course) - its amazing how many foreign fishing boats operate just outside the 12 mile territorial limits!!! One wonders what is wrong with the water on their side of the channel?

In the morning with a fairly descent breeze from the East, it was time to beat east and head for home. Well 6 hours of favorable tide allowed slow, but steady progress to about 6 miles south of Portland Bill, where you guessed it, the tide turned to join the wind in my face.... starboard-tack due north, port-tack due south... at best! I was not going to be allowed past... I had to wait - Yes, pretty much 6 hours of that until the tide changed again.

Finally, it seemed that I was able to make good progress again... shot past the Shambles at lightning speed... Portland harbour, then the lights of Weymouth in sight. It might be dark, it might be late, but home was almost in reach. But, alas, that wind I had fought against for the last 12 hours was coming to an end... it died a steady death until the only progress was the small remaining flow of the tide pushing me gently along. I tried the sick engine again... yes slow tick over and about half a knot was all that it could provide.... in short bursts for 5 minutes... well, 4 minutes... no 3.... 2.... and that is when the tide changed again and I was now gently starting to reverse back south-west towards the infamous and building tidal-race! Time for:

Plan D: There was no option here - Anchor! Fortunately I was prepared for occasions that I hoped would not be too frequent - I carry a 60m anchor warp which I can connect to my 20m of chain, which made stopping in 25m or so of water quite practical. By now it was gone midnight and getting rather fed up with the effort required to go nowhere, I thought I might as well see if any returning fishing boats could oblige with a tow. A call to all vessels - nothing... a call with both DSC and by name on Ch16 to a passing fishing boat - no reply.... and yes my radio was working just fine as Solent CG heard by attempts to make contact and offered to make a call on my behalf - needless to say nobody replied to them either - Thanks you local guys! So, to pass the time there was nothing else to do than systematically strip the complete fuels system... this was not actually that pleasant as the boat was rolling quite a bit even with the mainsail set as a damper' and the smell of diesel whilst squeezing into the remote spaces under the cockpit lockers was getting quite strong.... however, perseverance often pays, and at 3am I won, and had it running again. A small compression fitting joining two sections of fuel pipe was blocked... solid... really solid! It required some force to clear it out. It must have slowly built up over the years and like 'the last feather that broke the camels back', the last bit of muck lurking in the tank filled the remaining passage.

It was surprisingly hard work pulling the anchor back up - 20m of chain with the anchor dangling on the end, all being lifted in one vertical line is about 50Kg!! However, 4am finally back on mooring. Head down... woke at 11am! Time to tell my boss I wasn't coming to work this Monday! (Fortunately he is very understanding!)

Conclusion: You can do all the specified maintenance, carry all the tools, spares and equipment you like (and should), but it isn't always going to be easy! But, the good times more than make up for the bad.

PS Sorry no pictures. From leaving Portland Bill, due to haze or darkness, there was nothing to see at all other than the immediate patch of water surrounding me... two days later PB light was just visible in the twilight again... then another dark night!

Submitted on Tuesday, 5th October