Our objective for 2023 was to take Kadash, AKA Kim, our 40’ aluminium lift keel yacht, from Port Napoleon at the mouth of the Rhone, through the Strait of Gibraltar to Lanzarote, as the first leg of our projected cruise to the West Indies.
We’d bought Kim in Port Napoleon in 2021 as she was close to being our ideal yacht. We’d known she wasn’t really finished, but perhaps we’d underestimated just how much work would be needed. Our 2022 cruise, which had taken us as far as Elba, had been preceded by an intensive few weeks of work, and we knew that 2023 would follow the same pattern.
We arrived at Port Napoleon in late May 2023, in a fully laden pickup with the new stern gantry lashed to the roof. We installed ourselves in an apartment in Port St Louis du Rhone, and commenced work on the boat, initially with the boat ashore, continuing after it was launched. The to-do list included:
· New black water tank and pipework
· New sink
· Transom plate for echo sounder transducer
· New boarding ladder
· Gantry for dinghy davits and solar panels
· Solar PV panels
· Fit and wire up solar panel regulator
· Audible alarm for anchor drift etc
· Mainsail bag
· Rearrange mainsheet and other sail controls
· New lazy jacks
· New clutch for foresail roller
· Reroute sail controls to cockpit
· Overhaul winches
· Fit new handhold doors for fresh water tanks
During the winter we had changed the saildrive diaphragm, and a local firm, PSL Greement, had replaced the standing rigging. I won’t dwell on their performance, other than to remark that we felt very let down. We were very much not let down by Marcus, a multi-talented fellow aluminium boat owner, whose skills turned out to include plumbing. Marcus fitted the new galley sink with total professionalism, as well as helping with the gantry.
Port Napoleon is in the middle of the ill-reputed Bay of Lions, and the Mistral blew strongly while we were in the marina, the boats at the pontoons heeling with the pressure of the wind on their rigs.
Our original plan had been to head south towards the Balearic Islands, but the winds were stubbornly contrary, I had injured my arm while lifting a heavy bag aboard, and Sally had slipped in the cockpit and hurt her foot while using some highly caustic cleaner. It is safe to say that the tides of confidence and morale were not at their peak.
The coasts of the western Mediterranean are generally lacking in natural anchorages, and the littoral of the Bay of Lions is particularly barren. In the 1960’s the French government decided to encourage the building of large resorts with associated marinas on the sandy coast, and we intended to make use of these.
On 24th June a short weather window was forecast, and at nine in the morning we left Port Napoleon and headed out of the familiar Golf de Fos with its landscape of oil refineries, steelworks and container terminals towards the marina at Cap d’Agde, about 70 miles to the west. By midday, the wind was light as we motor-sailed across the mouth of the Rhone, through the clearly visible boundary between seawater and Rhone water. Even several miles offshore, the water was nearly fresh to the taste. At four in the afternoon we were motoring across a deserted sea when I noticed that the mattress of the bunk next to the engine box was wet with salt water. I immediately realised that the water must have been flung up from the engine drive pulleys, and this was confirmed when I lifted the flap of the engine box and saw that the lower part of the engine was submerged.
For perhaps fifteen seconds I thought that the saildrive diaphragm had failed catastrophically, and that we were in serious trouble, before I realised that the engine bilge was separate from the main bilge, which was almost clear, and that we were in no danger. I did not want to stop the engine as I thought the starter motor might be soaked in seawater, making restarting difficult.
Sally reacted calmly to the news, but we wasted no time in attaching the long suction hose to the manual bilge pump which is mounted in the doghouse. The engine ticked over sweetly while I held the hose in the bilge as Sally pumped, and to my relief, the level went down quickly. After a few minutes the bilge was clear, and careful inspection with a powerful torch revealed that the source of the leak was the join between the silencer and the hose from the engine on the water-cooled exhaust system. I decided not to try any ad hoc repairs as the leak was manageable, and I was glad that the saildrive diaphragm which I had replaced was not the source of the leak, as this would have been a serious matter.
We continued towards Cap d’Agde, keeping a good eye on the engine bilge, and pumping as required. It was dark when we arrived and found a visitors berth. Cap d’Agde is a purpose built resort, with a huge marina at its centre, perhaps not the place where the visiting yachtsman would choose to spend a week, but the beaches were close to our berth, as were a collection of friendly and helpful chandleries and engine dealers. Next day, as my arm was too painful to work on the engine, we went by bus to the old town of Agde, where we watched a tourist boat working through the famous Round Lock, and had lunch at a restaurant on the bank of the Herault, both evocative of Mitch’s trip along the Canal du Midi in 2021.
For the next few days, I struggled with my painful arm to repair the exhaust system in the confined space of the engine box, while the Tramontane blew noisily through the rigging of nearby yachts. The problem was that the “flexible” rubber exhaust hoses, which were wire reinforced and in fact not very flexible, were poorly routed, and put enormous stress on the plastic silencer. I could make no progress at all, until I happened to rummage through a box of random parts on the floor of the Yanmar dealer and found a 45 degree bend of the correct diameter. With hope in my heart, I bought the bend, and with it in place, the hoses and silencer aligned perfectly. I fitted proper clamps, started the engine, and there were no leaks. Kim was ready to go.
Leaves me no doot for the machine: but what about the man?