Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cruising and the Emotional Roller Coaster

Leaving Plas Newydd, and setting out for the Swellies

[Kyle]Okay, so the day started out really well. We got to keep our mooring from the night before. We were well rested and we woke up to partly cloudy skies, which in Britain passes for clear.

We managed to depart early enough to ride a fast current through the Britannia Bridge, The Swellies and the Menai Suspension Bridge. So far, so good.

Britannia Bridge

On the other side of the Menai Bridge, the strait gradually opens into the wide Conwy Bay. The wind picked up until it was around double the forecast - the usual. It interacted with the opposite-going current to make for really rough, standing seas. Any help we were getting from the current was more than offset by or dramatic reduction in speed through the water as we fought both wind and seas. As we passed Bangor (our third, after Maine and Northern Ireland), the pounding got so bad that we had to pull back the throttle and drift through with the current. At least it was really pretty out. The terrain was getting more mountainous and rugged and there seemed to be a new castle along the banks every five miles or so.

Bangor Pier (Wales)

Further into the open bay, the current reversed and the wind picked up, making for some slow going. The route out of the strait and across Conwy bay makes an s-turn around an island called Puffin Island. We didn’t see any Puffins there but we weren’t really looking by then. The swirling currents had made the seas very big and short and steep. I spent the whole trip around that little island hunched over the wheel with my heart in my throat trying to keep poor Footprint upright through will alone. I ached to turn away from the waves and smooth it out a bit.

Penman Light on the East end of the Menai Strait

As we rounded the north end of the island, the waves curved with us and we saw no relief at all. The four mile trip across the open bay was a long four miles. It was miserable and we were getting really beat up.

At the other end of the bay, we got a little protection from its northeastern arm and things died down gradually. Then our engine did something weird. We came off of one last steep wave and the rpm rose by a couple hundred and the boat slowed down. The wave was steep enough that we thought the prop had momentarily come out of the water. A couple minutes later, it did it again, only this time the prop was definitely submerged the entire time. It seemed like our transmission was slipping in and out of gear or perhaps the prop was slipping on the shaft. It seemed to go away at lower power settings, but either one was not good. Due to all of the chop in the bay, we were running a little late to arrive in Conwy at high water. We needed to arrive before they closed the water retention gate and the more time we spent out there, the worse the ebb current would be that we would have to fight up the river.

My leading theory at that point was that we had been working the transmission really hard by using a lot of power all day and not going very fast, leading it to overheat and cause the clutch to slip intermittently. When I backed off an the power and gave it a rest, it was okay for a while. Then I would start to gradually try another 100rpm and then another, and then it would slip again. Eventually, when we got far enough up the channel that the water was flat, we were able to achieve normal speeds at normal rpm. I was still all clenched up the whole way up the river. If it failed more seriously, we would be stuck in an area of mud flats at low tide. The weather was also supposed to be even worse for the next couple of days and I did not want to be out in the open. Plus, there was the prospect of getting stuck in Conwy for a really long time to get a major problem fixed.

Well, so far, it all seems to have worked out fine. We got to the marina, bought fuel at the fuel dock and then repositioned to our assigned berth with no problems. We must have shifted from forward to reverse 30 times maneuvering around in the tight marina. Afterwards, I checked the transmission. The fluid level was good and it was so clean, it was hard to see on the dipstick, but we checked it with a tissue and it was at the right spot. Maryanne called the mechanics in Pwllheli and asked them if they had any ideas. He thought it may be air in the fuel system. Others thought the prop may not be gripping the shaft tightly enough, which is only a problem if the load is way too high. Another culprit may be belt tension, so I adjusted that just to be sure.

Right now, I’m hoping that if we don’t push it too hard getting out of Conwy and into Preston and sail all of the way in between, we’ll have all Winter to worry about it.

Not wanting to ruin the rest of a nice day over it, we walked into Conwy to have a look at what we had gone to so much trouble to see. The walk into town had turned out to be a lot farther than we thought. We were kind of expecting it to be like Cærnarfon, with the marina right in town. Well, Conwy marina as a couple of miles from town.

What a sight it was when we got there, though. Our Lonely Planet guide had basically said that, yeah, there was a castle there, but that Conwy otherwise had nothing to offer. They could not have been more wrong. There must be another Conwy. This place was wonderful. The town is, of course, dominated by a very impressive castle set on the West bank of the river, backed by green hills and connected to one of Thomas Telford’s suspension bridges, which is a work of art in its own right. The river along the town front is filled with boats of all types. Whitewashed houses with steep roofs and a dozen chimneys each cluster atop a rolling, winding landscape. all are encircled by a very impressive town wall with all of the features of 13th century fortification. The whole place is a postcard.

Walk along the town walls of Conwy

After meandering through town, we had an evening stroll along the top of the perimeter wall, which is all in good shape and accessible to the public. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an evening stroll like that before, taking in views and gliding over houses, gardens and traffic.

Conwy Castle with another Telford bridge, and river at most way to low tide

We walked back to the marina along the river at low tide, amazed at this huge area that just a few hours ago was water and now was all mud and sand and boats canting this way and that, looking very much like fish out of water.

We got back to the marina thinking about dinner and found Footprint riding high on her lines. The guy on the keelboat next to ours looked like he may be slightly aground. Then I noticed that the water in our vicinity didn’t look too deep either. We gave Footprint a shove when we got to her and she wouldn’t budge. I stuck a boathook in and found the water was 4” deep. She was sitting in the mud in 4” of water.

We were livid. We had told them we needed a meter and a half of water and then they assigned us this dock. We had specifically come to a marina with a flap gate because we wanted to remain afloat. Had they told us something like we would ground, but the mud is soft, we probably would have gone somewhere else. If we ended up having no other option, we could have at least prepared to take the ground. As it was, our speed wheel was installed and all of our seawater intakes were open. At the very least, they’re now packed with mud. Even if our raw water pump can suck in the mud, I don’t like the idea of running abrasive silt through our engine. More seriously, our rudders were down. They are not structural and are not designed to support any weight. Best case is that they were just slowly pushed into really soft mud, but if there’s a rock in there or a sunken dock cart or pretty much anything hard, it’s much more serious. At the very least, they’re gummed up with mud. Had we known we were going to ground, we could have pulled them up. Oh and our dock lines were tied like we were going to float. Now the dock is hanging from them.

To make thing worse, the next high tide is at Midnight, so if we want to avoid a second grounding in the wee hours, we have to stay up and move then. Maryanne is already about half yawns. I found the night attendant and asked him if anything deeper was available. He gave me a ‘what’s the big deal look’ and banished us to a far away spot, I think as punishment for bothering him.

So far, we’ve had the same problem with this marina that we did with the last. The first guy we dealt with, in this case the fuel guy, was really, really nice. Everybody after that, well...not so much. Maryanne went to go check in and was met by the “computer says no” woman, who couldn’t be bothered to do anything. When Maryanne asked for clarification or help with anything, she was treated like an idiot for asking. Not her job. Ask somebody who cares later.

Sure, we get to see some cool stuff, but sometimes this life can seem like non-stop frustration.

More of the castle (in the background) and Britain's Smallest house - the little red one!


Mommy Dearest said...

Oh, come on. You can't leave me hanging like this. Here you are, literally stuck in the mud. It's a page-turner, that's for sure. I can feel the worry waves even here, where it is ALWAYS sunny and hot, by the way. Sending love and lots of it.

kate said...

i'm so glad i know your "computer says no" reference..! only, now i feel your frustration that much more. so sorry this happened; have you sorted out everything? hope footprint is not stuffed with mud and silt. yes, you get to see the gorgeous and interesting along with bad - sometimes very bad- customer service experiences. i love that suspension bridge! looked like a lovely town to poke around in, and your pics are great as usual.