Six days at sea

The outer marina at A Coruña
Where to even begin...

We departed A Coruña in light Northwesterly winds, finding that we could easily hold a course not far off our mark of hitting Crookhaven. We figured if we couldn't make landfall there, we could easily make Dingle. We had six days of GRIBs and the forecast was for NW-ly winds in the range of 10-15 knots for the first day, a hole in the middle of Biscay with no wind through which we'd have to motor, and then SW-ly winds of 15-20 kts off the coast of Ireland to bring us home. We had filled the tanks with diesel before departing so we could motor just about all the way if needed. Our last passage was a sleigh ride across the Bay of Biscay with the wind on the beam and Aleria screaming along shredding the 500+ miles in exactly 3 days from Crookhaven to Portosin. That set up expectations, but we knew this one would be a little different.

The first night was a nightmare with ship traffic. I crossed the outbound lane counting about 8 ships avoided, but at least I didn't have any really close encounters, nor did I have to stop the boat to let anyone pass. I had a bit of respite in the separation zone, too. Alex had it far worse on the midnight watch. He had so much traffic that he put out a Securite that he was crossing the lane, turned perpendicular to the lane and powered through. On the 4-6 AM watch, I had only a couple of ships so we breathed a sigh of relief and continued on.

The second day was slow going. By nightfall, the wind had died back completely as expected, so we turned on the engine and powered along in flat calm seas. On my watch, at about 2 AM when all things bad tend to happen, the engine suddenly revved up to 2500 rpm from 2000, whined and then started making grinding and clanking sounds. Not good. I throttled back and it died. Not good either.

Alex came up on deck and I explained what happened. He took a quick look at the engine, couldn't see anything obvious, so we set the sails and prayed for wind while he returned to bed until daylight. There was a light breeze, and I was able to move the boat at less than 2 knots but in the right direction.

In the morning, we started diagnostics. First the prop - were we trailing anything?  No. I pulled out the service manual and Alex did the checking. After bleeding the air out (and there was some) and testing belts and other potentially loose things, we looked to the shaft. Alex could spin the shaft manually, but in the brief test of turning on the engine and shifting into gear, nothing happened. We concluded that it was the shaft coupling to the engine. We had lost all propulsion and it was nothing we could fix, especially at sea. We'd be a sailboat for the next few days. How bad could that be?  We had a generator and plenty of food and water on our well-stocked Bowman 57.

We made the decision to divert to Cork. We knew the harbour and could drop anchor there day or night under sail. It was also likely the only place where we'd find a mechanic who could handle such a problem. It was at least 50 NM farther but necessary. Alex entered a text message to friends in Cork to alert them to our need, in the hope that it would send as soon as it received signal and could get things in motion before we even dropped the hook.

That afternoon, the wind died completely. We drifted for 12 hours, making all of about 10 NM in that time. When I took over at sunrise, we were facing the wrong direction - south. When I had gone to sleep the sunset was on the same side as the sunrise was now. Aha! Slowly I got her heading in the right direction. Then the wind turned against tide, not strong, but enough to create very uncomfortable motion and a maelstrom down below. I spent most of the day writing down all the things I never want to do again on a boat. Then I recalled reading about the couple that slogged upwind for 20 days just to get to some remote island. Surely, I could manage one day with discomfort.  And I remembered reading about the Pardeys crawling around the coast of Patagonia slowly grappling against the wind, engineless on a lee shore. Not for me thanks, but I thought we'd be fine anchoring under sail.

A day of fog had us doing periodic Sécurité messages and sounding the foghorn over the loudhailer. Then the wind settled in and shifted NE and suddenly we were making a beeline for Cork Harbour. Naturally, as soon as we got underway, the AIS sounded a warning that we were on a collision course with a freighter. I hove to to let him pass, then got back underway and passed his stern.

Finally, finally, six days into the voyage, and fortunately very few ships encountered off the coast of Ireland, the Old Head of Kinsale came into view. It was sunrise on my watch and it was lovely. We also turned over the 25,000 NM odometer on the Northstar chartplotter - 25K miles since we installed that system.

Soon, we were tacking into the Harbour. We furled the Yankee and started the generator in case we needed the windlass. Two tacks and we were in past the fort. We dropped the main, turned downwind and approached the spot we had chosen. I turned upwind when we were close, and Alex dropped the headsail. We had the mizzen up with which to set the anchor or sail off if something went wrong. Alex dropped the anchor. It caught, but so did the sail. There was a strong current, stronger than the wind, and it had turned us so the mizzen was causing us to sail over the anchor. I quickly dropped the mizzen and we were hooked.

We had called the Irish Coast Guard to alert them that we were coming in to anchor under sail and without engine power in case big ships were coming through. The ICG RIB came out to see us shortly after our arrival. A private towing service came out and crashed into Aleria while the skipper was on the phone. We waved them off and called the CG back. They brought us in on a towline to the entrance of the channel, then took us side-by-side to the hammerhead at Crosshaven Marina. Three dockhands were there waiting to assist. Before we were even settled, Hugh the mechanic arrived on his motor scooter. He had the problem diagnosed within minutes -- shattered flexible coupling -- and a plan for fixing it shortly thereafter. It was Friday. He figured we'd be there for a week. He advised staying in the local B&B. But if not, his fee system was as follows:

  • A standard hourly rate if we stay off the boat
  • Twice the rate if we stay on the boat
  • Three times the rate if we try to assist. 
We called the B&B.

To make a long story short, Alex took apart what he could over the weekend, the mechanic's assistant took apart the rest on Monday morning; they ordered the part from the manufacturer in Germany as Yanmar would have to ship it from Japan and it should be here on Thursday. If all goes well, we'll be back underway on Friday. Meanwhile, we'll be exploring Cork. Hallelujah!

The fuel dock in A Coruña

The Tower of Hercules from sea

Nice breeze to start 

Threading the needle through shipping lanes

Fine sailing on day 1

Selfie day 2, still smiling

Day 2 not bad

Wind dying

Tame Bay of Biscay 

Clouds settling in

Beautiful but calm

And the cooking gas bottle emptied and needed to be exchanged.

Wind picking up?

Beautiful sunsets to contemplate


Not much to go by

At least the moon was out

And the sunsets were gorgeous

Lovely show

Soft endings

And the sunrises were spectacular

Lovely cloud patterns 

But still little wind

Fog!!! Get the foghorn going. 

I hope there aren't any ships out there. 

Finally some wind!

Last sunset

Beautiful night

25,000 miles at sea since we installed the Northstar

Nice to have the moon lighting the way

Lights in the distance - Ireland!

Sunrise over the Old Head of Kinsale

Beautiful light

The Old Head of Kinsale

The entrance to Cork Harbour

Irish Coast Guard lending a hand

Towing Aleria into Crosshaven

Hugh's motor bike

Alex removing gearbox 

Time for a pint at Cronin's


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