Brunsbuttel – 24 hours to forget


The wind for our passage from Helgoland into the Elbe was strong and we arrived at the entrance before the flood had really got going . The seas were very violent for a while ; no problem for us as we were surfing down them at 8 knots , but I wouldnt like to have been going the other way. Once the tide did turn we covered the distance to Brunsbuttel and the beginning of the Kiel canal in a twinkling , making 11 knots over the land at times. We locked through into the canal, went for a long walk and were just settling down with a glass of wine feeling very satisfied with ourselves when Lynda noticed her feet were wet.

The floorboards were awash! While pumping I quickly tasted it – fresh water – so it must have come from our freshwater system. We dismantled the whole boat and examined every joint and pipe, all of which were fine. By now it was getting dark but I slipped outside and tasted the canal water – FRESH! Not only that but as fast as we bailed , the bilges filled up again. This was far more serious , so I turned my attention to the engine cooling system and seacocks, which again were leak free. Water was seeping from under mouldings in an area localised to just behind the engine , so I surmised that we had a leak in the hull in this area which we sustained after entering the canal ( no salt water so it must have happened in the fresh water of the canal) . Had we damaged the P bracket? There had been no collision or evidence of the prop getting snared.

This was getting serious in a Catch 22 sort of way, because if we had damaged the P bracket we couldnt use the engine. The nearest liftout facility was 30 miles down the river ( you have to motor in the Canal!) , but we couldnt get there because using the engine might further damage the P bracket and turn it into a catastrophic problem! There was nothing to be done in the night so a watch system was set up, bailing one bucket every 10 minutes and taking it in turns to have a troubled sleep.

By dawn the time per bucket was increasing and at 8 it suddenly ceased. This was good news and meant that we had been bailing the residue of water that had got into the extensive bilge matrix but still left us no wiser as to the original cause of the leak. I had contacted my insurance first thing and they sent over a surveyor who went over the boat with me again , but didnt get any further than I had. Whatever it was that had happened in the canal had ceased spontaneously. We decided the most likely cause was a temporary failure of the shaft seal , and ran the engine with no further leak. He cleared us to transit the canal ( if the seal doesnt close I can fix that if Im expecting it) and we set off. 10 minutes later the bige was full again despite the shaft seal working impecably, so it was back to Brunsbuttel and pumping , but crucially it was daylight and I found a newly fitted shaft vent tube merrily siphoning the Canal from the outside ( where it should be) to the inside of the boat – where it definitly should not.

Phew ! This I could cope with and put the system back to how it had been for 5 years. By now we were both exhausted , what with bailing all night and ripping the boat apart umpteen times so collapsed into our bunks vowing to set out in the morning.

Dawn next day was sunny and cold with a few whisps of mist. After 10 minutes the radio burst into life. “ Canal 1 calling the sailing yacht Festina Lente – there is fog on the canal, please moor immediately” So we did and sure enough within 20 minutes were enveloped in a real pea souper such that you coudn’t see the bow. We were eating breakfast below when I heard the sound of a large vessel manoevering nearby and the high pitched voice of a Philipino seaman crying “Sir , Sir , you must move , you must move , – QUICKLY”
I raced outside to see the bows of a significant sized tanker looming out of the fog, and the worried face of the sailor looking anxiously down.

We moved .


Later on the fog lifted and we motored the 50 miles to Kiel with no issues.

Sometime I would like to be bored for a while – just for once – just to see what it is like!

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