July 16, 2010
Our plan on 16th was to spend the night at anchor in a calanque (one of the steep sided fjord-like inlets along the coast of Provence) on the way to Marseille. We were motor sailing as the wind was quite light but after about 20 miles the engine suddenly died.
Despite having a father who trained as a mechanical engineer with a car manufacturer and growing up in a house with a pit dug in the garage floor so that he could go under the family car and fiddle with the camshaft-carburettor-belt or some other such oily thing, none of these skills ever rubbed off on me. Both Emma and I had attended the RYA Diesel Engine course but the engine used in that course is more akin to a single cylinder lawn mower engine. By comparison the 100hp Yanmar monster on Bali Hai looks more like something you might find in a nuclear submarine.
Having ascertained that none of the warning lights had come on and checked that the water filter was clear I was at a loss, until I noticed bubbles of air rising up from what appeared to be a crack in the fuel pre-filter. Even I realised that this was probably not a good thing.
Fortunately we were only six miles or so from La Ciotat which we knew had good repair facilities (having been there last year when the mast nearly fell down during the crossing from Barcelona).
The wind had increased a bit and we were able to sail directly to La Ciotat and I called ahead to the marina. Typically, they said that they did not have anyone who could come and give us a tow and instead offered the unhelpful suggestion that the two of us could sail Bali Hai on to a narrow berth in the marina.
We instead opted for the option of anchoring off the local beach. This was still a little risky as, if the anchor did not dig in first time, without an engine, we risked being washed on to the beach if we were unable to sail away in the light winds. However, all went well and we were soon securely anchored.
We took the dinghy ashore and the marina did manage to put us in touch with Thierry, a local engineer and his sidekick. No-one spoke any English but with my trusty “French for Cruisers – the Boater’s Complete language guide for French waters” I was able to explain that “Il y a de l’air dans les tuyaux de carburant.”
Thierry confirmed that my diagnosis of a cracked “pré-filtre à gasoil” was the problem and that we could get a replacement in the local chandlers. One hour later, all was fixed and we had a working engine again.
What had started out as a bad day suddenly felt a lot better. It improved even more when I called one of the yacht clubs in Marseille and was able to reserve a berth for Saturday. This was great news as it was important that we got in to Marseille to meet Greg and Sue on Sunday and strong winds were forecast for late on Saturday and through Sunday.
Not feeling like cooking after all that had happened Emma and I took the dinghy in to La Ciotat old port for something to eat that night. The town was lovely, much more lively and attractive than when we had been there last year, earlier in the season. The only hiccup was that when we eventually got back to Bali Hai in pitch darkness, having spent three hours trying to find it without a torch, Emma realised that she had left her sunglasses in the restaurant. They may not have been pretentious designer sunglasses but she has grown very much attached to them and so we turned the dinghy around and went back to retrieve them.