Edward Vivian experiences a burst coolant hose while sailing from Guernsey to Plymouth in deteriorating conditions

Burst coolant hose: ‘I had spares for everything except this’

Every year a small group of enthusiastic sailors from Fowey and surrounding ports try to venture abroad, writes Edward Vivian.

The FOGOF (Fowey Goes Foreign) trip has been going for several years and each time we try to include some challenging and educational sailing.

Mostly, these challenges involve interesting access to Breton harbours, overnight crossings of the English Channel or handling headlands and tidal races.

With COVID-19 restrictions and new rules governing access to French ports dissuading us from those, the 2021 FOGOF trip was planned for the only ‘foreign’ place obviously within reach.

Sea legs back

The Bailiwick of Guernsey opened up for visiting yachts on 1 July so, along with four other boats from Cornwall, we decided to take advantage and beat the crowds.

We, on Déjà Vu, my Beneteau Oceanis 381, had been at sea for over two weeks, initially heading west with several days in the Isles of Scilly.

Boats moored in a marina

Victoria Marina in St Peter Port is well sheltered and was a good base for the FOGOF crews. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

We had enjoyed some fantastic sailing weather, got our sea legs back and had felt a very welcome sense of freedom after a long year under restrictions.

Like most of the other yachts in the group, we sailed east initially to shorten the English Channel crossing.

Early on 1 July, myself and the three crew of Déjà Vu set off for a very benign trip over from Dartmouth, arriving in St Peter Port, having spent nearly the entire crossing motor sailing.

The post-COVID-19 Channel with no other sails on the horizon felt eerily quiet. Arrival and clearance for COVID-19 rules was relatively straightforward, starting on a ‘quarantine pontoon’ before being checked by local officials and being released to enter Victoria Marina.

A boat with a white hull and red canopy moored against a pontoon

Déjà Vu docked in St Peter Port on the quarantine pontoon

A good weekend was had by all, including the traditional dinner planned for the crews at a local and very welcoming hostelry, as well as a pontoon party and sea shanty sing-along. All was bright for an enjoyable trip home.

Some of the group decided to stay and explore other islands in the Bailiwick. We needed to return to England for a number of reasons, which meant we had to plan to head north on Sunday at the latest.

One of the crew had to depart in Guernsey and flew back home, leaving the three of us left to sail back to Plymouth.

Sunday dash

The weather forecast was for deteriorating conditions from midday Sunday onwards with potential gales on Monday, so we decided to get away for our leg to Plymouth early on Sunday, departing at 0500 motor sailing to keep the miles rolling under the keel as quickly as we could.

Three hours out and the winds were starting to build, as were the seas. We double reefed early with winds regularly between 17 and 21 knots – better safe than sorry.

I was on the helm with one of the crew and the other was catching up on sleep below.

All seemed to be going well when the engine overheat light came on. I quickly stopped the engine, handed over the helm to Philpy, the other crewman on deck, and took a look below.

A yacht with a white hull heeling

The sea and wind began to build as the the crew of Déjà Vu sailed towards Plymouth

Steam was gushing from the engine compartment and on closer inspection, I spotted an obviously burst coolant hose from the heat exchanger.

Coolant and water were spewing into the bilges.

The sails were up and we were making good progress, so we were able to continue safely, while the formerly sleeping crewman and I fashioned a temporary patch fix to the hose using plumbers putty and amalgamating rubber tape. No spare hose though!

I had spares for everything but not those coolant hoses.

We restarted the engine to test and while the patch held, we were not confident that it would last very long.

The decision was to carry on and grind out the trip back to Plymouth and only use the engine when we were very close to the dock.

Continues below…

More wind

All crew clipped on when in the cockpit and took turns at the helm. Soon an extra reef went in, and with two thirds of the genoa rolled away we found ourselves heading into massive 3m plus rollers, some breaking.

Winds by now had increased to between 27 and 32 knots; more than is comfortable, although all of us had faced higher winds before. With the combination of the waves as well, we were being handsomely battered by the weather and it really didn’t feel safe to go below without the risk of being tossed around.

A man wearing jeans and a coat with a red lifejacket sleeping on a boat

Catching up on sleep before the weather turned

At one point Andy, the experienced owner of another boat, decided to heave-to so that we could all take a brief breather and a much needed natural break. The heads were not a good place to visit.

With a small amount of genoa backed and the helm hard over, we settled into a brief respite. Several large commercial vessels were seen and a couple required us to alter course to go behind them.

A combination of wind, sea and tide pushed us east of Start Point, and with the wind direction, made for a very tedious and long 20.5 hour sailing trip, nearly seven hours of which was clawing our way back past the various headlands around Start Point and on towards safe harbour.

The original passage plan estimated a 15-hour trip for the roughly 87-mile voyage.

Start Point lighthouse

Start Point was a welcome sight, but wind, sea and tide had pushed Déjà Vu east of the headland, and it took the crew nearly seven hours to claw back the miles. Credit: Edward Vivian

Finally, at shortly after 0100, with rain falling just to add to our misery, we glided through The Bridge in Plymouth Sound under genoa only, started the engine anxiously and gently made our way into Mayflower Marina, getting docked just as the hose patch failed
and the engine overheated again.

Exhausted and without having eaten for nearly 24 hours and a little dehydrated, with the cabin in chaos (it looked like everything had been lifted up and just dumped) and wet from two loads of water and coolant slopping around in the bilges, we hit our bunks with no thought of anything but clearing up in the morning after some much needed sleep before showers and a hearty breakfast.

This had been a sharp introduction to sailing the traditional way, and we all went home with increased awe for the sailing adventurers of the past who did this as the norm without engines, and facing far worse conditions.

Burst Coolant Hose: Lessons Learned

  • Spares: Have spares for EVERYTHING. You just don’t know what will fail.
  • Inspection: Regularly inspect the condition of hoses for any signs of potential failure. It is not always visible, but any small cracking or hardening of hoses indicates weaknesses.
  • Practise: Practise heaving-to. It was a huge relief for us, but takes some adjustment.
  • Provisions: Have ample food and water prepared and accessible on deck.
  • Route planning: We should have given ourselves more westing in our course. This would have greatly reduced the miles we had to claw back around Start Point.
  • Stay calm: Would we like to be in that situation again? No, but we learnt a lot about being patient, trusting the boat, and making the best of the trip. The personal challenges we faced were actually welcomed and we felt we all performed well and calmly dealing with the burst coolant hose and the subsequent weather.

Emergency hose repair

For most sailors, carrying replacement formed hoses specific to every OEM hose on the engine would be overkill, but fortunately the relatively low pressures in cooling hoses mean that temporary repair is usually a viable option.

If your engine has a lot of hoses all of the same diameter, definitely carry a length of that size.

A junior hacksaw cuts hose rubber well and takes up little space in the toolbox.

Rescue tape

Rescue Tape is useful to keep in your tool box for emergency repairs like a burst coolant hose

Make sure your engine has stainless steel hose clips throughout and carry a few spares to cover all sizes. If a hose leaks by cracking at the very end, is there enough loose hose to shorten it a few centimetres and reattach it?

That’s the easiest repair of all if you can get away with it. Whenever possible take the hose off the engine to repair it. Wait a few minutes until hoses are cooled enough to touch before removing.

In this case, on the front of the engine and with a single hose clip each end to remove, this short elbow of heat exchanger hose could have been removed in a minute or two.

Before attempting to repair the hose, thoroughly clean and degrease the outside of it with thinners or acetone – it’s worth having a small quantity of this aboard for a multitude of other jobs.

A man wearing a blue t-shirt, red lifejacket and a red and yellow cap at the wheel of a yacht

Edward Vivian (left), the Cornish owner and skipper of Déjà Vu, has nearly 60 years of sailing experience in both dinghies and cruisers. His crew included Philby, an Atlantic crosser and Andy, another experienced boat owner and sailor.

Use self-amalgamating silicone tape, such as Rescue Tape, following the instructions, stretching it to twice its length as you apply and keeping at least 50% overlap.

This double-sided tape has a clear plastic covering that you unroll during application; having an assistant cut and pull this covering free as you go is very handy.

Performing the hose repair at the chart table or in the cockpit is about a hundred times easier than trying to do it with your head in the engine.

While this tape should amalgamate into a full repair, it can start unravelling, so apply plastic cable ties over the repair, especially on any potential loose ends.

Ensure the coolant system is correctly topped up and primed/purged of air before restarting the engine if, as in this case, it’s the closed circuit part that has the leak.

Enjoyed reading Burst coolant hose: ‘I had spares for everything except this’

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