Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Ponza conundrum

We've been up since 5 am,  but the only movement so far has been in the sky. Three little grey clouds, puffs of cannon smoke, float lazily over the pastel-coloured town behind our anchorage. The island of Ponza is celebrating the summer solstice. Dawn arrived with a short sprays of fireworks. The civic partying continues sporadically through morning espresso time. What will lunch bring?

Sadly, nothing is firing on Enki. I'm talking about the engine. For five and half straight hours, Alex and Dave have been working their way through all the possible reasons why fuel is not getting through to the injection pumps. "One of the books says you should try to run it 30 seconds to get fuel through," says Dave. "Well, I guess if we have to change an impeller...." And so it goes on.

Enki has a big engine, a 110 hp Volvo. It was serviced in Port Napoleon. Since then, because there's been so little wind these past five or six days, it's propelled us over more miles than we care to count (I'm guessing about 500). We motored almost all the way from Antibes to Corsica, then across the Bonifacio Strait to  La Maddalena in the north-east of Sardinia, and then, to our chagrin, from there to here.

We pulled up yesterday afternoon around the corner from tiny Ponza harbour, about 60 miles off the Naples coast. The water is so clear I could see the anchor as it settled on sand and weed 8 meters below the hull. By late evening, the anchorage was packed closely with all kinds of boats, from the cheeky charterers to the imperious princes of the cruising world.  We swam, watched the comings and goings towards the restaurant on the beach, and went to bed before dark because we planned to set sail today very early, to make Salerno, south of Naples by evening. But unless our luck changes, we're staying in Ponza for the festival of San Silverio. Silver linings to little grey clouds...

Alex is a fiendish trouble-shooter. I have huge faith in his dogged intelligence and common sense. He doesn't panic. He approaches problems methodically, unemotionally. We've had a few technical problems on Enki thus far which he's managed to diagnose and resolve. Yesterday, the autopilot instrument on the wheel died. The problem wasn't obvious. Its symptom was a persistent high-pitched whine when we turned the chart plotters on. He isolated the rogue instrument failure by threading a length of spare Sea Talk cable (he's been carrying it around since Andiamo days "just in case") up the pedestal.

You can't expect to start sailing a new boat without glitches, which is why we have tried not to make too many firm plans this season. We've prepared Enki the best we can, and Hallberg Rassy comes with a fine reputation for seaworthiness and reliability, but still stuff happens which is why Alex has yet to really put his feet up and relax. So far, he's out-manoeuvred Enki's little surprises, but this current problem is seriously vexing him. Initially he and Dave diagnosed air in the fuel delivery system because it was obvious - last night Alex again transferred fuel from the spare tank into the main tank. The previous time he'd transferred fuel, in Porto Vecchio, the engine didn't start either.  "It's either fuel or air," he and Dave agreed. They checked the filters, bled the fuel line, and when all the air was out, and fuel was primed to the engine, we were off.

But today Enki is misbehaving. "We're beyond the simpler causes now," as Alex says, i.e.we're into the fine print of the manuals and self-help diesel engine books.  And now, as I sign off, Alex, Dave and Melinda have taken the dinghy to town to look for an expert Volvo diesel mechanic. Ha.

Ponza is a small summer town on an island famous for its amazing twisted and compressed rock formations rather than marine wizardry. But you never know...Ferries run from Ponza to Naples. We take some comfort in that. We're not in the Marquesas, as Alex says.


  1. Hi guys
    Sorry you continue to have mishaps although it seems Alex is equal to the challenges the boat throws up. It's good to see you have a philosophical attitude to these events but of course such an attitude is a necessary trait for any cruiser.

    Needless to say we are jealous of your experiences (not the mishaps) and the sights you are seeing. We enjoy your updates immensely - keep them coming.

  2. Thanks Ange - not out of the rocks (literally) yet, and the alternatives are kinda complicated and/or expensive-looking if we can't get the engine to start. But you're right. It's all part of being here. Internet quite challenging too, but that's just like Vanuatu! Will try to keep posts coming, esp in next day or so.
    love to you and John,