UK To Gibraltar

October 18, 2019 posted by admin

October 18, 2019

What an Adventure!

Life is nothing if not full of adventure once in a while and this trip certainly did not leave any elements out!

How do you get ready for and execute an adventure? Where are we going?  How long will it take to get there?  What will we need along the way?  The thing is, we each get ready for our adventures basically in the same way.  Whether I am sailing across an ocean or you are driving to the cottage for the weekend, the questions are the same and the process is the same.   It’s the scale that is different!

For this trip we would travel 2200 nautical miles from Southampton, UK to Valletta Malta.  The boat needed to get to Malta for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.  Depending on weather, fuel and provisioning stops, the trip would take 15 days, averaging 150 miles a day.  We were scheduled to leave Southampton on Sept 26.  That would get us to Malta on or about Oct 10th or 11th.

What will we need along the way?  Hmmmm…..foood!  lots and lots of food!  Plus some diesel, some sails, some safety equipment and some crew!

Introducing Daniel 1st mate originally scheduled to onboard on the 30th in Cascais Portugal.  He looks fantastically stern here but he is the nicest guy to sail with and an excellent rigger.



Ryan 2nd mate (center), a fantastic pal of mine from ClipperTelemed+ days.


Marzena and Harry.



Marzena was looking for an adventure away from her everyday and Harry (standing beside Ryan) works in the power superyacht world and other than a brief moment in time has never sailed and was also looking to do “something different”.

Together we would form the delivery crew, along with our final crew member… Challenger a 1996 Volvo 60.


To get off the dock we had a reasonable list of things to get done.  Although the boat was supposed to be “ready to go”, there was still a list.  Let’s face it, with boats…there is always a list!

  • Main sail removed for service and cruising main bent on with bat cars to swap out, battens to swap out and fashion and lashings to be added to the bat cars that were failing to hold, plus a lashing to the headboard pin that no longer wanted to mate up to its set screw.mainsail work

mainsail on deck

  • J2 removed and cruising J3 bent on for delivery
  • Provisioning purchased and onboarded


  • Fuel onboarded
  • Broken stanchion replaced
  • New lifebuoys installed
  • Safety equipment inspected for delivery
  • Rig check
  • Alternator belts to purchase
  • Charts purchased and installed
  • Weather and comms systems initiated
  • Storage locker to be emptied out
  • B&G system not working and not displaying depth or wind info
  • Barometer also not displaying info

The weather would play a hand in all this of course.  On Sept 27 the weather was going to blow!  Out in the channel we were looking at 35 knots gusting 40+ on the nose.  Not ideal weather to take a undersized crew with no experience on Challenger off on an adventure.  Additionally, we had to get the boat to Hamble to fuel up.  To achieve this, we needed to not be at low water to get down the river and we needed it to not be blowing 30 knots in the slip.  Neither were going to happen that day.  Low water was in the morning and by the time we had enough water under our keel it was full on blowing in the harbour.  We would get some more jobs done and get to Hamble first thing in the morning with the tide.

We also decided that with the weather window looking more and more like the 30th, it would be wise to bring our final crew Daniel to the UK, rather than pick him up in Cascais.  He could arrive to England on the 29th and this would fit our weather window nicely and give us an extra set of educated hands for the first few days.

Daniel’s arrival on the 29th also afforded us a much overdue rig check and final safety kit walk through.  The morning of the 30th the air was still.  A perfect day to get going! Hmmmm, not enough battery to start the engine.  Really?????  This should have been a sign.  So off to Halford’s to buy a booster pack and some extra long battery cables.  We had a spare battery and could keep that charged along the way with the booster pack.  This charging problem was a signal of times to come.

And we were off!  Motoring down the Solent.  Yes, for all you navigation students that is me using navionics on my phone 🙂


There was even some occasional sun!  Then, in open water we hoisted the main….most of the way up only to see that the batten car pins were popping out of their sockets!  However this was nothing that a little lashing and some cable ties and hose clamps couldn’t fix.  Loaded with resources in his pockets, Daniel went up the mast and did a fine jury rig.  Something to monitor as we moved along.  With the mainsail up we sailed out past the needles.  It looked lumpy ahead.  It had been blowing from the south west for weeks.  Did I mention that we were heading to the north west corner of France…..heading south west to get there.  At least we got a few hours of sailing in daylight to get used to the boat and get into shifts.  Then came the night…..the wind built to 25 gusting thirty.  We were set up with two reefs in the main and the storm jib bent on.

storm jib

We were making very little progress forward in the current and the wind, but it was stable for everyone onboard.

Before heading off for my first off watch, I started the engine to get things charging.  No power again.  Boosted the battery with the battery pack and got things going only to see that there was no charge coming to the start battery, or the house system.  We certainly weren’t going to get far without power!  Oh, and did I mention the water?  There seemed to be a bit more water in the bilge than I was happy with.  We weren’t exactly sinking, but water was coming in somewhere and the engine bilge was about 5-6 inches underwater depending on the sloshing at the moment.  Alright, first battle is the charging.  Without charge this is a nonstarter  ahahahahah mechanics out there should find that funny!  The water could wait.  We chased wires, looked at the back of the alternator, checked the fuse which crumbled in my hands, found a spare fuse harness and installed it and still nothing.  We were directly outside Poole Harbour.  The tide was ebbing at a ferocious rate and the wind was howling now from the west.  We could see the channel entrance.  If I couldn’t figure out this charging, we were going to head in.  Nothing was the obvious problem.  Then, in all the swill of the water rolling around under the engine, Daniel found something.  Actually he found two things!  Two belts.  One intact and one broken.  The alternator is on the front of the engine which is about 3 inches away from a removable inspection board.  We had not removed the inspection board.  But funny enough when we removed it we could clearly see no alternator belt.  Now, which of the two belts was the one we needed to replace?  We took a guess, found two spares that matched part numbers and installed one of them.  Turned the key and……. Nothing.  No screaming from the alternator which was good as it meant that it was probably the right size.  No smoking or obvious damage from being too tight.  But also no charge coming out of the alternator.

As a last ditch suggestion from Chris (the owner), I sprayed a bucket full of WD40 across the back of the alternator…..corrosion was suspected to be the culprit for not creating any output.  Voila!  She sparked up and charge was supplied!  Hmmmm, but we certainly needed to keep an eye on this.  Meanwhile, even though we had been trying to sail towards the harbour, we were making less than 2 knots forward.  Time to head out to sea.  Sea room would give us safe room.  The harbour was not a safe entrance if we now had charging capabilities.  We motor sailed through the rest of the night, getting some well loved charge to the boat and giving us a little extra push through the water.  As I finally went off watch I noted that the motor did sound a little loud and “bangy”, but it had been 2 years since I was on Challenger.

The next day showed very little progress forward, but slowly but surely we were picking our way upwind toward France.  Did I mention that almost everyone was sick.  However, everyone was a trooper and soldiered through!

Now let’s tackle that water problem.  On boats, there are several potential sources of water coming in where it’s not supposed to.  They are fairly typical for any boat:

  • Through hulls
  • Water pump
  • Exhaust hose for engine
  • Mast
  • Shaft

Most of the water was pooled under the engine so I started with the engine.   First task is to bail as much out as possible to be able to actually see new water coming in.  Messy, dirty oily job.  This picture looks much more dramatic than it is.  We were rolling around a bit and you can actually see the water in the engine bay rushing past the shaft.


The raw water intake hose next to the shaft was actually spurting little bits of water out its side.  Some of you may also notice in this pic that this is a “dripless” with a stern gland rather than a stuffing box.  |If you are familiar with stern glands you may also think “my….that seems awfully squished”.  We will come back to that in a little bit.  I decided that the small amount of water coming in from the through hull was minor and certainly not attributed to the volume of water we had.  However the shaft was bouncing around a lot more than I liked.  Let’s have a look shall we?  Engine off and time to look at that stern gland.  When I reached my hands around to check the compression on the gland my fingers brushed past something on the floor.  A bolt.  Not unusual to find a bit of shiny stuff rolling around, but this was a particular bolt.  It was a hardened steel bolt from the transmission flange that couples the shaft to the transmission.  There are four of them and they are not meant to be sheared off as this one was.


Further inspection of the coupling showed that three of the bolts out of four were infact broken.  The culprit probably stemmed back to an incident years earlier, but now the bushing inbetween the couplings (the red bit) was crushed and broken.



No worries, there was a spare new one in the tools.  Unfortunately upon retrieval we found the new one was twice as thick and the bolts twice as short!  This was now a prime objective to sort out.  We had no transmission.  The good news though was that we could charge!  Daniel had a thought while I pondered how to precisely hacksaw down a piece of hard rubber in half….width wise.  He said “hang on a minute while I look for something”.  A few minutes later he came back with a very crudely fashioned bushing made out of two dollar store cutting boards.  “I made this a few years ago….I can’t believe it’s still on the boat”!  Neither could I.  It was perfect!  The holes weren’t exactly right but with a little reaming out they would be just fine.  The new bolts from the new piece were also the right length….just!  We put it all together and started her up.  It held and the significant knocking stopped.  Only a little out of true but good enough without doing a total alignment job on the motor.  We would check this again in an hour or so or if the motor started to sound any different at all.   Now back to that water.  With all of the water sponged out.  Yes, sponged.  The electric pump also decided to not work.  With all of the water sponged out I could do a proper dig about to find the water coming in.  Now that the shaft was in better alignment the through hull was no longer leaking.  Nothing a bit of Sikka flex couldn’t handle, but not an issue at the moment.  Certainly some of the water was coming down the mast.  That is just a fact of life with boats.  The keel bolts looked good and even if they were weeping a little, it still didn’t explain the larger amount of water.  What about the water pump?  Hmmmm, well would you look at that, there is a steady drip when the engine isn’t running.  I bet it is spraying when it’s under pressure.  Found the spares bag and found a new O-ring.  Cleaned up the pump plate and popped in the new o-ring and looky looky no more leaks.  Finished cleaning up all the water and went to bed.

Meanwhile the team have been doing a great job of keeping us going in the right direction, puking downwind and eating an apple or granola bar when they can.  A few hours later young Harry (I can say that because I am old enough to be his mother!) came to me and said “Skip, there is water under my bunk and getting all my gear wet”.  Challenger is a Volvo 60 with water ballast.  The water ballast is no longer used and the racks the crew sleep in are literally screwed to the ballast tanks. This is my rack… not Harry’s but you can see what I’m talking about.  You can see the blue valves coming out the side under my bunk


The screws in many cases go straight through.  If water has managed to get into the tank then it is seeping out the screws and well look at that…..water under Harry’s bunk.  Water that would have also migrated to the engine bay.  Note to everyone reading.  Always pack in a dry bag when going on a boat…..always!  You will see my pink Helly Hansen dry bag.  @hellyhansen  #hellyhansen Love it!

The note from the office when I consulted was “yeah, if the ballast tank has water in it it will leak out the walls.  The vent on that tank can back flood with some water if it drags through the sea.”  We had been on port tack for many hours dragging the starboard toerail (Harry’s bunk) through the sea….as you do, and in doing so, Harry’s ballast tank was filling up.  To fix this one needs to drain the ballast tank.  The easiest way to do that is to open the relief valve and put the electric pump to it and start pumping.  Let’s see if we can get that pump going.  Daniel had earlier on taken it apart and couldn’t find anything wrong with it or plugging it.  Maybe it just needed an excruciatingly long time to prime?  Whatever it was it only took about ten seconds of priming and it started pumping.  Hallelujah! Emptying the ballast tank took 3 rounds of pumping for twenty minutes at a time.  I didn’t want to burn the pump out now that we finally had it going!  Then with the pump working I went around the mast box and slurped up every inch of water.  Likewise under the engine and anywhere else I could find a dribble.  Dry boat.  Time to go to bed.


The next few days saw a variety of wind on the nose, no wind, wind on the nose, no wind…. You name it, we saw it.  At one point there was a bit of a bang in the forepeak


and upon inspection found the handrails attached to the work bench had separated from the deck head.  Another day I said… not today.  We even had a “poo” story that I didn’t bother to tell anyone about.  Not really about poo, but the toilet was not holding it’s water and kept slopping out of the bowl and into the bilge.  Ah the glamour of it all.  And, for icing on the cake, the overall damp and corrosion on a boat like this that lives at sea working all the time is the corrosion on the back of the electrical panel.  Everything would have a moment of just flickering off.  I installed two new terminal blocks.  Ran a direct lead to one of the batteries for both the positive and the negative and as things would stop working I would switch them over to the new terminal blocks while I chased down the corrosion.  The one that got me was the B&G and the barometer.  Soooo many wires on the backbone system and soooo many junction boxes along the way for all the repeaters around the boat.  I was never able to figure out that one.

Shortly into this whole delivery we also saw the self tailor on the port runner winch tear off.  It was in the dark…… of course.  A few minutes afterwards, dear sweet Ryan turned and grabbed the winch and found the only sharp bit sticking out of the broken tailor and it punctured into his hand.

puncture wound

The picture looks WAY more Halloween dramatic than it really was as salt water had been pouring all over his hand, but infact he got some cleaning up and suture tapes and bandages and we kept it clean for the rest of the trip.  It was a pretty decent puncture!

second breakfast

Well let’s just chalk this run up to “one for the books” of things that could go wrong….did go wrong.

Hats off to our crew who were awesome throughout it all.  For me, yes it was a little stressful.  I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from big ocean stuff for a day or two.  After I got off the boat in Gibralter I found my way through customs (that’s a whole other story involving no stamps in passports, a police station, two boarder crossings, a re routed plane to Spain and a two hour shuttle bus) and found myself in a lovely little pub called the Red Lion.  If you are ever in Gibralter, go to the Red Lion on the main street.  It’s tiny and operated by a wonderful couple who let me set up shop in their office corner of the pub, plug in my laptop, fed me a full English, a pint and a glass of water……

Here’s to adventures….may they be a little less “putting out the fires” in your next adventure and a little more adventure in your adventure! #feelalive


Leave a Reply