A Series of Unfortunate Events

An adventurous few weeks a.k.a. ‘a series of unfortunate events’, has been had. The annual sea shanty festival was on the second weekend on October, where hundreds of hairy singing sailors descend on the town from all over Europe. We brought Distant Drum onto the pontoon at Ha’penny Pier in good time for the weekend. Our pal Roddy came to stay and had the forward cabin all to himself. Chris rocked up on Gulvain on the Saturday with his fun crew including Zak & Minty, and our lovely friend Nico who asked to stay aboard with us as we had a comfortable pilots berth for him to sleep on. Two other boats rafted onto us and the pontoons were full of Thames Barges, sailing boats and cruisers.


Distant Drum with her two rafting neighbours ready for the Sea Shanty

On board we’d had some trouble firing up the generator, finally getting it to spark up on the Thursday however it was no go on the Friday. We were so busy Clive thought we’d leave it until after the weekend and then he’d take a look at it. After all, the solar panels were keeping the batteries well topped up.

On the Saturday our friend Jo and her son Paddy came over to help celebrate Jo’s birthday. We had a divine dinner at Thai Up At The Quay, meeting up with Chris, Nico and crew at The Alma later on. After Jo & Paddy had gone home, Nico retired to his berth and we returned to DD about 11.30. We chewed the fat for a while in the cockpit and I went to bed about 1am, leaving Clive and Roddy to their stories.


Jo & Paddy behind Clive and Howard at The Alma

I was rudely awaked by a panic stricken Clive at 2am – our boat was sinking! Roddy had stepped into water in the forward cabin as he went to bed. The bilges were full of water and neither bilge had automatically kicked in. Full scale panic ensued, not good when all you want to do is go back to bed. Poor Nico, like me, was filled with sleep. Our adrenalin finally kicked in as we hurriedly re-dressed and set to action. Clive immediately had closed all the seacocks while we tried calling Chris and Howard to see if they had standalone pumps, to no avail. I asked the people still awake aboard one of the Thames Barges for help, however it was immediately clear they were far too drunk to register my panic and would have been a liability if they had offered a hand.

Buckets and buckets of water were passed through the ceiling hatch of Roddy’s cabin where I chucked them overboard. In the meantime Clive got the forward bilge pump started and that chugged away emptying into the sea with no further ingress. Nico rapidly dismantled the aft bilge pump and it looked fine, so once we’d sloshed out about 100 more buckets of water through the hatch into the sea, the boys hot wired the aft bilge pump directly to the batteries and finally, thankfully, it fired up, emptying the rest of the water out – we reckoned about 2 tonnes of water in total. Once we could see to the bottom of the hull under all the floor hatches, there was no obvious water ingress. We cautiously opened the seacocks for both toilets and again, no water seepage, so we left these open and at 5am finally crashed out. Oh my days!

After an hour Nico was up and sailing Gulvain at 6am. We were up shortly after and wondering what on earth had happened. If Roddy hadn’t been sleeping in the forward cabin we would have woken with water round our necks and taken the neighbouring two boats with us. The water was only a couple of inches from flooding the batteries as it was.

Somewhat dazed, we had day three of the Shanty Festival to get through, with more friends, Sonia and Nigel, Ruth and Giles all from west Essex, joining us for lunch and the final shanty afternoon concert in St Nicholas Church. We were so tired it was good to have an excuse to do very little. Distant Drum was thankfully fine, no further water ingress. Clive opened the engine seacock and all was well. Process of elimination, it must be coming via the generator…..

We kept Distant Drum on Ha’penny Pier pontoon for the week whilst Clive spent the Monday and Tuesday aboard investigating why the bilge pumps hadn’t automatically started, as they’ve always worked since we bought DD. He replaced some forward pump pipework and located the ‘switch’ on the aft pump, made sure all was clean, clear and the trigger was working, then worked back investigating the wiring, finally coming to some wires which had short circuited – the culprits. He carefully replaced all these and thankfully the pump fired up no problem. There’d been salt water ingress into our water tanks so the next essential task was to empty these (into the bilge which carried on working superbly) and fill them with clean fresh water, twice, then add a neutralising product into both tanks, fill them up and empty again and again. This task needed DD to be in a Marina and we decided we should take her over to Shotley on Friday, when we had a good weather window, to execute said task.

It was my birthday on the Wednesday and I was woken with the most beautiful bunch of flowers, all my favourite colours – good old Clive, I thought he’d just gone to make a cup of tea! And he announced he’d booked a table that evening for the Mistley Thorn, which we’d not yet been to though we’ve passed it hundreds of times. And he willingly suggested a trip to John Lewis in Ipswich to buy me a birthday present – hurrah. It was a lovely day and a fabulous meal in the evening. We’d caught the train to Mistley and were back in good time to meet Sue & Howard at the Globe afterwards. A perfect end to a perfect day, especially after the near sinking trauma.


My lovely flowers from Clive, all my favourite colours

Thursday night Clive went to the pier to check DD’s ropes at about 12.30am as it was blowing up a storm. Some young lads on bicycles passed him on his way down and hurled general abuse at him, which he ignored and by the time he’d reached the pier they’d disappeared. He checked all was well, tightened a couple of ropes, made sure the fenders were all good and returned home. At 2am I got a phone call from Wendym, one of our neighbours who lives in a flat overlooking the quay. She thought I ought to come and check on our boat as she’d seen some kids down there on bicycles and all the boats seemed to have moved.

For the second time in less than a week I was up and dressed in seconds and flying down to the pontoon. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. DD was jammed into the corner of the pier and the pontoon at an angle where her fenders weren’t protecting her hull, riding up and down in the wind and waves against an iron pillar and crossbar. The two fishing boats were in a completely different place too and as I ran down I saw another neighbour Nick, who’d been out walking his dog , and he was desperately trying to move DD forwards. Her ropes had all been untied, as had the fishing vessels, by the little bastards who’d hurled abuse at Clive only an hour or so before. We just couldn’t move her with the wind and tide and her 25 tonne weight. I ran back home and woke Clive up, who managed to climb aboard to get ready to start her engine to move her forward. This was not straightforward as the floor was up for the investigation and repairs he’d been carrying out, the fuel transfer was needed and the engine’s seacock opened before he could fire her up. Nick and I managed to move two fenders, however the damage was done, we could see the teak rubbing strake along her side was smashed to pieces and paint on her starboard aft had been rubbed off. In addition Nick showed me one of the fishing vessels had two planks ripped open – she’d been rammed under the visitors centre by the wind and tide and Nick had only just managed to pull her free on his own and secure her to the pontoon before he tried to help DD.

This was so upsetting, made all the more traumatic as Clive is waiting to have a heart bypass operation and I was fearful he’d have a heart attack there and then.

Since these two events, we have been expecting the third… and this fortunately was far less stressful, for us at least. The number plates on Clive’s old van, which he’s about to sell, had been stolen and were on another vehicle robbing garages of fuel etc round the county. Luckily when this event took place we were down in Devon for the weekend and had cast iron alibis.

Harwich is normally such a nice place to live! It is! I promise!

With the help of Harwich Haven Authority’s CCTV footage and the vigilance of other neighbours, and an email to our local Councillor Ivan Henderson, we finally managed to secure the attention of our local constabulary with a diligent officer assigned to nail the little tykes responsible, who it turns out have been marauding round the entire town unhindered for the last couple of years, despite all of them being on curfew apparently, supposedly to be kept indoors by their parents from 7pm to 7am daily. Sigh! The three responsible for untying DD were all identified and surprisingly all confessed to being on the pontoon with one of them admitting to letting all three boats go. They’re still out and about most evenings – you couldn’t make it up.

In the meantime, the cost of the damage has been estimated by two Marinas at between £6k and £9k, this without checking whether the self-steering gear has been damaged, which could double the upper estimate.

Clive identified the leak as coming from a small hole in the generator exhaust which is fed sea water via the generator seacock. We don’t fully understand the series of events, just that it happened and the source has been identified. The generator was under water during the flood and isn’t firing up so will need repairing – we hope not replacing – though hopeful that the insurance will cover whichever is needed. Now to get the claims in!

That’s enough excitement for this blog, progress will be uploaded soon…


Safely moored in Shotley Marina, with the pictures above showing some of the damage caused by her ropes being let go, and the iron pillar and crossbeam she was smashing against in the storm



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