Sunday, August 11, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 1-2 July 2013 Clew Bay

Making way out of Clew Bay. Well, sort of.


Aleria on her mooring in Clew Bay
Greetings friends! We're off to Scotland, well sort of. As usual, it's a bit of a story.

It’s been a while since Aleria took off on an extended trip, and it has been an interesting couple of years for Alex and me.  If you recall, we arrived in Ireland after crossing the Atlantic for the third time and started cruising up the coast when a big old heavy wooden fishing trawler ploughed into Aleria broadsides while she was at anchor.  We were thankfully ashore. So, Aleria went to the Shannon for repairs while we started a new business to keep us busy.

A year later in 2011, we got her back, better than ever and cruised the islands off the coast of Ireland in our home waters.  We went to Galway for the Volvo Ocean Race finale, sailed to the magical Aran Islands, then
Inishturk, Inishbofin, Caher and Clare.


Then 2012 brought interesting challenges. Our business secured some government funding and we got to work on the infrastructure on a joint development project with Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), which kept us busy. Then Alex’s sister went through a separation, I totaled my car, his stepsister got very ill while visiting from New Mexico, his mother broke her leg and got severe shingles at the same time, and while the latter two were happening I was lecturing in Cincinnati, Ohio on a 3-day round-trip. When I got back, Alex and I moved into Ross House and set up an infirmary. It was a long dark fall and winter.

If that wasn't enough, over the winter of 2012, Aleria suffered debacle number two.  Aleria was snug in her cradle on the foreshore in front of our house, when a freak westerly hurricane force storm filled our bay with so much water that the sea rose well above the normal spring tide levels and covered our road for much of the day. When the sea receded, we realized it had pushed the cradle forward and when Aleria sat back down, the straps were stuck under the shaft, bending the shaft and propeller, and shattering the stern tube.  Oh, woe is us!


Cranes lifting Aleria onto Westport Quay for repairs
In the spring, we ordered two cranes to haul Aleria up onto the Quay in Westport so we could make repairs. There was no other choice. Peter MacD kindly towed us into Westport on the rising tide with MultiMac. Timing was critical. The cranes were to be there to lift us out before the tide went out as the Quay dries out on the low tide.  But when we got to Westport, the Quay was deserted. A mobile call came through, one crane was stuck on a job in Castlebar and the other was stuck on a road that was closed due to a traffic accident fatality. We were screwed. So we tied Aleria to the Quay with ropes off the top of the masts to points well away onshore and went off to dinner and to pray.  There was little else we could do.

When we got back in the morning, she was sitting upright in the water at the Quay but there were broken ropes at the mast top. We eventually figured out that she had gently laid over as she sank in the deep mud when the water ran out, and the ropes were overburdened at the new angles. When the tide came back in, she just floated back up to the dock where her docklines thankfully held securely. Oh well.  Bit of mud to clean off the hull but no bother.  No damage, no worries. The cranes came, lifted her out and she became the season’s tourist attraction on the Quay.

A shipwright from Galway was to do the work, but he got so busy he couldn’t come up. So Alex got to work on his own.  With step by step consultation from our Kiwi shipwright, Steve Morris, as well as help from friends, Alex rebuilt the stern tube, replaced the shaft and reinstalled the feathering Max Prop after it was straightened and reground up in Northern Ireland.  Then he faired and painted the whole thing. It looked really great and our friend, Jarlath Cunnane of s/v Northabout, a certified surveyor, conducted routine 'inspections' along the way. 

Aleria towering on the Quay - she made quite a tourist attraction!
The number of people who stopped by to the “megayacht” on the Quay was astounding. From friends checking on the progress, to tourists who had heard there was a megayacht in Westport, to casual joggers and day trippers, everyone wanted to see the big sailboat on the Quay and learn its story to retell on a another occasion. It’s the kind of thing a small town waits for and feeds on.  She did look pretty big up there all alone.

Just as the cranes were to lift us back in, one of them broke resulting in a six week nail-biting delay until we could relaunch and see if the repairs held? Was the PSS shaft seal correctly installed? Was the shaft balanced in the stern tube? Was the Max Prop correctly adjusted and properly weighted?  These were precision fixes and any one of them could have gone awry.

They dropped us in the water, we started the engine, Alex put her into gear, and Aleria started to glide in reverse. Okay, the prop is on right.  I opened the floor boards and inspected the shaft – tiny drip as required, but no major leak. Great! We are not sinking.  Alex swiveled her around in the tight channel, and put her in forward.  No vibration. The shaft is balanced. Now all we had to do was negotiate the shallow channel and make it home before the tide went out and blocked our access to the mooring.  We have 15 foot tides here.  Gotta get it right.

As it turns out, we got her in just fine and there is less vibration than ever before.  So, we’re out a few euros. But Alex is very proud; as well he should be, of another monumental job well done! He is amazing.
Of course that meant that all the other jobs had been postponed. New Raymarine autopilot needed to be installed, along with AIS, GPS routed to the VHF radio, and a galley sump.  Radio/CD player and speakers would have to wait.  The brightwork, which we had paid a huge sum to redo from scratch last year, had weathered terribly and looked just awful. I’d have to start from scratch, sanding down to bare wood and starting over.

But there wasn’t time to get that done before departure even though we'd had two weeks straight of no rain. Unheard of.  We were to celebrate my birthday 29th June, go to the Westport Music Festival 30th June to see a full day of concerts, culminating with Squeeze, Imelda May, and Elvis Costello, then move onboard 1st July and leave on the 2nd weather permitting. Good plan.

Squeeze - same as ever! Black coffee in bed...
Imelda May -  What an entertainer! 

Elvis Costello - a bit past due date. 

Did I mention that a week before departure, Alex woke up in agony with his biceps spasming. He had had a big cramp while racing with Mayo Sailing Club the night before. Now his muscles were contracting without reason.  And his arm was turning black and blue.  I forced him to go see his GP, and suggested that it might be a side effect of statins, the cholesterol lowering drugs. His doctor concurred and took him off Inegy. The contractions continued for days. I knew this was a possible reaction, but I did not realize just how debilitating it could be. And most people don't make the connection. Co-Q10 is supposed to help prevent this and some of the other adverse effects of statins like rash.

Torn bicep due to adverse effect of statins exacerbated by winching!

And did I mention that at the same time, my right hand swelled up at the middle knuckle and got so painful I could not open a jar or grip a rope. So I went to my GP who suspected sudden onset rheumatoid arthritis, but thankfully ruled it out with blood tests.

So here we were, Alex with no right arm, me with no right hand, both very right handed. What are we to do? Shove off and go sailing? Of course. That'll make us forget about it all. Right?

We had booked our good friend, Siobhan Garrigan, to stay in our house and feed the beasties (five kittens adopted us last year) while we were gone. So our departure date of July 1 was rather fixed.

Except the 1st of July a gale was forecast to blow through during the night. So we thought we’d make a big dinner to welcome Siobhan and celebrate her new appointment to a Chair at Trinity in Dublin.  A bottle of Dom Perignon we’d been saving seemed fitting for the occasion and a rather enjoyable evening made the gale seem uneventful.

We made a trip out with gear the next morning 2 July, turned on the generator to cool the refrigerator, and returned home for the final load of provisioning and Onyx, our cruising kitty. On the way back, Alex’s mother, Meike, called and said, “Why is there smoke coming from your boat?” She can see the boat from her house. Alex said, “It’s probably just exhaust, but we’re on our way.” When we got there, it was clearly not exhaust.  Alex jumped onboard and shut off the genset. The entire cabin was full of black sooty smoke.  I tied up the dinghy and jumped aboard ready to grab extinguishers.

After much investigation, it turned out that we had sucked a jellyfish into the intake, which caused the genset to overheat, and a hose carrying coolant exploded into the bilge.  Alex thought the impeller in the water pump must have melted, too. So he took it all apart. But after calling local suppliers, we realized there was no way to get replacement parts in our area. We still had an engine and could charge batteries, so we opted to get going anyway.

I contacted our friend Simon in Scotland and asked if there was any place near them that might have a good marine supply source. He gave me a number which Alex called right away.  They had 1.5 inch hose that might do, so we reserved it for when we could get there along with two gallons of fresh antifreeze.
We tried to stow and straighten up as best we could with tools everywhere.

Aleria taking on water at Inishturkbeg

We made our way to Inishturkbeg where Johnny and Mandy kindly allowed us to take on a supply of fresh water. It was flat glass calm. When we left ITB, our flags were limp. We thought we’d be motoring a fair bit.  By the time we reached Inishgowla, still within the inner Bay, it was blowing 25 knots gusting 35, so we dropped anchor to wait it out. 

The Irish Coast Guard finally came on the radio to announce a change in the weather forecast. Seems that to the north and south conditions were benign, but right over us a low pressure trough had formed. We were at its epicenter. How reminiscent of our last departure when we were leaving for the Caribbean and had to drop anchor by Inishturkbeg to wait out an unexpected gale that blew at 50 knots for two days.  But the long range forecast this time was for diminishing winds as a high pressure ridge settled over Europe. We were to have at least a week or more of settled weather, with warm sun and light breezes – not enough to sail to Scotland. That means we’d have to press through heavy weather while it lasted unless we wanted to motor all the way.

And that's how it all began. 


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