Monday, August 10, 2020

Stage 17, Loch Eriboll – Scabster.

The start of an eventful date stared at 06:40 with plenty of wind from the west and I was making fast progress although not always quite in the right direction as I adjusted course to make it more comfortable in the almost following and confused sea. At this stage I was aiming to cross the Merry Men of May, a very dangerous “Roost” or breaking tidal race that forms on the west going stream, just after the tide turned east and to go straight into Scarpa Flow.

A small group of whales, probably "minke", rather longer than the boat came alongside briefly but I was unable to get photos, the bubbles of one breathing out did get worryingly close at one point!

As the wind died mid-afternoon, I was using the engine and made my waypoint 6 miles short of the Merry Men within a couple of minutes of optimum. Then at about 17:00, 6 mile north of Scabster the engine stopped. A quick investigation in a choppy sea showed that there was no fuel at the engine but there was about 20 litres (enough for almost 14 hours use) in the tank. Clearly that was not going to be fixed quickly with the most likely cause being the infamous “Diesel Bug” (a Bacteria that lives in oil, particularly if there is water present, if forms a fibrous jelly that can block up the whole system. Sancerre is an unlikely candidate having a bladder fuel tank and therefore little or no condensation in it and having been regularly dosed with proprietary treatments, but no one is completely immune if contaminated fuel, particularly with white diesel including bio diesel, is loaded).

So, it was up with the sails and I started making slow progress towards Scabster in Thurso Bay. Initially I made some progress but the wind dropped to zero and I was being swept towards the race off of Dunnet Head at about 1.5 knots. Having given the coast guard a “heads up” as I set sail we kept in touch until at 18:40 it became clear that the wind was unlikely to return any time soon (it didn’t) and I issued a “Pan Pan” and was towed into Scabster by the RNLI at about 19:30.

I found the problem almost immediately when I started to clear the cockpit locker to turn off the fuel before checking the primary fuel filter. The base of the locker rests on the hull outboard and a fairly narrow (about 15mm) batten on the inboard side. I had reinforced the top of the floorboards with a strong-back in case the boat inverted in a lock down and to stop reserve fuel cans sliding about, but did not think to do anything under the floor as it had been OK for 40 odd years. 

Not knowing where I could next refuel I had put completely full cans in pace at Port Ellen (usually I only put 15 litres in my two 20 Litre cans to make them easier to handle) and with a top up at Tobermory I had 75 litres weighing over 70 Kg on the floor. Then having had very rolling seas for 20 miles or so the floor shifted and with some damage slipped down and trapped the flexible fuel line stopping fuel flowing. 

Getting the fuel flowing again was then easy although bleeding the engine was not as I found I could not get one of my spanners onto one of the injectors, but in the end (about 21:00) the engine fired up again and I then had an hour or so putting all of the removed woodwork back in place.

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