On Sailing a Folksong – back to the beginning

“Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you” – Aldous Huxley.


Well. it’s happened, as it was bound to. Having spent the past three years focusing on doing Blue Mistress up, all the feelings about it have changed. It’s as though, having reached the top of the junior school, we are now moving on to bottom of the senior school – from the top of one learning curve to the bottom of the next.

I “celebrated” this by arriving back at the mooring on Friday to find the engine and the inside of the engine housing covered in oil. More on that later.


Is the boat finished? No, but we have reached a level where I can enjoy doing all those small jobs that I haven’t been able to do up to now. It’s no longer a ‘this-is-what-it”ll-be-like-one-day’ dream. I am no longer letting jobs ride “because I will sort that out later when such-and-such has been done”.

Looking back over the past three years, there are, broadly speaking, four areas of owning a boat that I have been learning about. Although the headings were originally applied in a different context, they can be loosely described as:  health, comfort, function and appearance.

Health: The fundamental integrity of the hull and rigging. We had some major leaks to fix in the deck. But none in the hull itself. The rudder caused concern. Some of the rigging needed updating. The sails were ok. And, up to last Friday, the engine had given no trouble.

Comfort: Safety: I have gathered together the basic safety features (including learning how to stay on board). There are one or two extras still to go – that’ll be more money out. We can find out where we are –  there are no less than three different gps systems available – and now a chart table to lay out a chart on. The head is satisfactory. The galley works nicely too – we can boil a kettle quickly, cook up some soup or anything else should we feel inclined. Stowage has improved.

Function: This is where we go back to being bottom of the school. Experience up to now has been one of getting to know a boat as she was updated. What seemed like big adventures last year and the year before, seem like small ones now. Certainly the investment of time, energy and money require more use of Blue Mistress and I hope for plenty of sailing this year and next.

Appearance: Get form and function together and any boat is almost bound to look good – well, almost. I thought the appearance was good to start with, but it has got better as different problems and improvements have been tackled.


And the engine?

On Saturday, in light winds, we had a gentle sail to a couple of miles off the Mewstone. In the early afternoon, we watched Rame Head, then Cawsand, then the Breakwater disappear as a line of fog/low cloud drifted along the coast. We decided enough was enough and motored back to the mooring.

I asked Pete to close the seacock for the seawater coolant. He said he got oil on his hand doing it. I said that was not possible. We opened the lid of the engine housing . . .

We looked at it, and we looked at each other. We both knew we had no idea what had happened or how bad it might be.  We decided the engine was still too hot to work on. Silently, we closed the lid, rowed ashore and drove home.

Yesterday, I spent several hours upside down with my head in the bilge. The cause should have been immediately obvious, but it took me a while to find it because I wasn’t expecting it. Embarrassingly, it turned out to be a schoolboy error on my part. In my hurry to check the oil, I thought I had replaced the dip-stick correctly – but hadn’t. In my defence, the dip-stick is fairly long, the hole is flush with the casing and invisible from the front of the engine. It’s easily missed and the stick slides tightly alongside the engine casing – but that’s no excuse . . .

And now we have learnt a thing or two:

Do you know where oil goes if you leave the dip-stick out? . . . everywhere!

It completely coats the inside of your new engine housing (and I mean completely). It completely covers the engine (and I mean completely) – all those little screws and bolts and inaccessible corners where dirt builds up, between all those cables that have been cable-tied together, behind the engine where you have to do impossible contortions to reach  – and, of course, into the bilge.

I now know the outside of the engine intimately. I know how good the heavy duty oil remover is. I also know that, if you lay an oil-soak mat in the bilge, and settle back for lunch, by the time you have finished it will, remarkably, have soaked up most of the oil. I also found a short stainless steel strop that went missing during our first major refit two years ago. The bilge is the cleanest it has been for some years.

Luckily, not all the oil came out  – what was left came just above the minimum mark, and the engine (a Yanmar 1GM10) still runs remarkably smoothly.

Just as, when driving, I am constantly checking my rear view mirror because, thirty years ago, someone ran into the back of my car, I will never rush to check the oil again. I shall replace this particular dip-stick very, very carefully.

That’s experience.