Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Saying goodbye, a long journey and a sinking feeling.

First there was the excitement of leaving - getting everything ready and checking the pilotage for the arrival but then the problems started creeping in. The rain did not stop for 3 days including when we went to fill up with diesel meaning we had a boat full of wet dog towels, soggy cockpit cushions, even my shoes squelched as I walked and the internet had gone, no Wi-Fi means no up to date weather forecast so we were as ready as we could be but not as ready as we would like. The morning to leave dawned full of the promise of sunshine but actually full of rain. With an already damp boat and not particularly good visibility the prospect of a very long, miserable slog loomed in front of us. Cue long discussion, poring over the weather (now obtained) and various options were under consideration. Finally a plan was hatched for a 24 hour postponement.


Ingredients for Fabada
The added complication was the middle deck hands 9th birthday as this would now mean travelling on his birthday so lots of re-jigging was required.


Step 1 – birthday meal and cake, not practical on the move and he also has a tendency to sea sickness.

Step 2 – walking the dog.

Step 3 – there was no bread for lunch or if we ate the milk rolls planned for lunch then there would be no lunch tomorrow whilst travelling.

Step 4 – we would need to tell the marina staff.

Step 5 – our shore side emergency overdue times would need to be changed (we have an EPIRB but always let someone know when we are moving and when we would be expected at the next destination).


We took the dog out for a walk via the supermarket to solve two problems at once, the marina staff had already been down for a chat so that was sorted. A couple of texts sorted out our emergency back up. We spent the afternoon cooking and enjoyed a big birthday tea of Fabada (Asturian bean and sausage stew) and birthday cake as requested.


Finally the Friday was a lovely morning, birthday presents were unwrapped, we were all set and we went up to the office to say good bye. We also managed to see many others from the marina and were given a nice home brewed bottle of ‘something warming’ which was a lovely gesture. We were all a bit sad to be going but glad to finally be on the move again. There was lots of waving and shouts of ‘adios’ as we left the marina.

The sun was beautiful, the sea sparkling and blue, the views lovely and the motion was unpleasant. Within a short while the birthday boy was curled up in the cockpit not having such a good day. We watched Gijon disappearing behind us, seeing landmarks we had grown familiar with over the last few months from a different perspective and taking lots of photos.


The wind was pretty much as forecast, weak and on the nose, so it was motoring time. This time though we had both Casper II and the new seat position making things easier and more comfortable. Casper (as in the friendly ghost) is the autopilot, often it is referred to on boats as ‘George’ but we thought that might cause some confusion. Casper II is that most common of upgrades on Tarquilla, that is from a more modern and shiny version that does not work to an older one that does he is therefore often also referred to as ‘Casper’s Grandad’. His job is to keep the boat on a set bearing and trying to get him working has been an ongoing challenge since we left Topsham. With it you can let go of the wheel without the boat going off course which makes things like eating, swapping the helm or using binoculars a bit more simple. The hours wore on with the birthday boy sleeping in the cockpit and feeling very ill and with the basket of snacks being reduced rapidly by the other two. Finally the sun started to set and it was time to move to night watches.


We both have a lot of experience of night shifts from previous jobs and find the best thing for us is to do 2 hour shifts overnight, sleeping on a makeshift bed in the cockpit when off watch in case an extra pair of eyes or some other help is needed, which it often is, meaning that it is rarely an uninterrupted sleep. The (other two) children slept well, curled up on the settee after watching a DVD. It was a very clear, starry night. Just off of Santander is a main route for shipping giving us a view of passing ships lit up and travelling across the horizon in a long line in the inky black for several hours of the night. The moon came up about 4 in the morning and hung low in the sky glowing orange. The light changed, the sun came up and we were treated to a lovely sunrise to start the new day.


It was a long trip but finally several hours after breakfast the marina break water was in sight, we were nearly there. Mark popped down below for something and called back up that there was water coming in. That is not something you want to hear on a boat. There was no sign of where it was coming in or how fast, just a bilge (sort of under the floor boards) full of water, water that should have been on the outside of the boat not the inside. The boys were brilliant and all the safety training kicked in as they put on lifejackets, packed the last few essentials into the grab bag and helped to empty buckets of water out the side. Mark worked to track the cause and pinned it down to an engine. With the engine off the water level started to drop, the bilge pump was doing its job and we were getting closer to the marina. There was no answer on the radio to our requests for help from the marina staff to help us in so it was all hands on deck to get our beast into a finger pontoon without the full control of both engines and with a small audience on the wave break. We slid in on the second attempt when Mark risked running the second engine briefly for more control and got the ropes on, now it was time to sort out the mess!


After lots of mopping, a rusted jubilee clip was the chief suspect, turning on the engine proved the point with a spray of sea water, good news in that it would be an easy fix, good news that it had happened where it did and good news that the problem was spotted before it became any worse. As long as the engine was off, the leak would not continue so after lots of clearing up there was nothing more to be done until everything opened again on the Monday.


Laredo itself is stunning. We spent the weekend exploring, walking along the beach, around the oldest parts of the town and through the tunnel carved out of the headland in the 1800’s to the ancient fishing port. We also found pizza to continue the birthday celebrations. On the Monday morning it was time to get to work, we left Mark in peace to fix the engine, taking school books to the nearby park and by lunchtime the engine and leak were sorted.


We set off for the next stop with a day which couldn’t decide if it would be sunny or wet but there was a nice gentle sea. A few miles down the coast we reached Castro Urdiales which we had thought about stopping at for lunch but as it had large black clouds looming over it we just popped our noses into the bay for a look at the castle and large church on the shore then carried on to Bilbao, a nice short hop taking us into the start of Basque country.
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