The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sailing without an engine

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Sailing Blogs.
Sunday, 19 August 2012 - Trip from Lagos (Algarve) to Peniche - about 175 miles

Manuel and I had just cast two fishing lines when his boat engine stopped abruptly about a mile off Cape Espichel.

Volvo Penta
Toolbox and plastic bag to catch dripping oil

The holidays were nearly over and I was helping Manuel sail (motorsail) his 8-metre Beneteau First from Lagos to Peniche. After arriving at about 12:30 at the Lagos bus station next to the marina, I met Manuel by the lift bridge that we crossed on our way to a restaurant near the boatyard.

After a leisurely grilled fish lunch, we bought some groceries and then dinghied out to his boat that was anchored off the main beach.

Lagos marina entrance
Leaving Lagos without a care in the world
Sagres anchorage
Anchorage in Sagres
Sagres is one of my favourite places on earth (I almost started a business there many years ago) and it's always good to come back, even on somebody else's boat.
We went ashore, walked around town, had dinner and retired early for a good night's sleep.

At 5 a.m. the next morning we began the 60-mile motoring trip against a light headwind to Sines where we docked at the Marina. The routine goes something like this: tie up the boat, rinse it with fresh water, check-in at the office, take a shower and walk into town for dinner.

We made a beeline for "Adega de Sines," an ancient restaurant which the owner was smart enough not to renovate. The tables may be only 20 or 30 years old, but the wall and floor tile, marble counter, windows and ceiling decore have that special "other era" look from a time when tourists were not really tourists at all. You know what I mean, I hope.

Unfortunately, the Adega was closed, so we selected our second-favourite restaurant.

The next morning, we motored out in the dark and started a pleasant motoring trip up the coast on a hot sunny day...until the engine died abruptly.

We investigated the problem while rolling in the swell. The fuel filters were clean, the fuel pump was doing its job and the engine temperature felt normal to the touch.

"Push the starter again," Manuel yelled from down below.
"Stop, stop!!! What the hell, there's oil squirting from the rubber seal behind the alternator pulley."

We tried again, but the starter groaned and failed to turn the engine over. The motoring game was over.

We decided to sail in light winds to the fishing port of Sesimbra about 7 miles east where we hoped to get a mechanic to look at it.

The wind totally died about halfway there and Manuel began towing the boat with the dinghy for a while.

Finally, we anchored at the port entrance, went ashore and found a good-natured pot-bellied mechanic who came out with a screw driver and two wrenches wrapped in a rag.

After fiddling around, the mechanic declared that one of three things was broken, but couldn't determine which without opening up the engine.

That settled it. We went shopping for more food and water and sailed out just before night fell.

We tacked our way up in a light air until 5 in the morning when I found myself drifting windless right in the middle of the shipping channel outside the Tagus River. Soon I saw a ship coming right for us going to Lisbon. Not good! Although I don't believe in miracles, the wind slowly picked up and got me out of there as I watched the ship cross the very spot where I had been bobbing around going nowhere.

Later, as the sun rose, the notorious wind and swell south of Cape Roca became our enemy. We figured we'd tack 15 miles west and, by the time we tacked another 15 miles east, we'd clear the nasty stuff. That was the theory anyway. After all, Manuel and I are both fully licenced ocean skippers.

Although his boat sails well, it's light and can't stand up to the push and shove of oncoming waves. So imagine sailing 15 miles northwest and 15 miles northeast and then realising that we had sailed about 5 miles toward our destination!
Sailing without an engine
The good life before the engine died

Tagus River Entrance
No engine, no hurry, I wish I was still there
That's when you appreciate a boat that sails well windward. Now, my Corbin 39 is no sharp pointer, but in this situation it would have held its ground and bashed through the waves.

We spent all day and another night tacking back and forth...back and forth...I'm talking about 10 to 15 mile tacks, clawing up the coast like a crab (did you ever notice that crabs walk sideways).

Our shifts based on "when I wake up I'll come up and take over. If you need any help, just knock." This worked out to 2 to 3-hour shifts.

Then the wind changed to NE a bit, helping us sail a somewhat straight line to Peniche in a now smoother sea.

Alright, I know this story is getting long and boring for blogging I'll be quick about it.

We tacked our way into the port of Peniche with the wind on the nose in the middle of the night. Manuel at the helm and me at the genoa sheets, almost touching the breakwaters on either side on each tack. Finally we made it inside where we dropped sail. We put the outboard on the dinghy and I pushed him like a tiny tugboat into his slip.

Moral of the story, if you own a sailboat shut off the engine and treat yourself to an adventure. Isn't that what sailing is all about?

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  1. Testing my own comment box. My multitude of followers are screaming they can't post comments.

  2. May the comment abuse commence!
    Now let's see...

  3. Yup, it works. Nice to see ya back on the water! Can't wait to see/read more

    1. I'm a sitting duck now...but my audience began to dwindle when I started quacking less and less often.