G’day there, well, here is my long awaited first blog post. I’m not going to bore you with the many reasons why it’s taken 12 months to write this after the fact, but it’s done. Yes, it’s true what the title states, a misaligned 10mm grub screw nearly sank the boat and why it happened will be examined below. To set the scene….
25 Jun 19:
Our last vision of Blu Emu was her draped in plastic, surrounded by a cacophony of deafening grinders and cutters in the bowels of Zea Bremen. We toasted King Neptune her new name asking for calm seas and fair winds. The three weeks we were supposed to have aboard her was eroded away to one (rather measly) hour aboard her.
Blu Emu is our first big purchase together and is our retirement plan. Retirement may be earlier than planned, with Eraine’s workplace deciding to transfer her early from the full-time to part-time workforce. The original retirement plan was to use the next 5 years to prepare Blu Emu (and ourselves) so when 18 Nov 2024 came around, we would commence our new journey cruising the world (aka blue (water) nomads). Since earlier retirement is now nearer on the horizon, our plans are now much looser and more open ended (aka uncertain).
25 Jul 19:
One month after returning to the daily grind in Australia after our honeymoon, Eraine returned to the UK with the aim to move Blu Emu to warmer climes (La Caruna, Spain). This blog entry is an account of this time.
Captain Richard, whom we met during our Jun honeymoon and moved Blu Emu from Zea Bremen to the marina, reported one of the engines fell out of gear as he was parking in the marina. I knew there was a requirement to fix this before we travelled to warmer climes so I was not surprised to be told the prop shaft was actually completely separate from the gear coupling!!!
I was also not prepared for the myriad of other issues which arose during the course of the next month. Each issue vital to making Blu Emu seaworthy. More about this later. The mantra which kept both of us going….it’s about the journey, not the destination.
26 Jul 19 (Friday)
I land at 0700h. Transport systems were paralysed and the train station was chaos. I caught an early Train to Southhampton on the hottest Jul day on record in the UK. Caught the Gosport ferry for 3.75 pounds at 10:14h. Arrived at Haslar Marina Office 30 hours after leaving Robert in Canberra. I walked the entire way, in the heat, from the ferry (Haslar were late sending the golf cart). I signed for the key and made my way to enter Blu Emu for the first time since I was last in St Martin, Caribbean for the pre-purchase survey.
Worked out very quickly the de-humidifier was not connected because the plug connection to the marina was the wrong size. Despite jetlag kicking in, my highest priority is electricity supply, so I skip off to the nearest chandlery “You Boat” and spend 456.33 pounds on new fittings, electrical leads, portable fuel pump and suitable hose.
I attempt to rewire the plug and am so tired I can’t recall the required boat settings but I do know the dire warning if I connect to shore power with incorrect switching…about how it could blow everything up….so I decide go to bed instead at 2030h with a torch. Bugger it, I’m too tired to think straight and stuff the wiring, I’ll sort it out in the morning. I fall asleep on a very hot day to the dulcet tones of VERY bad karaoke drifting over the marina.
My shoulder hurts and I miss Robert. Note to self…stumbling in the dark (0200h I forgot the torch) in a boat with a number of steps to the loo = agony as one stumbles causing ones already sore shoulder to slam into the engine room door. Small blessings because at least the door was closed and I didn’t kiss the Perkins with my teeth.
27 Jul 19 Saturday
After 8 hours sleep: we need a better mattress. My shoulder is very sore and the TENS + paracetamol is partially effective. I won’t talk too much more about the shoulder than to say, it was a struggle to manage the pain and remain focused over the entire next four weeks. The boat was very good at providing some distraction but it didn’t stop me descending into an awful chronic pain condition, underpinned by chronic sleep deprivation.
As I write this, it’s been a harrowing 9 months since adhesive capsulitis blindsided me, but I’ve commenced the road to recovery now (thanks to a cocktail of prescribed medication and an incredibly supportive husband).
I get the power connected and switch on the power to the boat….and….OMG nothing blew up !!!!! (what a relief). I give a quick call to Phil Soltys, our Instructor from Falmouth who connects me with a helping Captain Wiz. After I get deflected by Motortech Engineering, I book Nathan from Golden Arrow Marine (ZF Specialists) to come by on Monday. He indictaed the boat will need to be hauled out, so I contact SeaStart for a tow to Port Solent Premier Marina. Keep waiting for the electrician to return my call…
I decide to do a load of washing in our Goldkind EU340. It was used by the previous owner regularly so should work! Confusion reigns as Robert looks into finding the manual online and I’m hoping the boat doesn’t shake apart during the spin cycle or the machine chews up the socks.
After many expletives and experimentation, I manage to get the first load out and drying. I eventually found the manual some three weeks later, buried in the ship’s papers… lol. I was doing everything right so far.
Aldi provided breakfast and a start exploring and photographing everything for my wonderful “auntfooker”husband. Boat still afloat…phew.
28 Jul 19 Sunday
Jet lag really taking its toll. I order tons of groceries online because the supermarket is too far to push a trolley with a defective shoulder. Delivery is tomorrow. I set up DropBox so all of my pics and vids are updated for Robert to access in Australia. I chew through tons of data before I work out how to upload to DropBox via Wi-Fi. Very expensive learning curve there!!!
With a sore shoulder I knew there was no way I could handle the tender including outboard motor without a functioning crane (reported by the delivery captain in the Caribbean). Access to the solenoid area was shite so I remove the cement board and glue over some marine ply with the intent to install new hatches sometime in the future. I email HP Hydraulics about the possibility of dropping off a solenoid for the crane so I can have it installed in Falmouth. I start to sort out the storage units in the starboard aft cabin. I hit Halfords for extra oil and spares that I can find.
Monday 29 Jul 19 to Wednesday 31 Jul 19
To help cement the ownership, I re-program our new MMSI into the AIS Vespermate . VHF is programmed too.
Nathan the “engineer” arrives from Golden Arrow. Although his assessment over the phone last Friday was that we would need a haul out, he revised his advice during the consultation stating he would be able to fix the prop shaft while Blu Emu was in the water, saving a tow, haulout, time on land, return to water, and possible tow back to the marina! I could have hugged him on the spot! I didn’t have the knowledge or experience yet to start the motors myself and couldn’t work out how I was going to get the boat to a suitable haul-out location. I had to also go pick up a full trolley of groceries delivered by Morrisons. Lesson here: Buy a UK sim card as the online registration process will not accept overseas mobile numbers.
“Golden Arrow Marine” sent over Drew (a Isle of Wight local) who arrived at lunchtime and worked the rest of the afternoon while I packed away the groceries. Drew had to return the next day with a ZF proprietary tool to tighten a part which should never-EVER-loosen in it’s entire lifetime. At least there’s no haulout!
I believe it was somehow loosened by a well-meaning somebody between St Martin and St Johns. We knew something was leaking because the captain we had contracted to move Blu Emu to Antigua, CAPT Greg Petrelluzzi, had reported and attempted to repair the shaft seal which was failing when underway. In fact, he kindly sent us a video of his ship’s mate busily pumping out seawater manually from the bilge while they were en-route – not something a new owner wants to hear! So we knew the PSS seal needed repair as a matter of urgency, so had pre-arranged the Haslar Marina mechanic/boat maintenance team to inspect the boat as soon as she was docked in the Haslar Marina. Blu Emu was loaded aboard the yacht freighter Zea Bremen at St John on Wednesday 23 May 19 (post Antigua Race Week 2019).
Hence, on arrival in country, I knew of at least three issues requiring immediate attention:
- PSS shaft seal leakage (could sink the boat!)
- Electric / starter slow turn over (meaning no power due to no solar while in the hold inside Zea Bremen)
- Gearbox failure (picked up when being parked at Haslar Marina)
With works completed by Golden Arrow, we wanted to confirm the fixes. Of course one needs to start the engines for a sea trial…but they wouldn’t start (later confirmed that the starter batteries were totally dead). The engines didn’t even turn over, so I then attempted to source a sparky as this was obviously an electrical issue.
This is where I inject a personal quip here…I’m a pragmatic, experienced nurse. Engine and human systems are rather comparable to me. Blu Emu was sick and needed some minor surgery. Good thing one of my specialities is trauma surgery. If it leaks, plug it. If it fails, replace or repair it. Both need to breathe, both need circulation, both need fuel, both need electrical circuits to systems to work, easy-peasy (or so I thought).
This turned into a major drama as I couldn’t find an marine electrician available to help me anytime before my return to Australia. We didn’t know it, but it was the busiest week in UK sailing tradition…Cowes Sailing Week (the oldest regatta in the world)!! Everyone and anyone who had a boat was on the water and super busy. When the third sparky started to turn me down, and through the fog of pain (I had tripped and jolted my already injured shoulder and grazed my knee), I rather emotionally asked for a referral to someone who didn’t have an 8-week waiting list and could help me. MEI (Marine Electronic Installations, a family run business had sympathy for my plight and called back within the hour. Jim sent out his son-in-law, Andy who was incredibly helpful over the subsequent two weeks. I am super grateful to MEI for their support and helping an Aussie in need. Thank you again!
While I’m waiting, HP Hydraulics look at the solenoid in-situ. It’s dead (more money) but a new one can be installed by the next day, so I agree to supply and fit . It’s all coming together…green to go and the warmth of Spain (remember?)!
Andy from MEI looks at the electrical system and declares the starter batteries are flat (aka dead-as-a dodo). Two new starter batteries and a new
Victron (60w) battery charger is paid for and installed (more $$) because the old one is insufficient for the bank of batteries.
But…the engines start! The batteries are charging! It’s all coming together…green to go (wait for it…)!
Golden Arrow refused to sea trial the shaft seal re-connection so a “test” at the wharf was conducted. Both motors were turning….YAY!! It’s all coming together…green to go! Yep… no: the load on the prop shaft during the wharf “sea trial” was not enough load to make apparent the PSS seal misalignment (but we didn’t know it at the time – but you can bet there’s more on this later…).
Captain (Wiz) and his best mate (Neil) are hired from Cornwall, and arrive in the afternoon. We meet at a typical English pub. Funny but true: as we were sitting at the pub, the man sitting
next to us with his wife, was the same guy whom Haslar Marina engaged to check the seals as soon as she was delivered to the Marina by captain Richard. I was somewhat alarmed when he loudly commented to my new crew “I was surprised the boat hadn’t sunk!“.
Assuming this guy had fixed the leak and noting the the wharf-based “sea-trial” earlier that day with the mechanic went fine, I was thinking at this stage “ It’s all coming together…green to go!”
How very wrong I was.
1 Aug 19. Thursday – Green equals … no
The next morning, while Wiz and Neil learn the ship’s systems in preparation for leaving for a coastal hop to Cornwall, thence Spain, HP Hydraulics installs a new solenoid. I have to find a jesus nut for the rudder arm at the chandlery.
Come back with food from Greggs for everyone (there’s 6 of us on board!). Andy finalises some final wiring issues with the battery charger. At 1200h we depart for Falmouth, via the fueling point. I’m so happy to be underway! The tides are right. The weather window is ideal. We bob gently while waiting for a spot next to the refuelling point, then tie off without a hitch. I’m hoping my visa card will work in the machine. I’m so freaking excited I call Robert and take a few photos. I’m thinking…“It all came together…we are finally going!”
Then it turned to shit. Noone could open the fuel caps! Both sides were fused closed (see pic). Rather than staying on the busy fuel point, we return to Haslar to fix the issue. WD40+ drill + hammering the lever + 3 adults = fail.
Not only that, but on the way back to the berth, only .5nm to the marina, Neil alarmingly discovers the starboard shaft seal is gushing water. After many expletives by everyone on board, we pull into the same berth we had just vacated, turned engines off and with a few taps of a soft-faced hammer…the leaking is stopped. More expletives.
We decide to go to the pub for dinner and a beer (or two) to drown our collective miseries…
It took a number of days of WD40 (and a couple of strong men and a one-armed lady) to establish the fused fuel caps were never going to unfuse from their housing.
2 Aug 19 – Making hay
Despite my deteriorating shoulder condition, a sleep helped with a more optimistic outlook. Wiz showed me his Navionics app and I took a photo of his running notes from the previous day’s jouney to the fuel dock. Despite years of experience interpreting messy medical officer handwriting, I can barely make out Wiz’s chicken scratchings.
Saturday 3 Aug 19 – A good day
With a tradie-free weekend, the bimini was found but I had no idea how to install it. Robert helped me by finding photos of Blu Emu in St Maartin and I worked it out. After a long day on various small jobs, I sat upstairs and took this lovely photo of Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth Harbour. The ambience was rather spoilt as unfortunately Saturday was karaoke night…and it was very baaaaad.
Sunday 4 Aug 19 – Converting Port Rear Berth into a functional storeroom
Tradies don’t work on Sundays either. I sort out the keys – what are they all for?! Can’t work out the internet and how to get the boat WiFi working. There’s stuff, spares and tools illogically tucked away into so many nooks and crannies on Blu Emu. It’s time to embrace my inner OCD and sort it out, inventory and photograph for Robert.
This will also help work out what spares is needed for a long passage to the Med. (I was still delusional I would be leaving the shores of the UK – there, I’ve given away the ending!). I measured to replace the two badly made and small rear hatches which reside in the rear steps. Improved access would be needed to fix the dysfunctional bilge which came on every minute, to evaluate the autopilot connection on the bilateral steering arms, and also replace/repair the port side crane solenoid. A break to the chandlery (YouBoat) to see what was in stock, but I ended buying online and having things delivered.
Monday 5 Aug 19 — Expensive decisions, and a new Autopilot and Radar
At this stage, I’m still planning to cross the Bay of Biscay and leave the boat in La Caruna, Spain (the Mediterranean is now out of the picture). As a novice sailor, I’d need every system functional, so I spent my tax return and chose the most economical way to upgrade the radar and autopilot systems. Whoever said boats are like horses (one-way money sink-holes) were spot-on!
The autopilot was an old Autohelm ST7000 from the 1990’s and had done it’s dash and no longer worked. The radar was new, but hadn’t been properly installed and the reason became clear – it wasn’t compatible with the existing set on instruments! Sigh…
Tue 6 Aug 19 to Fri 9 Aug 19 = I find the best Mechanic ever!!!
I measure up for new fuel caps and housings – by this time they were going to come out even if we had to explode the boat! Eventually the entire filler cap housing was replaced as well as the caps themselves (see picture)!
Then try to understand the gas system on board which isn’t European, shout myself to a Chinese meal: UK style. I’m grateful Australia is on the doorstep of Asia because Aussies have the best Asian food outside of Asia. By the end of the night, I was craving fresh, blanched veggies as everything served that night was obviously out of a can. Robert (who is vegetarian) would have been very disappointed with the veggies!
Beautiful new glass hatches for the rear stair openings arrive. I buy a jigsaw to install the hatches, but since Blu Emu is built from solid 6mm aluminium on the superstructure, I needed a replacement blade after 3/4 way through. Simon finds one and I finish installing them later the next week.
The expensive new radar and auto pilot arrive, and are installed by Andy from MEI. It’s true boats are just like horses. One way money sink-holes! But these are needed for the trip to Spain (or actually for almost any trip!).
Q: Notice anything missing?
A: Just a couple of M16 bolts which attach the prop to the gear box! WTF?? Used boats are such fun!
Simon starts more work on the engines and shaft, drilling out the grub screws. As long as the prop shaft remains still, we won’t sink, yet there’s a little bit of incompatibility with the plans for Spain! On, and not to be outdone, he notices more holes missing bolts. The rust indicates they’ve probably never been installed, but blow me down with a feather if they aren’t crucial in preventing the prop shaft from being pulled out from the gear box. At least it was identified now, and not in the middle of the Malacca Straits where any stray fishing net could be hooked up in the propeller! Expletives deleted…
Simon the awesome mechanic, takes me to Aquafax to buy the last 10mm PSS grub screws in Southport. While we are there, there’s a cut-away model of the exact same seals we have on Blu Emu.
Hyphose also drop by to quote on replacing the hydraulics for the steering: the connection mid-ships were left to rest on the aluminium hull, so galvanic corrosion occurred…and of course, they aren’t allowed to replace the single fitting! Instead, the entire system would need to be replaced at thousands and thousands of dollars….so I make another call: self tapping fittings are available on eBay for tractors, so I use some (free) styrofoam to separate the two metals and Robert orders “Denso Tape” to protect it even further. Apparently most navies around the world are held together with Denso tape. Essentially it’s a oily cloth bandage used to protect important “bits” on a ship…or boat (depending how big your floaty boat is and how sub-marine it sinks below the waves…lol).
Saturday 10 Aug 19 – Electrical Plan
Sunday 11 Aug 19 to Tue 13 Aug 19
I re-wrote this list many times as items were ticked off or re-prioritised (yes, it’s spelled with an ‘s’ in Down-Under)
Wednesday 14 Aug 19: Sea Trial with SENSATIONAL Simon the Mechanic
O. M. G. So the day finally arrived! Sea trial day. On the smell of an oily rag, diesel tanks freshly cleaned but almost empty, we tentatively limp to the fuel dock. Checking the shaft seals: no leaks! Engine: is humming with no hiccups! Simon’s “Slow is Pro” wins the day.
We will need to install a cross-levelling system in the fuel tanks because next time I don’t want to feed the hose through the galley window to fill the other tank. Yes, we could have turned the boat around but that would have added more time to the 1-hour re-fueling time and there were others waiting.
Simon, who’s not just a super marine engineer but also has his yacht-master qualification AND knows the Solent like the back of his hand, let me take the wheel on our boat (ha!) and taught me to drive Blu Emu. Remembering our RYA training, I parked against a dock a few times using only engine steering. Handy considering one bow thruster wasn’t working (sigh).
The diary entry above also mentions the water pump requiring replacement. I ran out of time to fix on this trip. I Am glad we have a second one (redundancy is good).
The trial out the front of the Solent was a pretty rough trip. Simon the pro said the seas were “gnarly” and “she’s a great boat”. The fruit went flying as while seas were only force 4, there was a lot of “Solent slop”. After some tests and play we returned happily to Haslar Marina via some practice parking the boat…”Slow is Pro”!
15-19 Aug 19 : Weather is shite 5/7 so I focus on the “To-Do” list.
The pictures shows the waterline difference with full H2O and fuel tanks: about 5-6cm port-starboard (for my wonderful “Antfooker” hubby who likes to work out hull displacements in his spare time).
The next picture is of a label Simon removed from the gearbox transmission oil cap. The engines were installed 20+ years ago, and I’m assuming the Hurth (aka ZF) gearboxes were installed at the same time. The original label says “filter replacement is required after 25 hours”. Some 3500 hours later, this label is removed from the transmission oil cap. The different shade/colour indicates that not only has the filter not been touched, but the engine has also been painted insitu in that time! WTF!
Installing new hatches in the rear scoops: why change out the plastic hatches? Well the old ones were set in cement sheeting which sat inferior to the deck, allowing pooling of water, leaking into the compartment and rotting the teak deck boards. That said, only an anorexic could fit through them and I required two HP Hydraulics tradies to replace the crane solenoid in the port hull, and Andy from MEI to attach the new autopilot to the Starboard hull steering mechanism. So the old hatches came out and newer, larger ones fitted.
Simon manages to bring the extra special aluminium jigsaw blades. I hear you mutter, why didn’t I cut out the hatches by hand? Well, you try it with a funky frozen shoulder!! Anyhoo, I’m the ultimate gadget gal – if there’s a tool to do it, I’m ‘gunna use it. I’m not a shellac gal. Anyway, shellac is made from dead beetle-wings and I’m trying to support my vego-hubby here. It might seem extravagant to put glass hatches into an area housing the crane solenoid and steering mechanism, but with some additional lighting, we would then be able to inspect inside the compartments without opening the hatch. LED lighting is so cheap these days and there’s already wires carrying “angry pixies” powering the bilges (thank you AvE).
I discover Argos. Not something we have in Australia! I order online and go to the local distribution centre or get free boat delivery. As my shoulder is freezing-up, “home” (aka boat) delivery it is!!
20 Aug 20 – The BIG Day! Leaving mainland UK…. Haslar to Cowes
The big day dawned, and then… something broke.
Ha ha – it didn’t! We left with full tanks and full hearts for the long, arduous journey across the sea… the 26km to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The passage in fact was entirely uneventful – just wonderfully enjoyable to finally be away. The boat speed, RPMs and other antfooker items were measured, videoed and noted.
Nothing. Bad. Happened. As we pottered our way along, and came to the Medina and Blu Emu’s out-of-water storage while I return to Australia.
22 & 23 Aug 2020 – Thursday & Friday = Flying Home
The winterising was a mad dash to the finish line and I was utterly exhausted. I rigged a strap to my wheely-luggage so I could pull my bag hands-free.
Beautiful Cowes on my way to the Chain Link Ferry.
Note the ferry ticket machine at the Chain Link Ferry is busted and they only accept coins. I was rather tearful about trying to walk with all of my bags (and a busted shoulder) to an ATM to withdraw a few pounds tender. A kindly gentleman gave me some coinage at the wharf. I was eternally grateful said I would pay it forward and thanked him profusely. It was the only hiccup on my return trip home. (Photo: Eraine)
My ankles disappeared somewhere between London and Singapore
38 hours after leaving Blu Emu, I stepped though the front door of home on a Saturday. I lost a day in changing time zones. I was exhausted and incredibly relieved to be home. My shoulder is slowly unfreezing, COVID19 has changed the world-view and life continues. Despite his short time on Blu Emu, (one short hour in the bowels of the delivery ship), we both plan and look forward to our retirement onboard with building excitement. Living aboard full-time will have it’s challenges, but we compliment each other at so many levels, I’m confident we will make it work.
Rob has since poured over all of the photos and videos I took of Blu Emu. She’s an oldie, but a goodie. French built aluminium catamarans which are wide enough to fit in French canals, traverse both cold and blue waters and have the capability to cross this world’s oceans, are rare indeed. We hope King Neptune will be kind to us as we travel the world’s seas, oceans and waterways.