Today I Skippered Moonpenny for the first time

Saturday was a special day.

I planned a jolly up the Thames to Erith Yacht Club for the weekend. Well, when I say planned, Oliver booked Moonpenny in for the lockout and all we had to do was turn left!  Onboard would be my parents and my old college friend, Adam.

Earlier that week Oliver came on-board and I had a practice session maneuvering Moonpenny around the marina. This was the first time I had commandeered a boat since my day skipper course. I can guarantee that when things get tricky there will always be an audience to watch you foul up. A small crowd of well wishers had gathered ready to take my lines, as I returned Moonpenny back to her berth, in a rather un-gentrified manner.

So the time had come: parents and Adam arrived, food and clothing stowed down below. I did a quick briefing where everything was,although I knew that the only person who’d take notice would be Adam. Dad sat there grinning like a Cheshire cat: this was pretty much his dream that his son would one day buy a boat, and words flew in one ear and out the other, without stopping in between.

The signal came that it was time to make a move. I’ve never been so nervous in my life as I did when I had to reverse Moonpenny out, surrounded by thousands of pounds worth of boat. My first challenge came when I reversed out, Moonpenny would straighten up each time I put her into a forward gear. I would reverse to my left, then engage the forward gear wishing to steer right, and she’d just straighten up. Caught in this no win situation I reversed as far as I dared and then put her into full thurst forward gear!! The propeller finally caught, and we steered out of our tight space, narrowly missing my neighbour’s boat.

One challenge down, and the next was about to appear. The lock was choc-a-block! My destination was right to the front, with boats to my right and left, I had to squeeze straight down the middle, and if that wasn’t enough, I then had to avoid a small rib on my starboard bow. God was certainly throwing all he had at me: I narrowly missed the small rib, who were there pointing their polls at me ready to push me away, and rafted up next to Oliver in the lock. I brushed more sweat from my brow as my parents sat quietly smiling.

More drama, we had just pulled out onto the Thames and I realised that I hadn’t switched  any of my instruments on. After a few minutes below Adam turned the instruments on and came back up looking a bit green. From that moment on Adam spent the rest of the trip suffering from sea sickness. Lesson learnt, always ask new crew members whether they suffer from motion sickness before a trip.

We motored for about 45 minutes, and then turned the engine off, and put the sails up. After a while the wind dropped, and I went below to turn the engine on, and left dad in charge of steering, which pleased him greatly, and he continued smiling from ear to ear. My worst conceivable nightmare then ensued. I went to turn the engine on, only to be greeted with silence. I quickly took the back off to have a look at the engine. The problem was immediately obvious: a group of cables that led from the ignition to the engine had been severed by the fan belt. I stood there momentarily scratching my head and occasionally answering whether everything was ok with a yes, when I started to hear a commotion coming from another boat. I stuck my head up to see Oliver and everyone in Troskala waving and shouting at us. With dad still smiling it took me a couple of seconds to realise he had put us on a direct collision course with a pier. I shouted to Oliver that my engine wouldn’t start as they came up closer. Oliver then performed a move that will live with me for the rest of my life, like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean he thundered straight towards us, his bow to my beam, and at the last minute swung Troskala side on to Moonpenn. Oliver’s 60 year old father climbed over onto Moonpenny, pushed everyone aside and begun firing off orders until Moonpenny was under control, and steered away from the pier. This pier will forever be known as ‘Geoffs Pier’, and I since sailed passed that pier many times, everytime recalling this moment.

With Moonpenny out of danger Ed (Oliver’s dad) sailed us down the Thames while Oliver went ahead to see if we could stop for the night at Greenwich YC. Dad remained oblivious to the possible consequences of his actions, whilst Adam maintained his duty of feeding the fishes, and looking like a sorry old soul.

Oliver came back eventually and we rafted Moonpenny up to Troskala, and we headed down the Thames trussed up like a turkey come homemade catamaran from waterworld. Oliver did a sterling job and we were tied up at Greenwich YC before you knew it. That night we relived the events many times, and drunk a few glasses of wine to relax. Adam headed home after dinner, the movement of the boat down below was too much, and I don’t blame him, the minute sea sickness hits, you’re a gonner!

The next day came and, still trussed up like a Christmas Turkey, we headed back to St Kats. With nothing for me to do , I just sat there, drunk tea and threw jaffa cakes at Oliver from Moonpenny. We eventually got into St Kats, and we put Moonpenny down at the nearest available pontoon. Once again Oliver came to the rescue, with the aid of his little tender. We tied some lines to his little rubber boaty and with just a 5hp outboard, he motored Moonpenny to her birth. At the last minute we let the lines go, allowing Oliver to steer away from the pontoon, and we glided in motorless into her birth, of course with a small crowd of neighbours’ ready to help.

Coming back from my first day trip out with engine failure was a bit of a low point, especially as everyone knew it was my first proper trip out.

So another lesson was learnt: ALWAYS do a engine check. I had done one a few days earlier, and thought to myself, I must tidy up those cables before I go…..oops!

Fatalities none, lessons learnt LOTS…and many more to come I’m sure.

Author: Tim Butler

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1 Comment

  • Reply Oliver May 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Great story Tim. I love re-living the memories from that day. Great Blog.

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