A frustrated Jonty Pearce gets bogged down in maintenance when he would rather be out sailing


At this time of year I get slightly uneasy about the seemingly never-ending list of pre-season and repair jobs that Aurial seems to generate.

My concern is that the marine engineering side of boat ownership is beginning to overtake the time actually sailing; is the tail wagging the dog?

I know that the first cruise of the season will instantly bring amnesic bliss as I blank out all the hours spent upside down in the bilges and lost in an NMEA wiring maze, but that much awaited initial departure from our berth has yet to happen.

And the list of jobs to do seems to expand with each visit to the boat.

Take this weekend. Being retired, our diaries are fuller than ever before; we had squeezed in a window to motor Aurial round to Dale Sailing to get the masts re-stepped now that the new standing rigging and Furlex is ready.

The day before setting off for the 3 hour drive to Pembrokeshire I took a call cancelling the plan – the forecast indicated a gale force blasting into the lifting bay perfectly timed for our slot.

As it happened, this was a godsend as Carol’s mum suffered a suspected stroke that same afternoon, so the first mate shot off to sit at her bedside for three days; fortunately Phyllis recovered, diagnosis uncertain, and will be able to return to her nursing home.

Thwarted with regard to the original plan, I got on with other commissioning tasks.

Re-mousing the halyards and mast lines went well, as did tightening up the shroud plates after their re-sealing.

The reluctant Eberspacher, with a still leaking exhaust, was removed, the glow plug renewed, and reinstalled – and it fired up first time, now with a properly sealed exhaust joint.

My newly re-engineered hydraulic keel pulleys were installed with an 8mm axle replacing the bent 6mm one, but on testing there was a curious hiss and bubbling of oil at the base of the ram.

Closer inspection revealed that the 40 year old steel pipe connectors between the ram and its flexible hoses had decided that corrosion had overcome continence.

Typically, the leak had sprung at the point where the pipe went through the deck, and hydraulic oil now lay splattered under the floor.

Continues below…

Resigned to the notion that Aurial would have to sail as a fixed fin keel yacht rather than having the option to lift the plate until the ram was reconditioned, I left the job until a more timely moment and set off for home.

I think that I am gradually winning, but sometimes I do wonder.

Inevitably, maintenance issues can crop up at any time during the season; last year’s trip to the Isles of Scilly was first complicated by dirty fuel before an overheating engine issue raised its head during battery charging.

Having cleaned the fuel and tank (which was simply smelly and unpleasant), the job of stripping and investigating the cooling system proved by far the nastier task.

On our Bukh 36, all the seawater cooling apparatus is on the further, inaccessible, side of the engine.

I started working my way progressively from the inlet, through the strainer, and past the impeller to the oil cooler.

Not removable due to its unreachable position, I did manage to check that all its internal tubes were clear by rodding them through with a piece of welding wire. The thermostat seemed undamaged, and opened at the correct temperature.

When everything was reassembled and tested the flow of exhaust water and engine temperature were back to normal.

Diagnosis? Gremlins, just gremlins, conspiring to bruise and graze my forearms and cover me with grease from the side of the engine where the sun definitely does not shine.

And I have yet to discover why my Ampair 100 ‘hoist in the rigging’ wind turbine decided to produce no output – that is a job for a windy day and a multimeter back at home.

It’s just as well that I enjoy the varied challenges that boat ownership can proffer.

The trouble is, while I have not sailed since November, I have spent weeks on maintenance.

It is time to redress the balance; roll on, that first cruise – I want to write about sailing rather than moaning about mending.