My worst week in Yachting

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So with hindsight I would have done things very differently. The following few lines briefly fill you in on the drama that was my most challenging week in yachting.

I had just taken on the new role as captain on a Swan 80’FD. I had been a yachtmaster for 6 years and run some really nice private yachts including a 56’ Swan, but this was a great career step for me! I had been given just over a month to get from Villefranche to the BVI’s to meet the owner for his Christmas charter. The flush deck 80 had been my dream yacht ever since I saw Selene 6 years before and I was very excited about the challenge ahead!.

I put the crew together for the trip and we finally signed the yacht over after a week of admin hold ups. We noticed the sails looked a little worn so I ordered a new main and jib to meet us in the Caribbean and got ready to leave!.

The weather looked petty good and we got under way, that’s when things started to go pair shaped.

An hour after leaving the dock we started getting battery alarms, one of the delivery crew was an 18 year old lad who was a wizard with electrics, electronics and computers so he quickly narrowed it down to the bank and load tested the cells. It was apparent that both of the banks needed replacing, I certainly did not have time to stop and wait weeks for the new batteries so I ordered 2 new banks and had them shipped to St Maarten and carried on.

As we left the shelter of the land at Hyeres I finally got to feel what the fuss was about, it was awesome! We were reaching along with 2 reefs at 13 knots with a fixed grin on our faces… for about 25 minutes. I heard a dirty great ripping sound I looked up to see the main was slowly tearing meter by meter in vertical strips down the leach, before I could call for hands on deck to help me drop, the mainsail ripped across at the 2nd batten and all that was holding it together was the luff tape and the leach line.

We dropped the Mainsail and set about trying to stitch it back together while rolling on our way… 15 hours later it was in one piece and back on the boom. It looked like my nan’s patch work blanket but the 4 guys who had stitched it back together had done a great job! By this stage the forecast that I had been expecting (25 from the North West) was a little off, we were seeing 40 to 50 knot gusts and a sustained 30! I slowly bore away to reduce the load and started heading to the safest escape port of ‘Ibiza’. Port control gave me a nice space but with a beam on breeze blowing 30knots, I’m not sure why I ignored his instructions, but I went and took the easiest spot I could find. As we were docking the bow thruster tripped out after 7 seconds… fortunately we were not depending on it, but had I gone where we were directed we would have looked very ordinary. Once docked we checked the problem, there was tinfoil wrapped around the fuse!?!. And it burned out a relay.

So the party island of ‘Ibiza’ in November is not what you see on the music videos, a relief for me but a huge disappointment for the crew who after a day and a half of hell could really have done with a blow out. We fixed what we could and got on our way. The next day we finally had some good luck, we had a 4 day window of no wind to get out of the med! The first evening the Mate came in and woke me saying we we’re taking on water! Floor boards up and the finger dip test it was salt and there was lots of it! The bilge pump took 15 minutes to get it to a level we could see where it was coming from. The engine had holes EVERYWHERE the biggest leak was coming from the heat exchanger. I am since to find out, that the Yacht had spent a year on the hard before our owner bought it and the engine was not flushed and the year before that it had sat in a marina with nobody onboard. With epoxy putty we filled the holes on the engine and with bits of rubber and hoes clips we managed to stop the water from coming out. I then got my 18 year old sparky to tell me what was going on. Within 24 hours he had found 4 fairly large earth leaks and resolved them. As we turned the corner at Gibraltar and started to head to the Canary Islands the wind came up to 15 knots on a 090 degree true wind angle. Full main and full jib. 11 knots of boat speed and we could feel the weather getting warmer almost hour by hour.

We had a great 48 hours, I was relaxed in the cockpit when I heard a BANG, it sounded like someone had hit the deck with a hammer, I jumped up and ran forwards not knowing what to expect, fortunately sat on the deck was a lump of Stainless steal the size of a tennis ball?! Looking up it was clear it was the end fitting from the goose neck pin. So the only thing holding the pin in was friction and we had the mainsail up!

I got a mallet and a G-clamp and set about dropping the mainsail again. It came down with no issue and we carried on our way. I called the rig manufacture in Finland and it was going to be a 3 week delivery for the part so I got straight on the Sat phone to a machinist in the UK and told him what I needed and said I would be there to pick it up in 2 days.

Arriving under jib and engine in Gran Canaria. Exhausted from doing watches and trying to keep the boat in one piece we came in to dock, my partner was furling the Jib away when I got a whiff of oil and almost simultaneously the furler stopped.  “F*#%ing Fantastic, what next?” The engine room was hosed with Hydraulic oil from the ceiling to the bilge. We docked and the whole crew spent the rest of the day cleaning up the mess while I ran off to find the correct Hydraulic oil and booked a return flight for the next day to collect my goose neck pin.

At 6pm the crew we’re sat on the dock having a few beers, I flushed the toilet and went to join them but as I walked past my bunk I saw it was moving and lifting! I pulled back the mattress half expecting to see someone hiding there as a joke but unfortunately not, black water sprayed up and hit the leather roof lining, covered the bed and worse yet covered me from the waist up!. Long story short, the crew before us had removed the sensors from ALL the black water tanks so when the tanks were full they just kept filling, the tank top blew off and the black water was released into my bed at 4bar!.

Thankfully I had a great crew, we had no complaints from anyone! They put down their beers and spent the next 5 hours cleaning the whole area again.

I learned a few very valuable lessons from this.

-My preflight checks are great but if it’s an unfamiliar boat I would always sea trial for a few days before committing to a long trip like that.

-Regardless of what the surveyor says, find out a full history of any yacht. All of this could have been avoided with a full background check on the equipment history.

-Badly maintained systems are not something that I will tolerate. All but one of the issues we had on route could have been avoided with better preventative maintenance.

The following 11 day crossing was not much better with water pumps failing / more rips in the mainsail and the main sheet cover breaking on the captive winch.

At the end of the 6 months that followed I was rewarded with a fantastic boat. Despite being some of the longest hours and the most uncomfortable hard work I have done, I learnt a lot about the crew and the yacht. I stayed with that yacht for another 2 and a half years and had some of the best sailing of my life!

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Jodie Richards

Jodie Richards

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