Monday, April 16, 2012

A Trailer, a Dolphin and a Gimp Suit

2011 was the beginning of catch up. For the previous six years poor old Epenetus had wintered on the hard at Axmouth. Over wintering outside, especially when its near as dam it on the beach just doesn't work with a wooden boat, well not year after year anyway. At the end of every season I religiously went through everything to ensure that we were safe for the winter and yet every spring it was enough to make you cry. What a difference in just five months. It was no good I just had to find a way of preventing the winter damage from happening. The only sensible solution was get Epenetus under cover in a nice warm dry barn for the winter and to do that I would need a trailer and a big one at that. 

Epenetus at the end of 2010 looking very "end of season"

Well 2010 was not exactly my most prosperous year financially so the spare £2500 to £3500 for a new trailer was never really on the cards, so the search was on for a good used example. Unfortunately a big secondhand trailer that's any good is not easy to find at a bargain price so by the time September came around I was getting worried. Well I'm a firm believer that if you keep your nerve something will turn up, well it did.     

Sitting in a local seafront pub, winding down with a beer after a particularly tough day at work and someone says "the Lurk is selling a big four wheel trailer and he doesn't want much for it.". Well not to be beaten to a good deal I'm off down to the boatyard to find the trailer in question. 

 As per usual when funds are low what turns up is never quite right and this trailer was no exception. Lying abandoned in the corner of the yard where it had lain in the sea air for more than a year or two was an American bunked trailer complete with rust holes in the underside of the draw bar. It was big enough and according to the plate it would take the weight but it looked awful. After a good inspection with the assistance of a 2lb hammer I established that the trailer was built from thick walled steel box section which was still sound whilst the draw bar was build from thin walled box section and was far from sound. In its present form this trailer was no use to me but as ever its not what it is its what you can make it. I slept on the idea then the next morning a little cash changed hands and the work started. 

The bunks, or more correctly what was left of them were removed, the draw bar cut off and a new slightly longer one welded in, hubs and brakes overhauled, chassis cleaned up rust proofed and painted. All in all six days work to turn a heap of scrap into a strong serviceable trailer. Six days, well three weekends really and it was now October so the clock was ticking. All that we required now was to build and fit the wooden supports for Epenetus to sit on. Luckily one of the great joys of the Fairey Atalanta is that every part has its associated engineering drawing and that even goes down to trailers. I had already obtained a copy of the relevant drawing from the drawings master at the Atalanta Owners Association so I had all of the measurements I just didn't have the time. 

Well you can't do everything on your own. Darren had helped me with the trailer and I couldn't have done it without him, a far better welder than I have ever been but he is strictly metal, an engineer by trade. Enter Trevor builder come woodworker extraordinaire. After some discussion Trevor built the supports in the week whilst I was away at work and what a cracking job.  

Epenetus being lifted out ready to be put on the new trailer

Epenetus was lifted out on the Saturday morning and carefully lowered onto the new trailer. A near perfect fit, Trevor your a star.

The finished trailer

The following weekend Epenetus moved to new winter quarters, safe from what was to turn out to be a very hard winter.

Safe, warm and dry in winter quarters

"I bet there's not much to do this year after all winter in a nice warm shed" How wrong can you be!

The old YSE12 had caused me more than a little grief the previous season so something had to be done. The main part of the engine was good with loads of compression but the same could not be said for all of the ancillary bits which were getting past their best. The exhaust elbow fell in half whilst being cleaned up, the water pump required reconditioning again, the fuel pipes needed replacing and the whole lump required cleaning off and repainting. Other than these minor maintenance issues and the fact that the old girl was suffering from being a little on the obese side, weighing in at around 140kg, what a sweet little engine.

Thinking about it, lets take off the rose tinted specs. There were other problems associated with the old YSE12, the noise for one. From outside of the boat the engine noise was fine, no different to any other boat just the almost musical chug of a single cylinder diesel, however inside the boat it was a whole different story. With only a single piece of ply between your feet and the engine your fillings shook loose and you could not hear yourself think. In addition to the noise there was the prop issue. Matched to the engine performance under power was excellent but sailing it was a three bladed drag anchor somewhat akin to dragging a bucket.

Now when it comes to props there are umpteen options available to sole the issue of drag but wouldn't you know it due to space restrictions and a mud berth the only option open to me to dispose of the three bladed drag anchor was a three bladed feathering prop coming in at a hefty sum.  

Well considering the grief which had been caused by the old YSE12, the price of Yanmar parts and the prop issue the only sensible option looked like a modern lightweight diesel and a feathering prop. Well as anyone who has replaced a yacht engine will know when you look at the shopping list the money soon adds up. £3.5k to £4.5k for the engine, £1.2k for the prop and on and on it goes. This isn't looking very likely to happen. 

Time for some serious thought:

  1. Atalanta's sail best when they are light
  2. Atalanta's were originally fitted with lightweight petrol engines
  3. Old petrol engines can be unreliable and spares difficult to find
  4. Even modern lightweight diesels aren't that light
After many hours of thought and as many hair brained ideas it came to me, what about a Dolphin 12hp? The direct drive model weighs just 41kg and given the high shaft speed a 9 1/2 inch two bladed prop should deliver the required performance under power and substantially reduce the drag when sailing. OK only two issues here, one its a petrol engine and two they stopped making them a couple of years ago. Back to the drawing board, time for a beer or two and some thought.

Several weeks passed and guess what no magic answers on the engine front. 

Whiling away the hours sat in a hotel room surfing the net and there it is, good old eBay. A direct drive Dolphin 12hp reconditioned by the manufactures in 2001 then unused until 2007 then serviced by the manufacturers and dry stored again. This has got to be worth a punt.

A dusty little Dolphin

Well the description was correct and nine days later I'm at a farm on the edge of Dartmoor handing over a little cash for a dusty little Dolphin along with a host of bits such as a fuel tank, strainer, exhaust pipe, sea cocks, prop shaft, prop, fuel pipes and filters etc. what a result.

 A few extra bits and pieces would be required to complete the installation such as an exhaust elbow as a wet exhaust is an optional extra with the Dolphin. Now I can go as far as a petrol engine in a boat, a two stroke at that but a hot exhaust running through the aft cabin is not for me. Maybe I'm paranoid or perhaps I just haven't thought this through properly but having experienced how hot a motorcycle exhaust gets (I once had a pannier catch fire after touching a hot exhaust but that's another story) I can not bring myself to surround something that hot with wood. 

I should explain here for those who are not familiar with the wonderful Dolphin direct drive engine, it has a few peculiarities compared to modern small marine engines. Having no gearbox to go astern you stop the engine and restart it again in reverse; this of course means that when the engine is running backwards so is the water pump. To accommodate this two sea cocks are used so both the inlet and outlet are underwater and their functions simply reverse along with the engine rotation. Once you fit a wet exhaust this solution doesn't work and life becomes a little challenging. The guys at Dolphin (yes they are still in business) are very helpful and soon came up with the solution.

One way valves and a couple of tee's and we have a solution

There is not much the guys at Dolphin haven't done with these little engines over the years, at one point they had them kicking out 40hp!

Engine fitting time

The weekend at last and time to fit the Dolphin. The old YSE12 came out easy enough with the assistance of some lifting slings and a fork truck borrowed from Derrick. 

Life becomes easy with a fork truck

The rusty old YSE12

A messy empty engine compartment

Things were going far too well. Much head scratching and screwing up of the previous weeks scribbling on bits of paper exercises followed, whilst we studied the mess of the empty engine compartment debating the best way to sort out the task in hand; new engine mountings, shaft alignment, exhaust pipe routing etc. Well there comes a time when you just have to make a start, so out with the hacksaw, drill and files. Plan A was swiftly followed by plan B and plan C, the day was fast descending into a strange parody of “Scrapheap Challenge” only thankfully without the cameras. Still improvise, adapt and overcome, we will get there. More than a few hours later having skinned more than one knuckle and discovered some best not repeated new language we had the engine bed suitably modified. Really the day should not have been a surprise as it had followed the normal routine with the parts of the job which should have been easy turning out to be a complete git! One day I’ll learn, it would have been easier to start from scratch and fabricate new engine beds instead of modifying the existing.

Sunday morning and a new day, in goes the new engine with no need for the forklift. I picked up the engine, climbed up the stepladders into the cockpit and placed the engine into position on the modified engine bed. How easy was that! An hour later and the engine is aligned and bolted into place with the exhaust and electrics connected. It was all going so well so it was no surprise when we came to an abrupt stop. Modifications were required to conect up the drive shaft and not a lathe or a miller onsite. What do you know its time to retire to the bar for shall we say a design meeting. 

The Dolphin looking lost in the engine compartment
With engine work delayed for two weeks while Darren modified the drive shaft coupling it was time to get on with other jobs. Amongst the mountain of things to do, a new cover for the engine compartment needed to be designed and fabricated, so to work. Digging in the dark corners of the shed I dragged out the marine ply left over from the trailer build. What do you know, it doesn't matter which way you look at it if the wood isn’t big enough for the job then it’s not big enough. Is that really true? Not strictly true if you’ve got a biscuit jointer and some epoxy to join two pieces together. 

With my faithful if somewhat useless assistant Rex the ancient Jack Russell Terrorist the new engine cover and hatch soon came together so time to turn my attention to toe rails.

The forward toe rails were well past their best, it fact they were rotten and needed replacement. With time short a decision had to be made, repair, replace or remove. After much deliberation it was the latter we would just have to do a season without them. Unfortunately removing the toe rails causes more work, laminate repairs and painting what a surprise.

Joy and disaster a day of extreams 

Well today took me through the full gambit of emotions all the way from apprehension moving into excitement followed by shock and then joy, happiness plunged quickly into despair finishing finally with hope and determination.
Today is the day, time to run up the engine and see what we’ve got. The new fuel tank isn’t fitted yet and the new battery box is yet to be built but we can work those little issues out I’m sure. The batteries are temporary wired and the fuel tank jury rigged, hose pipe into the strainer and its time. Fingers crossed. Ignition lever switched to forward, a little choke, touch the button and the dolphin instantly springs into life. Joy, relief and pure delight it runs and it’s smooth and quiet. Stop the engine and start in reverse. I’m shocked at how quick and easy it is, probably 3 seconds from ahead to astern no worries there then. Everything was going so well it just had to happen. As I pushed on the revs suddenly everything shook! It can’t be the shaft alignment was good, or was it? On inspection the casting for the rear engine mountings had fractured. I could have cried. After a short interval and a few choice words we started the autopsy. Cause of the failure turned out to be the LAYRUB coupling which bolts into the flywheel, the bolts were tight but that was due to them bottoming out not being tight so to speak. Engine out time and a rethink on the drive shaft coupling, two more weeks of delay but hey when its done it will be good.

Saturday 2nd July and the engine reinstalled, engine casting replaced, the new drive shaft coupling fitted and balanced, everything working as it should. I’m back on track with plan B four days left to get everything finished and in the water, leaving a day for sea trials then off to France and the Channel islands on the Friday morning tide. 

The 3rd of July and life deals one of those big blows.
Sitting down to an early Sunday morning breakfast, the house to myself for a change, sun shining in through the kitchen windows, outside the gulls squawking their territorial calls and inside Vivaldi is gracing my ears. The coffee is strong and pungent the bread is still warm from the oven, eggs, cheese, cold meat and salami, just a perfect start to the day. A little green light is flashing in the corner, a message on the answer phone I ignore it and enjoy my breakfast in peace whilst planning the work for the day. A shower then dress, I hit the play button on the answer phone on my way to the door and the day hits a brick wall. The big man is dead.

When you loose someone close it leaves a big hole in your life and for a while it turns everything upside down. Apart from the emotional side of things the legal aspects are a nightmare. Now as it happened everything was in good order complicated only by the remnants of my late mothers estate, but I have to admit the official system stinks. Probate, pointless officialdom, Revenue and Customs and the legal sharks even in death they are there to cause you pain and unnecessary complication in their quest for monetary gain. Not much of a civilization that can see nothing in death other than tax and profit. The big man will be sorely missed by many but he leaves behind him a wealth of memories. Furrows in the ocean.   

Happy times

Life moves on and its Saturday 23rd July so it has to be launch day. The plan is to sort the last few little bits and bobs in the morning and then wet launch from the club hoist at high water around mid day. This plan soon fell apart. What do you know the harbour master is away with his caravan for an impromptu weekend and the only other person who can use the hoist and was supposedly in charge of the harbour has buggered off to Lyme for an overnighter with the new found love of his life. Oh good luck to him it makes a pleasant change to see him all loved up instead of playing the lonely guy.
Nothing for it we will launch off the trailer. I fire up the truck and here we go again, where is all that oil coming from? This is not the time to blow an oil return pipe on the truck. With the truck out of action the flat tyre on the trailer and the missing topping lift almost seemed immaterial. Am I doomed not to make it to sea this year? It certainly feels like it.   

Sunday 24th July and its time for plan well we must be on F or G by now at very least. 1000 hour and I’m 30 miles from the boat near Exeter waiting for a well known firm of tyre fitters to open in order to get a new valve body fitted to repair the trailer tyre. Now you would think “can you just fit a new valve in this and re-inflate it please” would be a simple enough request but sadly no. I feel a bit like Victor Meldrew as I argue the fact that wheel balancing is not on my shopping list today and how the hell can you perform a free brake check on a trailer which is thirty miles away. “Please just re-new the valve”. Well to cut a long story short eventually the valve is changed and just £4.75 the poorer I’m heading back to Axmouth.

Arriving back in the yard at 1115 (high water 1230) time was seriously against us. The wheel was refitted to the trailer, the mast was lowered, topping lift fitted and raised again (really easy using the winch on the trailer) fuel tank filled, warps and fenders attached. All we needed now was a truck to launch with.

Darren in the gimp suit

An hour after high water and with the assistance of Darren in what can only be described as a gimp suit Epenetus slides effortlessly off the trailer. We're floating again at last thanks to the aid of a Jeep shall we say borrowed from a guy called Nigel. Thanks Nigel. 

The dolphin fired up and pumped an amazing quantity of water considering how small the water pump is. We test ran the engine up for as long as we dared being by now well over an hour after high water and only on a small tide at that. Time at last to head for my berth.  
I’d forgotten how effortlessly she moves through the water and what a change without the old YSE making the ears bleed. I must admit to some anxiety regarding the stop and restart routine to go astern but there was no need. Flick the lever to stop, wait a second for the engine to stop, flick the lever to astern, hit the button and the dolphin springs instantly into life. All in all the whole stop and restart routine takes only a couple of seconds longer than going astern with the old diesel.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Across the Sea to Alderney ................Sun, Sea and Diesel

It was the evening of the first Friday in July and as with most Friday evenings I was in the club bar winding down from the usual hectic madness of the weeks work. Well you know how these things happen, the weather was rubbish and beer was flowing so the conversation soon drifted around to sailing trips. It had been a good while since I’d visited the Channel Islands so when Rob the windows suggested that the following weekends weather looked promising and he was thinking of trip across the channel of course I was up for the idea. By the time I left the bar it was all planed with four boat heading off on an 0500 tide the following Friday with the intention of making Alderney for a start and simply making it up as we go from there on in.

Saturday morning and a little sober thought brought the realisation that Epenetus was far from ready for a cross channel trip and the diary was full Monday to Thursday meaning that I only had Saturday and Sunday then I wouldn’t be seeing home again until late Thursday night; preparation time was seriously limited, best get stuck in.

After two days rushing around preparing Epenetus and stocking up with the usual things charts, pilot books, diesel, food, water, Talisker, Plymouth Gin, Red Wine, Beer all of the essentials of life when sailing; followed by four days of flat out work I was more than ready to put to sea.

0400 Friday 9th July 2010

Ondine Dave appears on the pontoon carrying an outboard and looking really rough. He explains that one of his teeth has just fallen and therefore he can’t make the trip, because he can’t find it! Apparently it fell on the gravel path and he had spent quite some time looking for it so that he could glue it back in. I couldn't quite understand the gluing it back in bit but anyway he lent me his outboard to use on my dinghy and disappeared off muttering something about dentists. Shame, so we are down to three boats. 

Leaving the Axe

We departed from the Axe on the top of the tide at 0500, leaving the river mouth to be confronted by a flat sea and next to no wind. Oh well its early yet so we’ll push on under engine for a while and hope that the wind comes in soon.

Goodbye Axe Cliff Hello Sun

Motoring in Epenetus is not the most pleasurable way to travel, in fact its pretty rough on the ears. I should explain, Epenetus has an old Yanmar YSE12 single cylinder diesel which was rebuilt and fitted by the previous owner. It is a good solid old engine and its 10hp driving a three bladed prop will push her along at nearly seven knots, but the problem with it is its height. All that separates the beast from anyone in the cockpit is the engine cover, which consists of a single piece of marine ply. As you can imagine this does nothing to reduce the noise from the engine in fact it probably makes it worse. Due to the height of the engine there is no room to fit sound proofing under the cover without raising the cockpit floor so the noise is just something with which I have to live with until I get around to replacing the engine. I’m not overly concerned about the engine noise as sail is the chosen method of propulsion so hours under engine are normally minimal.

Not a breath of wind

Well our wind didn’t come in at all in fact the only wind we had was the wind which we were making.

We should have gone for a swim mid channel looking at this sea

We motored on and on and by 1115 we had to drag out the first Gerry can and re fuel. By 1225 we had reached the shipping lanes and at least we had something to occupy our minds, ships and lots of them.

They look like small ships from a distance. Don't be fooled

We crossed the traffic separation scheme quite easily with only one minor incident. At 1425 the diesel return pipe fractured spraying diesel all over the hot exhaust elbow. To repair this under normal conditions would not have been anything of a problem but being where we were and given the size and speed of the shipping stopping the engine to fix the fractured pipe was not really an option. With a piece of tube, a couple of small jubilee clips and some very choice language, oh and not forgetting a couple of minor burns and a face full of diesel, the pipe was repaired.

Epenetus at anchor in Bray

We arrived in Bray just after 1800 so we had covered the seventy odd miles in thirteen hours. I must admit it was the first time that I have crossed the channel and had to motor all of the way, I just can not believe that some people do that from choice. No matter, we dropped the hook in the corner of Bray harbour as close up to the beach as we dare, did the necessary paperwork and chilled out. I have to admit, when the weather is settled Bray harbour will always make any trip there worth while.

The view from the bar of the "Divers" 

We spent the next two days relaxing, swimming and exploring the delights of Alderney. As ever when the time came to leave we didn’t really want to go but with 35knts of wind forecast as coming in leave we had to, but that’s another story.

Not sure where the dinosaur came from

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hard work, frustration and an excellent shakedown cruise

The 2009 season was approaching fast; it was now the second week in March and with our first trip planed for the 21st May it was time to get preparations under way. Little did I know as I pulled the winter covers off Epenetus that my early season plans were about to go somewhat adrift.

End of the previous season

Checking around the hull I found two small areas of soft laminate which on the surface appeared to be only very minor. As I started to dig it soon became apparent that the cause of this lay under the rubbing strake, which was then removed. As Saturdays go, I’ve had better I must admit, because the more I probed the more I found and within a couple of hours I had eleven areas of soft laminate and three holes! It appears that the unknown adhesive used to fit a large part of the rubbing strake had broken down and allowed moisture to penetrate into the hull to deck joint, where it had laid undetected, slowly seeping along the laminates, doing it’s worst for some considerable time. Interestingly the worst area was around the starboard chain plates where the laminates had rotted from the inside out due to the moisture being trapped between the hull and the packing piece, which on inspection was rotted practically all the way through at one point; I now know that it takes approximately the same amount of time to rot through 1 ¼ inch of solid teak as it does an Atalanta hull which is somewhat less than a third of the thickness.      

Laminate damage 

As you may or may not know, repairing damage to laminates is not a difficult thing to do and there has been a lot of very useful information published on the subject by the Atalanta Owners Association; but it can be a very time consuming job. However, nothing gets done by looking at it so the following weekend armed with an eight by four sheet of Agba, epoxy, Stanley knife, chisel and a staple gun I set to work. Despite numerous interruptions from just about everyone who happened to be walking through the boat yard plus being at the mercy of the weather, the repairs were completed over five weekends. It was interesting the amount of attention the repairs attracted, although by the end of the job I did feel that if I was interrupted to explain the construction and repair techniques for Atalanta’s just one more time my head might just explode.    

Laminate repairs with one which had to be redone (grain the wrong way)

By now we’re well into April and the hull and decks are sound once more, hopefully for a good number of years to come, but now I had a dilemma. Do I paint over the repairs, refit the rubbing strakes and go sailing, we could still make the Brixham Heritage Regatta on the 21st May, or now that I’ve started do I take the chance to overhaul as much as possible. With only weekends available and working on the theory that when it comes to boats an hour saved now usually costs you ten hours or more in a year’s time, there really wasn’t a choice was there. Sailing time just had to be sacrificed and the following jobs completed:

·        Rub down and total repaint with three coats of Joton 88 vinyl guard primer and three coats of Pioneer top coat
·        Chain plates re seated
·        Hull to deck joint sealed with epoxy and new Iroko rubbing strakes fitted
·        Toe rails repaired and overhauled (I think the time to replace them is coming up soon, maybe a year or two)
·        Hatches and engine cover repaired
·        Rubdown and re varnish the mast
·        Running and standing rigging overhauled  

·        Chart table replaced
·        Two bronze mushroom vents fitted to improve ventilation  
·        Instrument wiring renewed
·        Bumpkin and Hasler SP3 Wind Vane fitted

Plus all of the usual pre season stuff like servicing the engine, antifouling, checking keel mechanisms, servicing rudder and steering gear etc.

There are still a lot of jobs to complete, like scratched windows to renew, internal fittings to replace, aft cabin to refit out, fore cabin to re paint, cockpit combings to replace etc, but nothing which will come to any harm or can not wait for a while. I can’t delay any longer; I’ve been flat out all week and working on the boat in the yard at weekends for months now; the sun has been shining and I’ve been watching boats leaving Axmouth for France, the Channel Islands, Falmouth, the Silly Isles and all ports in between, for the sake of my sanity It’s time to go sailing.    

Launch day

Well it’s the last weekend in June; the sun is shining and its launch day at last. With the aid of the club hoist the mast was raised and Epenetus was lifted with no problems and gently lowered into the water, so far so good. The keels and rudder lowered as they should and no signs of any leaks, perhaps all is going to go off without incident for a change, wrong. After many attempts to start the engine we were left with one flat battery and one dead battery, still after half an hour and a little improvisation we were in business and motoring off to our new pontoon berth (infinitely better than the old trot mooring).

Epenetus on the water at last

Shake down time – A weekend trip to Brixham as it turned out

The fourth of July might mean something to our American friends but this year (2009) for me and George it was shake down time at last. High water at Axmouth was 0450 so we slipped our lines at 0520 (a little late as ever) and worked our way out into what had been forecast as a Southerly 4 to 5, perfect for sailing west. Surprise, the Met Office was slightly adrift with their forecast, as we discovered on approaching the harbour entrance, thick sea mist and force 2 at best; I knew that I should have got up earlier and walked up to the beach to check then I wouldn’t have rigged the number 1 instead of the Genoa.

Motoring out and just clear of Beer Head the mist cleared and the wind came in. Just as well because at that point the exhaust note changed, bad news. On inspection the engine was running dry, impeller trouble! Fifteen minutes later and a bit of jiggery-pokery and all was well once more.

We set the sails and put Epenetus on a course of 220 magnetic, engaged the new (to us) Hasler wind vane and off we went. Our force 5 came in from the south and the Met Office was suitably redeemed. The Hasler vane performed fantastically with no more than a few very minor tweaks required over the next four hours (mainly to avoid net markers) as Epenetus romped along in the sunshine never dropping below 4.5 knots.

A call came in on channel 6 from another Axe Yacht Club boat which was heading for Brixham so we decided to sociable and join them.

Problem number two the sliders on the mainsail jammed in the track so we then had fifteen minutes of fun trying to get the main down. Oh what joy! Still a short while later we were tied up on the events pontoon in Brixham and enjoying a well earned beer or two.

Brixham in the sun

Sunday morning and after a late and leisurely breakfast, along with some debate on the weather forecast (south 4 to 5 going south west 6 to 7), we slipped our lines at 1120 and were clear of the breakwater with our sails up by 1145. We had a fantastic sail back with a lightly reefed main and number 1 jib in winds of a good 6 and occasionally 7, accompanied by some lovely big waves coming from astern. Once again the wind vane put in an admirable performance with only a couple of lively incidences when the steering lines became detached from the tiller whilst surfing down waves (a little modification required I think).

Arriving back off the Axe at 1630 we were somewhat early for the 1810 high water; however we dropped the jib (ripping the fore hatch off its hinges in the process) and took a sail by the entrance. Not good, breaking surf in the river mouth!

I should explain at this point that the entrance to the Axe is very narrow (approx 20 feet wide) with a shifting bar and a ninety degree turn to port just inside the entrance. Add to this around an hour before high water the river in the entrance will be flowing at anything up to six knots, ho and there is no stand it’s going in or coming out. I know it sounds terrible but treated with a little respect it’s not that bad and once inside the harbour is beautiful with total protection in all weathers. 

Going well under a reefed main

What to do? Faced with a south west wind and a building sea the options are usually to hide in the lee of Beer head, wait until high water and re assess or go to Lyme Regis. Well in the gusts the wind had more than a bit of south in it so Beer Head looked a little rough. The logical option is to call up Lyme Regis harbour master and see if we can get in there. At this point the weekend started to go a little wrong. I picked up the radio and keyed the microphone, pop! All power lost in an instance! Plan B, get the hand held. No, that would be sitting on top of the fridge in the kitchen at home, just where I had forgotten it on Saturday morning. Oh bugger!

The sky darkens and the wind starts to come up, this is not so good. Nothing for it we’ll go in, perhaps by high water the entrance will be a little better. After a short trip across the bay in search of some elusive shelter in the lee of Beer Head, I try to drop the main. Well you guessed it the mainsail jammed in the track and had to be lowered with a mixture of jiggling it up and down and brute force whilst all the time trying to hang on.

The elusive shelter behind Beer Head

The engine was persuaded to play ball and it was back across the bay to the harbour entrance. We were still too early, the river was running and there was still a lot of surf in the entrance, however there was enough water. The keels were raised to 3 foot 6 and the brakes slackened just in case we clipped the bar. We lined Epenetus up with the wave train and the river entrance, waited for our wave and approached at full speed, surfing into the river at what must have been in excess of thirteen knots over ground. The current pushed us tight towards the wall as expected and the stern missed the wall as we took the turn to port by no more than six inches. With the adrenalin pumping we were home, having had a fantastic sail covering 28 miles in 4 hours 45 minutes, giving Epenetus a good workout, the crew was still in one piece and having managed not to break anything too expensive. Now that’s what I call a shake down cruise.

Interestingly just over an hour after tying up on our pontoon Dolphin, a Westerly Pagent arrived in having left Brixham just five minutes behind us. The crew were exhausted, speaking of an uncomfortable and often wet trip, finding it hard going to keep a good course. All rather strange, Epenetus had made light work of it whilst we drank coffee, ate lunch and generally had a very pleasant trip. Don’t you just love these Atalanta’s?  

A not so relaxed and somewhat battered looking Dolphin

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So why a Fairey Atalanta was I having a bad day?

More than a few people have asked me that or words to that effect and if I'm honest you know I do ask myself the same question occasionally, only very occasionally though. I suppose the answer to the question is very simple, it ticked more of my boxes than anything else. I should perhaps explain.

It was 2005 and I had been five years nearly without a boat which was far too long especially for a sailor living by the sea. It was time for action and no more excuses about being too busy with work, or not having the spare cash. So we come to the question, "just what exactly am I looking for?".  The wish list was drawn up containing everything that I would really like my new boat to be. Unfortunately in the way that these sorts of things tend to go it very quickly became obvious that the sort of boat I was looking for did not exist. Whatever I brought was going to have to be a compromise, but from passed experience compromise ultimately leads to disappointment. Nothing for it I will just have to reduce my expectations and resign myself to the fact that what I’m really looking for just has not been built yet. Any boat has to be better than no boat at all – well maybe not.

Right, down to basics forget the wish list and concentrate on what I really need.

  • To keep my new boat near to home and hence avoid expensive marina fees it will have to be no more than 30 feet LOA with the ability to take the ground. 
  • It must have accommodation for four and a cockpit big enough to allow four people to sail without being cramped.
  • It must be a good sea boat with the ability to sail well and be safe no matter what the weather throws at us, in short something capable of crossing an ocean should we choose to. 
  • It must have a shallow enough draft to explore our favourite places, such as the upper reaches of those delightful West Country Rivers. (This last one causes a problem).                                               
The four points above were the bare minimum and given my probably unfounded dislike for bilge keel yachts my choices were going to be limited indeed. Still no matter on with the search, books magazines and the internet searched through relentlessly for weeks. Boat yards and brokers were visited; countless miles were driven and gallons of diesel burned, but all to no avail. Then it happened, out of the blue, as these things do. 

On a wet winter evening sat at home, strangely with little to do for a change, I stumbled across a drawing of an Atalanta whilst surfing the web. There in front of me was the answer. A quick search an a few websites later I was sure.

Initially I had discounted wooden boats from my search, a shame I know, but having had previous experience of the effort and cost involved with the maintenance of an aging wooden boat that was a road down which I had no desire to travel again. But in front of me on the screen was a boat which seemed to tick the boxes, twin lift keels, self righting, large centre cockpit and four berths, sails which can be handled without the need to go on deck and to top it off it can be towed behind a 4 x 4. So what if it’s made of wood, I read on.

Further research found that this was no ordinary wooden boat, made from 3mm laminates of Agba, hot moulded under pressure so extremely impervious to rot due to the adhesive penetrating the laminates; a strong and light construction method evolving from the manufacture of aircraft. A 26 foot wooden yacht and only 2 ton all up, wow. It all seemed too good to be true and considering that these fine, if different looking boats were now around 50 years old the chances of finding a good one would surely be slim

To my surprise I found the Atalanta Owners Association and they had a list of boats for sale. A few phone calls, a good few hundred miles and a couple of false starts later I find myself standing in the back garden of a house on the south coast looking at a fine example of a Fairey Atalanta. I’m hooked, well and truly caught in the headlights of desire; everything about it just made sense, well what would you expect from the combined talents of Uffa Fox and Alan Vines, the search was over and the deal was done. We now had an Atalanta in our lives.