Sundance’s Launch and The First Sail… Sorta…

The weekend started on the Friday evening after picking my best mate up and heading down to Newport. When arrived at the club to find a good few members enjoying a drink and a chat, we joined in and discussed our thoughts for the next day. The plan was to help out the other launches, get Sundance in the water and leave Newport -1 before HW and get to Cardiff on the ebb. This way we didn’t have an audience trying to pick up Sundance’s mooring for the first time….

As far as the launch went it was pretty smooth, ran the engine up beforehand and got it warm dipped in the water and motored off into the river, lots of tide as we motored out but it was OK. There was no wind but it meant we could test the engine, after all the talk about the Bristol Channel being a “choppy” place it was strange to see it like a mill pond, mirror like. We played it safe and stuck outside of the Sewer buoys, turned slightly north around North Cardiff buoy and then headed towards the Outer Wrach buoy, it was around high water so had lots of room. We motored for a good teo hours without any issues. About to start making our approach into the Wrach Channel I called the barrage to book a lock within seconds of getting the green light, silence! The engine had stopped, not something I was expecting to happen, especially there being so close to shore with a mill pond sea and the tide now ebbing and pushing you towards the hard stuff. Luckily after a couple of attempts the engine started and I pointed the boat back out towards deep water. I went forward, got the anchor ready with a length of chain on deck and got Andy, the crew ready to do the deed if needed. Once I was happy the engine was behaving we started our approach again. Circling the outer harbour not wanting to drop the revs I called barrage control again to request permission to enter the lock which was granted. It was a relief to get tied up in the lock but I just hoped the engine would start on exit. Luckily it did but with a little reluctance and we were able to make the short hop to Cardiff Yacht Club who were kind enough to offer me a berth for the night.

Tied up and happy to be in we popped up to the bar, signed in, had a beer and made our way into town for food. CYC is a lovely place a very friendly club, we had a couple of members come up to us for a chat and they told us where to find food. We had access in and out of the club and their excellent facilities and all they wanted in return was for us to have a drink in the bar. Unfortunately when we returned from getting food the bar had closed so we couldn’t buy more! The next day we had thought about leaving on the morning ebb, heading round towards Barry, up through Flat and Steep Holm and into Newport on the flood later on that evening. Because of the engine issue we thought it wiser to made sure that was sorted during the day and leave Cardiff on the afternoon flood instead.

We woke the next day, had some breakfast and tried the engine. It would run but took some starting, we bled it and it started a lot easier but it didn’t seem quite right. The previous owner had told me the engine was serviced before I had bought the boat and had only done two very short trips since, there was no reason to do it again. He did say that his grandson changed the CAV filter and he thought he hadn’t seated the seal properly and advised me to change that because if you left the boat for a few weeks you needed to bleed the diesel pump. I had done this the week before the launch and the morning of the launch it didn’t need bleeding so I had thought this was sorted.

I gave it an hour and tried the engine again, it started but tickled it’s way up to three quarter throttle. The only thing I could think was more air in the system! I bled it again and again it wasn’t right, I even tried bleeding from the injectors just in case there was a air lock after the pump. Although I had changed the seal on the CAV filter the previous week I decided a new filter, and seal was in order. This still didn’t do it, and if anything the engine ran for a shorter amount of time each time we tried.

It was getting closer to leaving and I was starting to think of other options, leaving the boat in Cardiff or getting a tow somehow but I didn’t really want to do that. I had thoughts I would have to call a marine engine specialist, getting a massive bill for a new lift pump or injectors plus labour costs. I had nothing to loose so I decided to change the secondary diesel filter even though the previous owner had said it was new. Even though you shouldn’t prime the secondary filter in case you get some muck in the fuel I wanted to get some fuel in there, I was pretty sure it was an air problem we had so I wanted to remove as much of it as I could before bleeding the system again. With the filter primed fitted and bled we turned the key and the engine fired and continue to purr like it should. When I looked at the old secondary fuel filter it had a couple of bumps in the seal, a bit like blisters so I was confident this was the problem.

After letting it run on the pontoon, it seemed to have cured it so I decided we should leave a little earlier then we had planned, knowing there was a dinghy race on at my home club the safety boat would be out and could possibly assist us if needed. The wind was increasing and from the West, the right direction to get home, I was a aware if the engine conked out getting out of the visitors berths at CYC it could blow us onto other boats. Fenders littered both sides of Sundance and with boat hooks at the ready we made our move. It wasn’t an elegant manoeuvrer (not wanting to adjust the throttle once we were moving) but we got out without getting anywhere near another boat.

Being at sea hasn’t scared me yet, but hitting someone’s pride and joy totally petrifies me.

We locked out +1.5 after low water and followed the narrow channel out into the Bristol Channel. The wind was a nice f4 but I wanted to motor up to Newport, again to test the engine, knowing the wind would be our saviour if we needed it. All was fine, we got outside the clubhouse in Newport, past the Pill and saw there wasn’t enough water. Not a problem, potter about until there’s enough water and moor up I thought. Heading back down the river towards another yacht that had returned to see if he wanted a lift up to the club a red light and buzzer blared out from the engine control panel!

Turning back to the mooring Andy on anchor duty again I decided we needed to get some lines on the boat and stop the engine. I wasn’t sure what the red light was for but I knew it would either be oil pressure, or temperature I didn’t want to run the engine for much longer. Knowing the Pill is very soft mud (the fins sit in it) and there’s “nearly” enough water I decided I could sit in the mud if we touched it. If we could get a mooring line on I could kill the engine and pull the boat forward on the nelson as the tide came in.

Going in a bit faster then I would normally so to push me in the mud Andy grabbed the pickup and I killed the engine. We got a stern line on and cleated the nelson onto the bow. As the tide came in we managed to pull the boat closer to the bow lines but the wind now showing on the club weather station as a f7 we struggled to get the windward bow line closer then a metre or so. Aware if the nelson broke (12mm line) we would swing into the boat down from us so I managed to get a second line with a boat hook through the windward bow line. With this line I cleated it off and took it back to the winch, with this I managed to winch us close to the shore line against the wind on our beam (we couldn’t pull it by hand) the line was just inches from the forward cleat. I went back to get the second stern line on knowing we were close.

It turns out the ships chain the stern lines are shackled to slips down towards the centre of the pill over the winter and with only one other boat on it hasn’t been pulled back up properly. With the stern sorted and the one bow line on it we managed start the engine (no lights or buzzers), drive forward and get the second windward one on after an hour long struggle.

With the delightful Newport mud all over us and the boat, neither of us in the mood to clean it we inflated the dinghy. A couple of trips later we were back on land. The alarm was a temperature one so we may have picked up a bag or something on the inlet but the diesel problem seems to be sorted. I didn’t have the energy or time to look into it further that day but that was the end of the first trip out on Sundance!

Next time I’m down I’ll strip the heat exchanger and make sure that’s not clogged. I don’t think it is as it pumped lots of water when testing the engine on land so I’m pretty confident we just picked up a bag or something in the river. It was just a pain motoring all that way for it to happen when just off our destination, both days! Once I’m happy with the engine I’ll have another trip out and hopefully raise the sails and test the Navik windvane!

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