Support the RNLI
0915 15th June
We are 20 NM SE of Aberdeen motoring over a glassy sea. We departed from Amble yesterday evening at 1800 in strong westerly winds. Sailing outside the Farne Islands we thundered on through the night in mostly F 5’s and 6’s. Winds increased as the Forth opened up to the west creating a funnel. It was hard sailing but ‘Talisker 1’ was in her element under double reefed main and stay sail. And with an open sea and no traffic … it has been lovely. I had set my audible guard alarms on AIS and Radar.
As expected, the wind has dropped completely this morning. I’m expecting …
I stopped typing on the 15th June the moment the engine noise changed …. I was about to type … southerly winds to slowly build from the south. They will be quite strong later in the day. I expect to motor for two to three hours.
Where do I begin?
Me n ‘Talisker 1’ are safe in Peterhead Bay Marina having arrived safely at 1700 on the 15th June. It was not the uneventful passage that I prefer. Nonetheless it was safe!
I had switched the engine off immediately the problem started and we slowly came to a halt in bright warm sunshine over a glassy sea. By 1000 I realised that the engine had barely a few minutes running time left. With engine briefly switched back on water from the fresh water cooling system was leaking in to the engine bay at a steady rate so I switched the engine off again immediately. I would have to save the ‘few minutes’ for final berthing on arrival. I knew I could sail to Peterhead and it was clear, given the forecast for later in the day, that we could sail through the pier heads in to the port comfortably and probably through the port and in to the marina too, if necessary. But would the Port allow me to sail in? When I had arrived at Peterhead inbound from Stavanger in choppy conditions in 2017 I had been allowed to lower my main sail once inside the shelter of the harbour.
There was a faint breath of wind from the south. I lowered the main sail so that I did not have to deal with it later in the day and set the genoa on port and the stay sail, poled out on a starboard tack. They were limp but very slowly they began to fill as ‘Talisker 1’ started to move forward in the very gentle airs from the south.
The odd text message was reaching me and I got a message from Peter Buchan asking how we were getting on. Before the signal completely died again, I was able to message Peter that in all likelihood, we would not be able to run the engine for more than a minute or two. Peter had sailed from Peterhead to Fraserburgh to take a couple of hours off his next leg to Wick.
With a clear plan, it was now time to inform Aberdeen Coast Guard so they could forewarn Peterhead Port Radio and the Peterhead Bay Marina HM. At 1045 I called on VHF and requested “routine traffic”. I explained to Aberdeen CG that we had engine problems and that with the wind building from the south as the afternoon progressed we were comfortable sailing to Peterhead and also that it would be straight forward for us to enter the port under sail. I asked the Coast Guard to let Peterhead Harbour Radio know that a SV with a disabled engine was heading their way. Could I sail in to the harbour and would a work boat be on stand by IF the engine failed in the port, motoring the short distance to Peterhead Bay Marina? I would at least be able to sail most of the way to the marina once within the port.
The CG were very professional and asked the usual questions … Call Sign, MMSI number, last port of call, POB etc. They also wanted me to confirm that my call was not a Pan Pan. I was asked what safety equipment we carried and I hope I reassured them. ‘Talisker 1’ is well equipped to be a long way off shore. I was asked for my PLB ID. The CG would inform Peterhead Harbour Radio.
The CG called back. Peterhead were in the picture. The CG would call me every hour.
By 1300 we started to make good speeds with southerly winds of 10 to 18 knots. We were now approximately 17 NM SSE of Peterhead but a foul tide was setting in.
At 1520 the skies were overcast, we had furled the stay sail, stowed the pole and were running under a rolled reefed genoa only. The seas were disturbed and it was blowing 5 to 6’s. I had a good signal on my mobile phone so called Peterhead Harbour.
Peterhead Harbour Radio were wonderful. We were expected and yes … we could sail in. I asked about the work boat in case we needed a tow. They were ready for us. The tide was running at its fastest which created a tricky sea state. Peterhead told me to call on the VHF when we were about a mile out!
I furled the genoa and set the stay sail. It would be slightly easier to handle when we had to gibe in the approaches. Wanting the minimum to do once inside the harbour I had prepared fenders that were lying on deck, ready to put over the side. Mooring lines were laid out on the bridge deck, under the spray hood.
I switched to my handheld VHF. I would only have to deal with mooring lines and furl the stay sail within the port. I had rigged a bridle in case a tow was needed.
In the approaches to the harbour I was monitoring Peterhead Harbour Radio. A ship was going to enter the port and I asked Harbour Radio to confirm that she would get in well before us. I also asked if I was clear to follow her in.
I can’t be certain but I think Harbour Radio took a call from Aberdeen CG.
We were on a starboard tack and I wanted to time the jibe so that we could have a comfortable entry to the pier heads on a port tack. The tide was running south very hard.
The VHF crackled in to life.
“Talisker 1 Talisker 1 this is Peterhead Life Boat over.”
They were coming out to escort us in!!! After a brief chat, they having offered to transfer a crew member to ‘Talisker 1’, I was told to concentrate on sailing and that they would handle communications with Harbour Radio. I’m not sure if a tow was offered too.
To say I was astonished would be an understatement. I was almost, for a moment completely discombobulated!
I watched as the all weather Tamar “The Misses Robertson of Kintail” come through the pier heads to stand by just to the south of the port entrance. As we closed in on the bay she started to head out slowly towards us. Slowly the LB came round astern of us.
I was very surprised, flattered, slightly overwhelmed, humbled even … that the Life Boat had put to sea, just for us. All I’d asked for was a small workboat to stand by, if necessary, within the harbour.
In February 2021 I had read a report and watched the film of an incredible rescue carried out by this Life Boat when they saved the lives of five fishermen who were moments from death in this very same bay. It had also been Pat Davidson’s first service as Coxwain, after twenty three years as a crew member. What a first shout! I had followed RNLI Peterhead on social media ever since.
With the LB now astern of us it was fairly important to jibe at the right moment. I checked the seas behind us, had my angles right and jibed. Approaching the Pier Heads dead centre, as a precaution and unnecessarily, I gunned the engine for just 30 seconds to push us through the entrance before switching the engine off again.
I rolled the stay sail smaller to slow our speed. We now had the breeze on the beam. The small marina is in the west corner of the harbour. I turned to wave and thank the LB who waved back.
Within moments the reassurance of the Life Boat’s small Y class LB rib was alongside on our starboard side manned by two crew members.
With mooring lines now in place I confirmed to the Y class that I knew the bay. I furled the stay sail and started the engine to enter the marina.
Ahead of us on the pontoon the Marina HM was signalling us to an easy berth and Peter Buchan was standing beside him!
A few moment later our lines were taken and the engine was switched off.
The two crew members from the Y class, Sean Lawrence and Craig Aird, were extremely kind and came to say hello on the pontoon. They also confirmed that Pat Davidson was in command of “The Misses Robertson of Kintail”.
In short everyone was very professional and textbook. I think I did what I had to do.
I have to thank:-
Aberdeen Coast Guard:- Paula, David and Ross
Peterhead Harbour Radio:- Geoff Phillips
Peterhead Life Boat:- Coxwain Pat Davidson, Martyn Simpson (full time crew) who communicated with us by VHF, Sean and Craig and of course the whole crew of volunteers who dropped everything to come and make sure we were safe.
Peterhead Bay Marina:- Ian, who was the duty Marina HM when we berthed.
And I must not to forget my mate Peter Buchan who took the bus from Fraserburgh to Peterhead to help me with the engine. And to Ian who so kindly drove Peter back to Fraserburgh later that evening. A round trip of over 30 miles.
After Peter ran the engine for a minute or so there was a hiss of steam as the fresh water coolant evaporated and emptied in to the engine compartment. Peter diagnosed that the seals and bearings were shot to bits on the Circulation Pump. Peter removed the pump and also the alternator to make access easier. It was very kind of him to leave Malissa, his small dog and ship, to come and help me.
I thanked RNLI Peterhead on Instagram and Facebook. My posts were copied on to their Social Media.
The following morning I phoned Peter Norris …
Peter suggested sending the circulation pump to him by guaranteed next day delivery. Peter would return it immediately. Job done.
A minute or two later Peter called back. The parts were going to take two or three days to arrive and he and Wendy were going sailing for a week. Peter suggested I phone his supplier and get the parts sent to Peterhead. A local engineering shop would be able to do the job!
At that moment there was a tap on the side of ‘Talisker 1’. Pat Davidson was on the finger pontoon. Pat had come to say hello and immediately offered help with repairs. It was a joy to meet and have a coffee with Pat. A more modest, self effacing and kind man would be hard to find.
Later in the day Pat drove me to Bill Mackie Engineering Ltd where I met Graeme Mackie. Graeme was happy to carry out the repairs.
I’m now just waiting on parts.
This is the first engine failure in 23 years and well over 30,000 miles.
Peterhead Bay Marina is looked after by Keith and Ian, Keith’s deputy. I can’t recommend it more. I’ve always received the most friendly welcome, not only by the unsurpassed kindness and generosity of the Peterhead people but also, helped much, because the likes of Keith and Ian have spent time at sea. They understand!
Doc never forgot arriving in the bay of an island after a long ocean passage. A harbour launch approached.
“You have come a long way. Please rest tonight and we will clear you in tomorrow once you have had a good sleep.” Only a master mariner would say that.
Pat recommended I visit the Peterhead Prison Museum. If I’m offered horror or comedy I’ll always go for comedy. A Prisons Museum! Surely not!
The museum also houses a Life Boat Museum but that was not the only reason for the recommendation.
I spent a wonderful three hours yesterday. The prison museum was fascinating. The information head cams had former Prison Officers telling their stories in the various sections. The voice over was superbly narrated. It was one of the best three hours I’ve spent in a museum. I can’t recommend it more.
The former Peterhead RNLB “Julia Park Barry of Glasgow” is also on display. That was a bonus to finish the tour and well worth a visit in itself.
Last night I had supper out. A very rare event. Ed Curtis and his girl friend Beth invited me to join them for a curry. Ed sails an Oyster LW 48 ‘Lia’ out of Cork. Ed has to go back to work for a few weeks and is leaving ‘Lia’ in the safe hands of Keith and Ian. Ed arrived from Lerwick having sailed to Faroe.
I’m in no hurry. The weather is fine and the boat is safe. The parts will arrive and I’m making no plans until everything is back together and thoroughly tested.
I would only add that this marina is the best I’ve been to. Fabulous staff and perfect, unpretentious and pristine fascilities.
What a fabulous write-up. I’m glad my colleagues at Aberdeen MRCC were able to assist. (I work in the Ops Room at Shetland MRCC).
All the best for the rest of your trip.
Hi Stuart. Aberdeen CG were great. Very professional. How kind of you to read my post. For me … out of everywhere I’ve sailed … a few days in North Haven, Fair Isle in settled weather and then on up past Sumburgh Head to the main islands have been THE most enjoyable. I love Shetland. I was hoping to make it a third visit this summer. I was sailing ‘towards’ Shetland. This is the first engine failure in 23 years and 30k + miles but I still feel guilty. Shetland CG must be extremely demanding. Thank you again for reading the post. Kind regards – James
Wow, treated like royalty, what an amazing institution is the RNLI.
I also suffered the surprise of engine failure yesterday. We had been beating close hauled trying to get west in a 25 knot SW for 6 hours making for the entrance to the Guadiana River. Our 40 yr old Nic 35 had seen it all before and was punching her way through it predictably as ever. The shallow sea had been building all afternoon and was very uncomfortable, putting the 2nd reef in at the mast was a very wet job. The shallow bar at the mouth was likely to be very bouncy indeed so I made the decision to put into Isla Christina 5 nm to the east, it was closer and despite a narrow entrance conditions would be easier than the mouth of long large river. Also my wife and I were tired, We had our 65th’s this year too and as you say you notice it. Arrived at the fairway buoy pressed the button to have her in tick over while I sorted the sails to make a dignified entrance but nothing just click click click. No time to make any attempt at repair and only just enough time to run downwind and furl the rest of the genoa before aiming for the narrow gap between the breakwaters under the double reefed main. Once inside the training wall it all quietened down and we threaded our way through the fishing fleet looking for a safe spot to anchor, didn’t quite end up where we had planned bit pretty close and out of everyone’s way. Engines !!!! Culprit I think is a corroded cable from battery to starter. Today we sat out the rest of the 25/30 knot westerly and will continue on our way tomorrow at first light. Keep up the posts always enjoy reading them, best wishes
Hi Nick. That sounded masterly. Very well done for putting in to Isla Christina. You will have handled it in such an accomplished way, no-one will have been any the wiser. They were very good here. I think everyone dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. I had to let Aberdeen CG know so they could tell the busy commercial port of Peterhead that I needed to come in under sail. It was much much easier than what you had to do. I felt I could have sailed in to the marina but there is always that small chance of bashing someone else’s property. Very glad you got in safely. Best wishes, James PS First engine failure in 23 years and goodness know how many miles.
All is well that ends well.
The whole situation was handled in a seamanlike and professional manner by the CG, RNLI and yourself.
Well done all.
Had to deal with the very same problem last year. Though I was fortunate enough to discover it (by accident) in port (Cherbourg).
Hope you will be able to continue your voyage in the very near future.
Thank you Wim. The parts have arrived. Engineers in Peterhead are making the repairs to the circulation pump and then hopefully I’ll be able to reinstall it and all will be well. I suppose its not terrible that it’s my first engine break down in 23 years. Where are you sailing? Stay safe.
For about 15 years, I sailed on the UK East Coast. Mainly based at SYH.
In 2016, with retirement on the horizon, I moved the boat to Brittany. Been sailing the French Atlantic coast ever since.
Quite a change of scenery. Things that took some getting used to were: 1. no, the decimal point on the echosounder is not broken and 2. the water’s a lovely shade of ‘not brown’.
This year, I had planned to cruise the Spanish Rias. However, as I’m still due my second Covid shot my movements are somewhat restricted at the moment.
Excellent write up of your experiences. Having passed through Peterhead recently I can endorse your comments about the staff here. I too had a very helpful lifeboat crew when I had problems close to Wells next the Sea. I cover it ( more briefly than your excellent write up!) in my blog at http://voyagesofthslmia.org in the episode “it’s not all plain sailing” I am and will remain a lifetime supporter!
Thank you Derek. I will check out your blog. I think we all did the right thing. I did not need help but as the Coxwain of the LB said ‘You never know’.