Tuesday 4 June 2024

Petrella: Plymouth Sound local

A good weekend, but to be fair, they usually are. It's an almost routine formula: 

Quiet night in Friday, and by that I mean very quiet. The twins are now home, so if they're asleep in their Moses baskets in the living room, as they usually seem to be, with their mum and their nan watching over them, then any noise in the house is deeply frowned upon and immediately chastised by both. 

"Don't wake the babies!"

So the house is as quiet as a chapel with only the church mouse in residence. Which suits me fine, as I am fond of my peace and quiet. And mum and babies are all doing well. As is their nan.

Saturday was karate in the morning, which I was pleased and relieved to manage without further injury; the kumite (in our style, essentially "light contact" free sparring) seems to have become quite intense of late, and I've been left sporting bruises along with their commensurate aches variously to my instep, hip, and most recently the ball joint of my right thumb. Most of these seem to be the result of clumsy or ill timed technique on my part, rather than actually getting hit.

In the afternoon I had lunch with Nik at our favourite Greek restaurant in town, which was followed by a very enjoyable gig at a club in Cheltenham on Saturday night. 

Sunday morning was an ingloriously early start, and by 0730 I was heading down to Plymouth with Dad. We got to the marina and were aboard the boat just a little before 1000 to find, as hoped, clear blue sky, light winds and a gently rising neap tide.

Boat tent down, instrument covers off, shore power disconnected, lines shortened up. Engine oil checked and topped up, sea cocks opened, stern gland greased, electrics on, wind turbine on. The routine took a just under an hour, and we were ready to cast off.

The first few attempts to start the engine failed. Just a click, as if the battery were dead. Which made no sense, as it should've been charging off the shore power all week.

A pause as we ran back through the routine, making sure I'd missed nothing obvious. Like turning the electrics on. But no, nothing. Wind was picking up nicely, I could hear the blades of the wind generator spinning on its pylon at the stern of the boat.

Back through the starting sequence, and this time the engine started without hesitation.

Uncertain as to why, and a little uneasy, I let it run for a few minutes, then stopped it, and started it again. Again, no problem. A couple more stops and starts, then stopped it and let it stand quiet for fifteen minutes. Through the starting sequence again, and again, it started without any hesitation.

Mystery unresolved, we put it aside, and cast off.

About 8 knots of wind on our tail was blowing us into the berth, so I held her astern against the bow line, removed the midships spring, and Dad cast off the bow. I'd hoped to back out and across into an empty berth opposite and a little to our starboard, but half expected the prop walk to work against me. As it did.

So I turned astern to port as far as I could go without hitting the aisle opposite, then shunted forward, letting the inertia of the boat continue the turn. Back to neutral, centred the helm, checked space behind and put her astern again. Waiting for rudder authority so that I could complete the turn, puzzled as to why we weren't moving back, fed in more revs. And then horror as I realised I was actually pushing the throttle into full ahead.

It's a bit of a hazard with the position of the throttle. It's set up on the bulkhead at the rear of the cockpit to the helm's left, so for throttle ahead you push it away from you to port, and throttle astern you pull it towards you to starboard. It's reasonably straight forward, but clearly easy to muddle yourself when overloaded with other considerations, such as not hitting any of the other boats in close confines around you.

That said, I honestly thought I'd got over that one. But clearly not.

Fortunately, feedback from the helm and the boat not turning in the direction I expected quickly alerted me to my mistake, and I put her hard astern in plenty of time to arrest our forward movement, and so avoid ramming our erstwhile neighbour. Senses realigned, the rest of the manoeuvre completed without mishap and we reversed down the aisle, out of the marina and into clear water.

Dad, coming back into the cockpit from the bow, even complemented me on the departure. When I mentioned my mistake, he was surprised and explained he'd thought it was just confident boat handling and had just assumed it was me being assertive on the throttle.

Just goes to show, appearances are everything. As is not hitting anything.

Out into the Sound, we found a light south westerly, 8 to 12 knots, blowing in from the western entrance, and the flood tide pushing quite assertively against us into the Sound, despite it being neaps. At around around 18°C it was a pleasantly warm morning in the sun, and the wind didn't carry too much of a chill even when you were in the shade of the sail, so for the most part it was tee-shirt sailing weather, although I did keep my fleece handy.

Sails up and engine off, we beat up the Sound towards the eastern entrance, then along the inside of the breakwater over towards Cawsands and the western shore with lots of other yachts for company doing the same thing. The ample short handed tacking practice was good for us. The first few tacks saw me getting the clew of the genoa repeatedly snagged up on the baby stay. 

This used to happen on Calstar until I substituted the two separate jib sheets attached to the clew with conventional bowlines with a single jib sheet attached in the centre with a cow hitch, in the same way I'd rig a dinghy's jib sheet. Petrella's sheets are, of course, the conventional two separate sheets attached with bowlines. I don't think the single line cow hitch solution would work for Petrella, everything is scaled up. I think the increased loading would make the knot almost impossible to loosen and remove at the end of the season. If the knot itself didn't slip.

Turns out that technique is the answer. As it is for most things. For our first few tacks, like the diligent dinghy racer that I am, I'd instruct Dad to release the old sheet as the boat went through the wind and the sail backed, then frantically sheet in on the new leeward side as quickly as I could. Which saw the clew of the sail, with the sheets essentially under continual tension, first hook up on the baby stay, and then once free of that, snag up on the leeward shroud.

So, instead of frantically sheeting in immediately on Dad's release, I instead let the sheet take a little slack, essentially flying the clew of the sail forward a bit and then over to the new leeward side, before then sheeting furiously in. It worked a treat. I'm clearly getting better at this whole sailing thing. One day I might even be good.

Over onto the western shore, my initial intent of bearing away and running back to the other side was complicated by a cargo ship departing and another, with attendant tugs and a pilot vessel, entering the Sound, so we loitered for a while over on the western side of the bay until they both got out of the way, and then turned back for Jennycliff Bay, started the engine (without any difficulty) downed the sails, and, after setting lines and fenders, turned for the marina.

Coming back into our berth was textbook, and more than made up for my letting myself down with our departure. I judged the turn to port just right, the wind on my left shoulder encouraging, if not actively assisting, a nudge astern but with the helm kept locked over just to arrest our movement ahead and tighten the turn, and then finally nudging gently into our berth. I secured and then powered gently against the mid-ships spring, and Dad got his line neatly onto a dock cleat at the bow.

In total, 2 hours and 40 minutes underway, 8.1 nautical miles covered. 

By way of postscript: we plugged the shore power back in, but nothing came on. With the marina's help, found a trip switch gone on the fuse box, flipped it back, still nothing, suggesting it was us that had tripped it. Traced the likely cause of the problem to the boats shore power socket, which is sited on the outside the of the cockpit rope locker. The wiring connections at the back of the socket, which are inside the rope locker, are suspiciously loose. Knocked or pulled loose by our rummaging in the locker, I would imagine, which is a liability we'll have to address. 

We lacked the tools to take it apart and rewire it, so left the boat with the wind generator running and the shore power unplugged. We shall fix it when we return next Sunday, in preparation for Petrella's lift out on Monday 10th and storage on the hard for some TLC over the couple of weeks following. As an aside, I'd originally booked this for so late in the season to coincide with my grandchildren and daughter coming home and the inevitable impact this would have on my sailing. But, of course, they came early.

Anyway, putting the two and two together, I think the engine might have been reluctant to start at the beginning of the day because the battery, which we had thought had been on charge all week, was actually run low as the shore power had previously tripped out. My turning the wind generator on in preparation for sailing put, over the fifteen or twenty minutes we puzzled over it, just enough juice back into the engine's battery to finally get the engine to turn over.

Hopefully, it's as simple as that. Although that does leave me a little worried over the state of the batteries, if they can't hold enough of a charge to start the engine after a few days or so of being off shore power.

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