Thursday, 28 June 2012

Day 10: Bowling to Dunoon (Holy Loch) on 25Jun12

Well the story has traveled far and wide already and some of you have even seen it on the
RNLI's Helensburgh Lifeboat Station website
so there's no hiding the fact that we broke down in the middle of the Firth of Clyde. There's a story, of course there's a story... but you're going to have to wait for the full version. Here are the bare bones...

We set off from the Bowling Sea Lock shortly after 1600, a little ahead of the top of the tide at 1725. Our sweet, warm send-off party (Jimmy, Gerry, Colin & Anne) had immediate validation of the furrows on their brows as I turned 50 yards out of the lock and sailed directly over the breakwater (it stands well above water at low tide) instead of proceeding to the exit. What they couldn't see that we were greeted, on exit, by an enormous wave, the wake of a passing tug. I had no choice but to turn and meet it head on or we would have been flipped before we even left to wreck dock. The wee yacht that came out with us was tossed about like a paper cup.

But there we were, off at last. That beautiful river all about us and the exhaust roaring in our ear (Jimmy has made a high extension for tidal waters). Our trusty crew for the day was Mike Storry, Adrian and Billy Billy Billy... singing in the galley again; oh Peccadillo was smiling. At Dumbarton Rock we tested the radio back to Bowling and Alec said the signal was weak so we tested it on the Clyde Coastguard. It's quite something getting past the embarrassment of talking on the vhf radio (yes sweeties, even for me). I mean
Clyde Coastguard Clyde Coastguard Clyde Coastguard 
This is Peccadillo Peccadillo Peccadillo
You just feel like such a pratt. But as the communications progress you come to grasp the reason for all the formality... the form of it that makes it clear who's saying what when in the rush of wind and water... and the roar of the engine. Mike found this exhaust noise most disconcerting and Adrian, and engineeery sort, began to suggest all sorts of baffle solutions. But me? The closer I am to the heartbeat of my engine the happier I am, and she was running so sweet I didn't mind the noise at all.

Anyway, the Coastguard were reading us loud and clear and indeed, just 5 minutes later asked us for assistance as a member of the public had reported seeing 2 adults and 2 children on a raft off Langbank. Ohhh it was GRAND to have a mission, and we duly scoured the horizon (unfortuately looking directly into the sun). Now Langbank is a really shallow piece of water... long banks were built at right out into the wide shallow Clyde to force the water down the main shipping channel and so keep it clear. With Peccadillo's 2' draft we were able to search well beyond the shipping lane though the tide was dropping so we couldn't take too many chances (having used up our luck for the day sailing over the breakwater...).

We never did find the raft though we did see some old timber posts that could easily have been mistaken for people... we abandoned the search and carried on. The sea was slight but the wind, between a F2 and a F3 began to make a nuisance of itself as the tide turned against it. For any other vessel it would be a giggle but the wind resistance and uncomfotable water makes the engine work doubly hard and I decided that it would indeed be Sanbank (Dunoon) and not Rothesay (as we had tentatively hoped) that we aimed for this night. The engine is the bottom line for me and I've come to know when she's working hard... as Joe says, just continuously running that engine for 5, 6, 7 hours... it adds up. The temperature was sitting lovely and I just kept the throttle comfortable but that dastardly wind kept our speed below 5 knots (over the ground), even when the tide started to trundle.

As we passed the Coastguard at Greenock point the sea began to rough up a bit. Although the recorded wind was still relatively slack, there seem to be ribbons of fast stuff that whip along, and then there was the wash, broadside, of those blasted ferries. Anyway, Pecc was managing it all well, but after nearly 5 hours of uncomfortable water I wanted to check the prop shaft coupling (on the nastiness of the Forth a couple of bolts came loose). I asked Mike to ease back on the throttle, count to five (to let the prop shaft stop spinning so I could look at it) and then carry on.

Here was the mistake. As the throttle slowed some shaken up sludge settled in the pipe, and as he opened it again it shlurped up against the lift pump filter and blocked it. The engine died. This is the first time I've heard that sound in 12 years (apart from the time I ran out of diesel). Nothing I could do would get her going again, bearing in mind that getting into the fuel line is out of the question as it is a mighty mission to bleed this baby. Indeed it took the mechanic and I six hours to do so the next day... Joe remotely diagnosed the problem immediately but even after we'd cleared the lift pump we kept heading off on one investigative red herring after another because we couldn't start her... even though the engine was turning over ok. But that was just it... she's a pig to bleed. Won't stop once she's going, but won't start once there's air in the line.

Anyway, blah de blah you're saying, what about he drama bit... Mike called in the Pan Pan (step before mayday - to warn other vessels to stay clear). The police launch was upon us in minutes because we were strategically bobbing in the MOD Submarine lane. They offered to tow us but the Coastguard said they'd prefer us to wait for the RNLI boat from Helensburgh. Peccadillo was beginning to rock rather wildly with the waves from the ferries and passing tankers and I had to ask the Police boat to shield us from them at one point. Note to self: priority in a situation like this to perhaps get the dinghy in the water to try and hold the bow to the waves... she naturally swings broadside and begins to roll really uncomfortably.

The miraculous RNLI men, Robin, Davie and Chris, were there within half an hour... in fact I think it might even have been less, and the Coastguard watched the whole drama unfold from their window! Mike and Adrian leapt into impressive action and Billy defused some of my tension with his unassailable good cheer... the bastard LOVES adventure... I don't think I'll take him again cos I want a BORING trip.

I sent a silent thank you to Jimmy, Scott and Davie Brown with who's help and advice I had attached, with great difficulty, a HUGE tow-rope right the way round the boat (danger of towing a boat like Pecc is that she can just split... or things snap off). What a mission it was but I think the whole setup made it clear to the RNLI that I had approached the journey with every possible caution, and they didn't give me a hard time at all.

Sooooo, as we hurtled into Dunoon at 6.5 knots and Stevo and the Dunoon gang set out to meet up with us in their boat, everyone was just so kind, and so busy, and so enjoying the adventure that the abject humiliation dissipated long before we got there. I marvelled at the energy of these magnificent men in their shiny yellow boots and space-age helmets; at the alacrity and strength of Mike and Adrian skipping over the top of the barge, at the indominable good mood of that Billy boy and at the relentless encouragement I've had from one and all to keep going.

But as this was all going on I stood stunned at the stern... the first time in 12 years that she has so much as missed a beat and this is fundamental to my journey. I dropped down and tried one thing after another... tried again and again to start her... sinking in disbelief. Yes I had cleaned the diesel tanks... I do it every spring (this comment for any of you who might be considering putting yourself in mortal danger by suggesting as much) and I now have a contingency plan for this event. 

But the whole escapade has shaken and drained me beyond measure. Pecc feels tired too, though she warmed to our carresses the next day, Dr Stewart and I as we gently explored every bolt and wire, pipe and charge till she was sitting snug and sweet, purring again and ready to go.

To go? Where do I draw the line between adventure and irresponsibility? I have passed hundreds of boats on my journey so far... less than 1% of them moving. Dare I say the report on the RNLI website was a little pleased to have been involved (not a single canal barge callout since they opened in 1965). And here I am on MY Peccadillo in DUNOON! It's stunning... and I'm going to stop and think... for a week at least. A big think sweeties... what to do... I'm just sooooooo tired after all this preparation and trying to get the money in.... need to rest and think

and write.


Anyway... by way of therapy I did do some writing in Dunoon


Reach for the stars
and feel the ground dissolve beneath your feet.

Watch, wide eyed, as the hard facts of your life
slip out from under your searching toe
and you are left clinging to the spar of the billowing sail
of an unknown yacht
shaft of an arrow let loose to cry

Fade to mist in the suck and blow that is
the air in your lungs,
questionable existence
questioning resistance
to the one hard fact...
that you are everything and nothing

even the questions are no longer your own

all you can do

is keep breathing

Friday, 22 June 2012

Midsummer: Where am I?

Where is Peccadillo and what's going on?
Forgive me the tardiness in blogging but to be honest? I hit a little bit of a brick wall this week. I have been teaching from Monday to Wednesdays (IT Tutor with the Community Department of the City of Glasgow College - finish up next week, phew!) all the way through the journey so far, hosting commercial charters on weekends (what wild and wonderful clients I have had... could this be called work???) to raise money for the trip, organising and partaking in hearty celebrations at the Glasgow (Olypic Flame) and Dunoon (6th International Burns) parties. Colin & Anne (of Missee barge with whom I sail next week) have given up trying to speak to me as I am inveriably hurtling through whenever they catch a glimpse. A positive blur. How about lunch said Anita and I just laughed maniacally in her face saying YEAH, MEBBE AUGUST! (I have since apologised). Between these I have been martialing ongoing hospital appointments (another good blood result, yay!) and trying to get final trappings sorted on Peccadillo for sea state. (yes yes I know sea state is a windy term but i like it for the sense of boat readiness.)

Peccadillo is in Bowling. Gales prevented us from getting to Dunoon for the party (sadly we had to drive there; fantastic bash Billy, but most of the videos need to be censored... Mario!). (The pipers won the competition on Saturday by the way - hurrah!!!) Weather-wise we then missed a wee window this week between relentless lows (they are coming one after another and look for all the world like a stirng of beads that the gods are dragging carelessly across the pressure chart - problems with the jet stream apparently?) They bring gales and nastiness blasting from the east, and as they ease the wind turns West North West agains the outgoing tide that we need to carry us down (wind against tide = waves and we've had our share of those thanks!)

While I have been teaching on Monday's to Wednesday's the water has been like glass, but as Thursdays come so do the winds. There have been brief windows but there's a danger of, even if we make it to the Holy Loch or one of these other posh marinas, getting stuck there for 10 days... at £40/day. It's a sickening sum though I'm beginning to think I might need to bite the budget and risk it.

A window is opening up at last... we will drop to the bottom of the Bowling sea lock on Saturday night, spend the night in there with the gates open and set off with the 0405 high tide. Unless the predictions deviate ENORMOUSLY before then... and it is, after all, the west coast of Scotland so of course they could...

So, speak to you from Dunoon and beyond (hello to the new Russians and Mexicans following this blog!). There should be an article in the Scotland on Sunday this weekend (more about the wee spark but hope Peter mentions Clyde to Caledonia... bet you anything there will be a picture of RICHIE!) and the radio show of course... though I'm a little embarrassed to say until it's in the bag as so many of you had your ear clamped to the radio at 0630am last Saturday! Sorry!

Finally I'd like to share a piece I put together at the Bank Street Writers poetry group on Wednesday. The exercise was to look for inspiration from a piece of writing and then see where it takes you. This one grabbed me, conjured up images of the Custom House on the canal at Spiers Wharf, and the CC life lesson of having been brought to a complete halt by the elements (my schedule is as nothing in the face of the wind - I am sooooooooo not in control any more!). Yes that's right; they put the custom house on the CANAL because this WAS the hub of imports, not the poor old Clyde and the vagaries of it's shallows. This piece also puts me in mind of those I bring with me on this journey, some passed and some here, but all equally present to me. Ray, Pete, Nick (who has now been ordained and his new name is Mai Tri Siddhe), Daz with whom I have been sharing some existential angst and our Johnno who has hurtled off into the beginnings of his breathtaking cycle round an inordinately large piece of America. And John Cochrane for whom we take a song and a prayer to the Corryvreckan as he begins a journey much more arduous than ours.


 La casa deidoginieri - by Eugenio Montale (exerpts)
"The Customs House" - translation by Allam Cameron

Libeccio sferza da aani le vecchie mura
The salted wind whips against the ancient walls

La bussola va impazzita all 'avventura
The compass spins and madness calls

Ed io non so chi va e chi resta
I do not understand who goes and who stays


salted wind on ancient walls
compass spins madness calls
and none of us can know
who goes
who stays

chi va e chi resta

Friday, 8 June 2012

Day 6: The Dark One on the Forth

The day started lightheartedly...

... but after the Kincardine Bridge things went desperately dangerous in a terrible sea... tide ripping out East and the wind gusting well against it, stronger than a force 4, ENE... and we were trying to head ESE to the mouth of the Carron. Donald and Geordie had returned to escort us in the rib but as things chopped up they had to cast off and keep their distance for fear of damaging the rib.

Most of the other boats had been through this water ahead of us, Gamebird being the most remarkable with her tiny dimensions... they were all safely in the sea lock except Colin's cruiser that had stuck in the mud under the M9.  Donald estimates the waves were approaching 1.2m and there wasn't a thing he could do but look on. Peccadillo went so well... rode those waves and took on very little water, and didn't break so much as one mug...but this was not supposed to be the scary bit! I've been so busy passage planning the west coast I'd thought to just tag along on this one! The crew was not safe and sea protection kit was not in place. As we headed for Bo'ness I tried to turn to starboard a couple of times, making for the Carron, but this created such a dangerous roll that at one point the prop left the water and Donald says he had a clear view of the underside of the bows... about a 35 degree list. I radioed the rib to say "I cannot turn"... not knowing for a minute what I thought they could do about it. But at this Donald shot across the bows and raced some figures of eight that momentarily flattened the surface... long enough for me to swing my stern to the wind... and the danger was over.

I'm not proud of any of this. I have been mightily humbled and am grateful for the lesson.

We'd missed the tide for the Carron so moored up on the mud at the yacht club till 2330 when we had enough water to get into the sea lock.

And guess what. Having survived that godforsaken sea and broken not so much as a teacup... as we returned to the sea lock I lost reverse throttle and hit the wall... Everything fell... Went below to find glass everywhere, a candle had started a small fire (the yacht club was only half a mile from the Sea Loch so we had stood down the sea-readiness and had dinner) and it took us till 0330 to clean up. (This after helping Donald pull Colin's cruiser in).

Anyway, pecc hull is fine but I cannot get the throttle mechanism to work...  we wrestled her back to Auchinstarry and I have a charter on today to do day 8, auch to glasgow... We can limp that. But I discovered in tidal waters that she overheated... Resolution to all this? I need to put the big gearbox in, replace all cables and mebbe get a new morse control a new engine... a new story... And all I want to do is sleep... I'm so tired. It almost feels a relief to decide I'm gonna have to call in a mechanic now, but money money money has been flying out in all directions.

Having said that, money has also been coming in, along with warm wishes... There were pats on the back aplenty on the canal bank as the story travelled from east to west... I feel full and still and small in a way that perhaps you only can having stood more terrified than I thought imaginable watching the bows in front of me drop eight feet into solid dark sea. But she rose every time and braved those waves better than I...

... I wet my pants just a little bit.

Day 5: Stirling to Grangemouth in the Jubilee Flotilla

While 1000 boats prepared to assault the Thames our flotilla of 7 canal boats and 12 ribs dwindled... but we set off in more wind than we wanted and made our way to an Idyllic evening in Stirling city centre where the povost promised pontoons would be set up for future visitors... hurrah!!!

Peccadillo played host to

Clackmannanshire Council (01259 452011)
Provost Tina Murphy
Depute Provost, Councillor Irene Hamilton
Councillor Donald Balsillie (Ward 2, Clackmannanshire North)
oh, and Davie Jones... but we were keeping quiet about him.
Yes really... Davie Jones.

Stalwart crew of the day were Billy, Amy and Mario.

Day 4: Falkirk to Grangemouth

Getting ready for we knew not what.

cc +18: Thoughts on a Hot Day with Richie

This was after dropping the Blackies off after their trip. What a day!

cc +14: Falkirk Wheel 100

This journey with Alma Duncan and family was Peccadillo's 100th trip on the Falkirk Wheel. Those bits of film need a little editing though Carolina!

cc +12: Engine Repairs at the Falkirk Wheel

A long night at the wheel.