Another stormy tale!

An account of a night time delivery trip aboard an Interceptor 38


        It seems I keep getting opportunities to tell more tails of rough weather trips, which is great for the boats reputation, but not so good                for the unfortunate few on the trip, most poignant this time, as I was there. Since the launch of ‘Siteseeker’ an Interceptor 38, we had been waiting for an opportunity to sail her to Penzance where she will be based. However over the past month we’ve had continuous poor weather without let up. A window appeared on the 13th of October and as both the owner Gordon Jones, myself, and Chris Caines (the owner of ‘Tiger Lilly’ who, god love him agreed to crew with me) happened to be free at that time we decided to ‘have a go’. The weather forecast all that day was giving 2-3 Northerly winds. Chris and Gordon arrived here at 10.30 pm and we cast off at 12.00 pm. At this time we had only force 2-3 and as we left Cork Harbour all appeared fine. About half an hour out we heard the latest weather forecast, which, unfortunally came through somewhat garbled and hard to hear, although we thought we heard winds of 5-7 with a gale warning, which of course, we did our best not to hear. As the wind was still only about 3 we reckoned it must be for the west cost!, but it did make us a bit apprehensive. We kept on going making 14 kts in a following sea. The wind began to freshen, and the waves began to build but the boat was handling wonderfully, she was on autopilot, which was coping excellently and the motion was very comfortable. It was pitch black however and we couldn’t really see the size of the waves, but we became aware that the waves were starting to break heavily as the moon was reflecting on the white wave crests. At around 3 am conditions had worsened considerably, there was now a gale of wind there with heavily breaking waves. The boat was still on autopilot and handling great, but in the following sea we were getting in some serious surfs. On these occasions the boat would accelerate  up to 18kts on the face of the wave and surf along until she buried herself into the back of the wave in front. During the worst of these she would take green water over the bow and screens. As we couldn’t see anything it was just a case of holding on and hoping she would be ok, but I felt that sooner rather than latter the sea was going to bite back. We throttled back to 12 kts and she was fine but the sea state now became more apparent. We decided to call up the coast guard and get a weather update, however we were now out of range and could not raise them.

About an hour previous we had passed a trawler so we decided to try and contact her, which we did, thankfully. They informed us that the latest weather forecast was 5-7  reaching gale force on Southern Irish coastal waters. As a result of this news we decided to stop and take stock of the wind and sea condition as it was now apparent that the weather conditions were much worse than we had expected. No sooner had we slowed down than the alarm went off on the engine. We stopped the engine and went to investigate the problem. With the boat now drifting it immediately became clear how bad conditions were. Drifting beam on, the waves were breaking over the side of the boat, which gives some example of the seastate. I was in the engine compartment trying to find the problem, and could hear the waves breaking  over the boat and crashing onto the engine box lid, which was thankfully, protecting me.

We could find no problem with the engine, oil pressure was fine, temperature and charging were fine yet the alarm was still on. We now had to make the decision to press on, or head back to Cork. It was clear we had a good force 7 with more on the way. We would be quite comfortable continuing with a following sea, but we would have to slow down till it got day light as it would be to dangerous to run at speed as we couldn’t see the holes that might upset the boat, and considering the forecast we were looking  it was going to get a whole lot worse with a likely passage time of 15 hrs, and it was clearly going to be a bad trip. We did feel that we would be ok, but the engine alarm was worrying. Whilst everything seemed fine, and we felt it was most likely a faulty sender or alarm, it would have been foolhardy to take the chance as if the engine did stop we would be in serious trouble. So we made the decision to turn back for Cork. The moment we put her nose into it we knew we were in for a beating. Whilst the wave height was at most 8-9 ft they were very closely spaced, steep and breaking heavily. For the next four hours all Chris and I could do was stand at the helm and try to see the worst of the waves coming, which was signalled by the moonlight suddenly reflecting off a mass of white breaking water appearing above the bow. The boat dealt with all this brilliantly and all we had to do was set the throttle on 1800rpm, which gave about 8.5kts and hang on. The autopilot worked a treat and kept us on course but we were crashing very heavily when we fell off the waves and were shipping them green over the bow virtually continuously, and not just the odd time. On several occasions they came right over the bow and up over the flybridge only to dump in the aft cockpit. I was sure we were going to lose the flybridge seats and lifebuoys, which were up there. Of as much concern was the anchor which was gradually getting loosened as a result of the boarding seas, periodically I would shine a torch on to the bow only to see it rattling around and wonder how in hell I was going to get up there to secure it if it did get lose. However it didn’t, and all was fine with us eventually getting home at 7am in the morning, well battered and tired.

                A few things were learnt from all this. Firstly never underestimate the changeable nature of the sea and secondly give the boat a good shakedown before embarking on any serious voyages, Sitseeker had 25hrs on the clock prior to leaving, but this obviously wasn’t enough. It transpired that the alarm went off due to a faulty water level alarm in the header tank, a small fault easily fixed (by unplugging the alarm!!!) and not really a problem. But we weren’t to know that at the time! I think Chris’s words, when we arrived home, “we’re like three little schoolboys sneaking home, after just getting away with, a good telling off from teacher”, sum it all up!