Saturday, 23 June 2012

Light and variable

If our engine hadn't failed, we wouldn't have hung about on Ponza Island for another two days, and that would have been our loss.

Ponza is glorious in June, like a delicate flower just coming into bloom - its air is soft, the sea  fresh and soothing and, at the beginning of the season, the locals are relaxed.  Apparently this exquisite flower wilts quickly though. In July and August, it has the life all but crushed out of it by huge crowds of holidaymakers. That's the cost of doing business.

We hit the sweet spot of the summer solstice. That day was riotous, with fireworks continuing through until midnight. Shortly after lunch, a flotilla of fishing and pleasure boats, strung with bunting, streamed out of the small harbour in a tight cluster, honking their horns like delirious peak hour commuters, as a Vesuvius of fireworks and coloured smoke exploded over the village.

Alex's desperate foray into Ponza on the day of the festival to get help was surprisingly fruitful. He turned up not just an ordinary village mechanic, but Gianlucca, a chief engineer on big ships who was  back home for a few weeks, holidaying with his wife and baby. After an hour of troubleshooting, he spoke the dreaded words, electronic problem. Nine out of ten emergency mechanics would have thrown in the towel at that point, but not Gianlucca. He stayed another two hours, and tracked down our engine failure to a burned out fuse in the "board".  He told Alex, "Next time you get a boat, you get a normal engine." But Gianlucca, like Alex, knows that there's no going back from electronics in engines, whether they be in cars, ships or sailing boats. The world is in love with electronics. Supposedly they make engines more reliable, but when they fail, there's nothing much the home handyman can do. It's off to the workshop.

Gianlucca followed through by putting Alex in touch with Volvo engine technicians at the Base Nautica Flavio Gioia marina at Gaeta on the mainland (the Volvo round-the-world race fleet made a stop here in May). It was agreed that we would sail to Gaeta the next day.

That evening, for light relief,  he and I took a little dinghy ride, first to the "baths" carved out of the cliff face for Roman holidaymakers two thousand odd years ago, and then into the town for an aperitif and pizza. We let our hair down. It's been pinned up quite tightly these past few weeks.

A fresh north-westerly wind blew into the anchorage at about 1.30 am, waking us up. Alex and Dave paced. Some time during the evening, a dive boat had parked directly in front of us, restricting the distance we had to pull up the anchor under sail (we had anchored Enki out deeper that afternoon, using the dinghy as a tug). Up at first light, we waited a while, but when the wind started to build, and the dive boat showed no sign of life, Alex made his move, and he did it brilliantly.

It's 35 nautical miles from Ponza to Gaeta. We'd calculated a five to six hour trip, given the forecast for freshening winds. But two hours after we got underway, the wind started to drop out. Time to start the engine....ah, no. No engine. Enki, to her credit, never stopped going forward, even at a crawl of 1.4 knots.  For a big heavy boat, she moves so well in light winds. Very light, and variable winds. For an hour or so we were almost becalmed. The sun was ferocious. Alex never stopped thinking. He worked the sails harder than he's probably had to since he stopped racing J24s. The gennaker came out for the first time, a kind of gennaker called code zero, which is shorthand for "a dream to hoist and furl and gybe". We gybed a few times to give way to trawlers crossing our path. Towards the end of the day, Alex poled out the genoa as well as carrying the gennaker.

I stayed too long on the helm, and melted down, oppressed by the heat and the captain's high expectations which I could not meet.  It happens.

We were pushed into a berth by a work boat from the Base Nautica Flavio Gioia, and here we remain until....well, who knows. On Monday the Volvo technical team will come aboard with their diagnostic instruments, and then we'll know what part we need, and how long it will take to arrive in Gaeta. It feels much too soon to be back in a marina, waiting for work to be done. Much too soon. But these are teething problems, we tell ourselves. Enki is a sound boat.  She will settle down. We will settle down.

Meanwhile, Pops writes to us from Turkey. Motor fixed? She flies to Athens on July 5 to meet us...and she leaves us on July 11. We are desperate to see her. I said we didn't make plans, but Pops is not a plan. She's a need. My need. I'll try not to dwell on that. Monday, Monday...

No comments:

Post a Comment