Not all days on board are good ones, as Jonty Pearce finds out when he encounters a commissioning nightmare


It was just one of those days. We all have them – days when everything we touch goes wrong and it is best to just give up and go back to bed. With a boat three hours drive away, this is not always an easy option. The day started badly with a puncture on the drive through the cold Welsh drizzle to Aurial to fettle her for the start of the season. Arriving frozen to the bone, and I was glad to finally get on board and make myself a warming cuppa.

The first job of the day was to prepare and service the engine. This is never one of my favourite jobs: on Aurial’s Bukh 36 the impeller is neatly placed on the blind side of the engine – handy if you are half orang-utan complete with long powerful double jointed arms, and half giraffe with a neck that can look round corners. Having neither, I had developed a technique of squeezing a compressed greased impeller replacement into a suitable sawn off paint can top which usually lets me push it onto the water pump spline, thus preventing a struggle akin to giving my cat a worming tablet. I was encouraged by initial success until, cramped double over the engine whose various components were trying to penetrate my chest, I fumbled and one of the cover screws fell into the most inaccessible bit of the bilge. Once finally retrieved, it was time for the oil change. Although I am fortunate to have a built in oil extraction pump on the Bukh, I am never properly prepared with empty containers for the warm used oil. A scrummage through the marina skip came up with several 2L plastic milk containers – hallelujah! All was going well, but muggins had forgotten that the warm oil softens plastic, and when I tried to pick up the first full one my gentle grip spouted warm oil all over the floor. I did remember to put the cap on the second one.

With all cleaned up and the engine finally serviced, I tested forward and reverse gears while still moored give up to the pontoon. Always stiff on moving from forward to reverse, the morse control teleflex cable chose this moment to part. I suppose I was fortunate to be in harbour and close by a chandler who happily sold me a new cable and control, but I still felt affronted at its lack of consideration.

While the engine was running, I checked that the hydraulically lifting keel went up and down smoothly. A winter’s inactivity had made it reluctant to budge – another task. It was at this moment that I spotted that the engine temperature and oil gauges were not working, allowing me the thrill of stripping down the engine control panel.

Once these problems were fixed, I checked the instruments. No wind speed – a glance up aloft showed why – seized bearings in the anemometer cup despite a F7. This would have to wait till Carol came down – she enjoys a climb up the mast while my bulk makes such activity look like being Mr Blobby on a kebab stick.

The next problem was a failure of GPS to fix its position. This was compounded by malfunction of the MOB button. After a happy hour of detective work, I found that the GPS receiver wire had been pinched where it came up through a stanchion post. Why wait till now to fail? Once this was remedied, success was only short term – a new receiver was required as the rechargeable battery in the old one had died, and my attempts to replace the spot welded battery were not reliable.

Sitting having a final restorative cuppa on the navigation seat while I looked out over the marina through the drizzle, I decided to clear the window with the wiper. Nothing. When I took it apart, the salt encrustation had seized the gears and corroded the armature – more expenditure.

With that final straw, I decided it was time to drive home for a deep bath and a strong whisky. It is at times like this that I wonder whether I really enjoy boat ownership. Although I start the season all fired up with enthusiasm having read the  ‘Commissioning made easy’ articles in the marine press, the reality is all too often at odds with reality. Carol has always threatened to divorce me if I ever take up golf – maybe it is time to make the sacrifice and accept her offer….


Jonty Pearce