Gladlee of Guernsey

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An article published in "Cruising" magazine published by the Cruising Association.





The Text:

Nigel Morley and his partner Julie Smart were frequent contributors to Cruising. Sadly Nigel died in September 1997.  Their last few months cruising were spent transiting the Red Sea in their boat "GLADLEE OF GUERNSEY".  This short account of a major problem demonstrates the spirit of a man who calmly dealt with the following.  “There was a loud rattle coming from under the hull, we stopped the engine at once, Julie took a look underneath and found that the Cutless bearing had come loose from its sleeve and had slid forward along the propeller shaft”…

Sunday 7th October, 1996 Massawa

We have had a frustrating week.  It started well enough, with a reasonably confident assurance from the port manager that a crane could be made available to haul us out.  The skipper of a British motor yacht on local charter recommended us to a DHL agency in Asmara as well as to the port agents, where a Mr Solomon undertook to contact the senior engineer at the shipyard on our assumption that the Cutless bearing could not be repaired.  Next we phones Telesonic Marine in London, having meanwhile learned that Horst’s wife Sieglinde would be flying out from Frankfurt on Thursday and could bring the bearing with her. A most helpful Rod at Telesonic didn’t manage to arrange a connection with Sieglinde, but he did confirm dispatch of the bearing via DHL, ETA Asmara Friday.  Total phone bill around £45, but it seemed well worth it, and meanwhile we’d had an encouraging enough first meeting with Mr Afwerki, the dockyard engineer.  Wednesday was spent freeing up the connections on the shaft and rudder (plus some much needed sanding of woodwork and a difficult repair to the loo pump), and by Thursday morning we were ready to join Horst in catching the early bus up to Asmara. Apart from picking up the bearing (or so we hoped) we needed another break from Massawa, where the temperature has scarcely dropped below 95ºF(35ºC), even at night.  There is generally some breeze during the day, but when it stops the atmosphere is stifling, and it’s impossible to do anything below decks without dripping with sweat.  Massawa is kept remarkably tidy compared to some ports we’ve seen,  but the environment is inevitably dirty, and a good deal of grit and dust transfers itself to the boat and to us.  With limited water available it’s not easy to keep even superficially clean - it’s amazing how much dirt sticks to skin and hair in only a few hours - which adds to the general discomfort.  Fortunately we have had the option of retreating to the relative coolth of the Eritrea Restaurant in the evenings, where the food is decent and the beers still refreshingly cold!  Otherwise the town behind the port is becoming quite familiar - parts of it must have been quite distinguished once, with Italian-style pavement colonnades, substantial town houses and shops, and the occasional overhanging wooden balcony, perhaps dating from Ottoman times.  It’s very run down now, though, and This time the bus journey up to Asmara was uneventful, and we reached the Legese Hotel shortly before noon.  The DHL office turned out to be a 20 minute walk away, so we made our number there, passing the British Consulate (just moving in to new premises, as it turned out), on the way.   Later we spent a pleasant hour browsing through newspapers at the British Council library before a good supper in the Legese’s restaurant.  We are increasingly struck by the friendliness and intelligence of the people here and their easy and relaxed manner with each other (also between the sexes, which seems fairly unusual in this part of the world).  Asmara is a modest enough capital city, but it must be one of the safest and most comfortable for a stranger to wander about in.  We met Horst’s wife Sieglinde over breakfast on Friday before walking down to DHL again, where we found no package; however they were expecting three items from London via Addis Ababa in the course of the afternoon, so we weren’t too disappointed.  We called at the Consulate for a chat with the Honorary Consul, Dr Hicks, then whiled away the time until a phone call to DHL in mid-afternoon brought the news that there was nothing for us on the flight from Addis.  This was a blow - the next flight from Europe wasn’t till Saturday night, so there was no chance of our getting the bearing before Monday.  There seemed little point in staying on, so we caught the early bus back to Massawa yesterday morning.  A rain shower had left the boat in a filthy state to welcome us back, but our kindly neighbours on a tug had done their best to look after the boat, stowing cushions in the shelter of the sprayhood and adjusting our mooring warps.  There is nothing we can do here until the bearing turns up - fingers crossed for tomorrow - and the only positive development has been a message from Phil (relayed by Jo during an R/T call) giving us a contact point in Salalah for picking up visas and charts.  Salalah just seems a long way away at the moment...................  some of the grandest buildings still lie in ruins as a result of the civil war.

 Saturday 12th October, Port Smyth, Shumma Island

            Not a week for the faint-hearted, though it ended a good deal better than seemed possible on Tuesday evening.  Our replacement bearing eventually turned up on Tuesday morning, but meanwhile Afwerki at the shipyard had failed to keep two out of three appointments to discuss ways and means of lifting us, Solomon had had the effrontery to suggest that $100 would be a reasonable reward for his services, and we’d been hurriedly moved off the quay and alongside a tug to make room for a freighter to unload.  It continued to be stiflingly hot, and sleep was not made easier by heavily amplified music from the terrace of a nightclub a couple of hundred metres away.  On a brighter note we engaged the friendly Weldemichael (recommended by Rod Heikell) to do our laundry, and after a heavy hint from Gary in Antalya we invented a “ham” radio callsign for ourselves and established contact with Tony Britchford at Kilifi Creek in Kenya, who runs a daily net covering the entire Indian Ocean.  A French yacht, “Decibel” , came in and rafted alongside us:  Francis, Ginette and their friend and crew Philippe provided welcome distraction as Tuesday evening found us in an apparent impasse.  Solomon reported that Afwerki had made enquiries about suitable strops with which to lift us, however none were available, even at the naval base.  Nigel’s visit on the back of Solomon’s motor-bike to the port’s own small workshop drew a blank as well, as did visits to a couple of private boatyards.  Without strops of some kind a crane was out of the question, but without lifting the boat a metre or so off the ground we couldn’t drop the rudder to remove the propeller shaft to replace the Cutless bearing............  The one remaining hope was Afwerki’s half-suggestion that we chock the boat up at low water over at the shipyard - we hadn’t taken this terribly seriously, but at this stage straws had to be clutched.  Wednesday morning saw us biking round the bay to the shipyard, where Afwerki gave us a none-too-clear outline of his proposal:  we should bring “Gladlee”  over to the beach (officially referred to as the “dry dock”) at high water and ground her as close inshore as we could, and as the tide fell Afwerki’s team would arrange to jack her up to the requisite height.  With “Gladlee” drawing a good 1.3m and a tidal range of only 0.8m we couldn’t for the life of us see how this was going to be done (with hindsight, Afwerki probably didn’t either!), but we seemed to have no choice but to give it a go - they had evidently managed to drag several quite large ships on shore to work on them, so perhaps “Gladlee” ‘s relatively modest all-up weight of 7-odd tonnes wouldn’t present too much of a problem.  Back on “Gladlee” we explained the situation to our new French neighbours, who immediately offered to tow us over to the shipyard.  We used our dinghy and outboard again to manoeuvre over the last few metres, and Afwerki and a couple of helpers hauled us alongside what looked like a tank landing craft and on up the beach until the rudder touched bottom.  There we sat to await developments:  we could get no very clear idea from a slightly impatient Afwerki what he proposed doing. 

High water was an hour and a half or so away, and within a few minutes a team of seven appeared, including a foreman in blue overalls bearing the legend “Dry Dock”, a portly bosun-type figure with a face-mask, another diver (without face-mask) and a variety of helpers.  These set about manhandling large chocks of wood under “Gladlee”’s stern, an operation which involved one diver or the other submerging in four feet of muddy water to guide the blocks into position.  After watching this for a few minutes Nigel joined the party in the water and offered his face-mask and snorkel to the second diver.  The mask was gratefully accepted, though the snorkel wasn’t a great success – in spite of a careful briefing the diver evidently thought it would supply air with the top end underwater (it didn’t!).  Eventually a bed of blocks was in place, the tide started to recede, and a massive rusty jack was produced and positioned under “Gladlee”’s counter, the load spread by battens and a sheet of polystyrene to protect the gelcoat.

At this point Afwerki invited us to give the go-ahead for lifting – sensing that this was not the moment to seek Westerly’s blessing on the operation we reassured ourselves that the boat was solidly built and crossed our fingers.  The jack was cranked, the stern started rising, centimetre by centimetre, and chocks and wedges were carefully put in place on either quarter to support the hull.  By mid-afternoon (the yard normally stops work at 14.00) the boat was canted at an unlikely angle forwards, the jack itself had been chocked up higher, but we still had to ask for more – that rudder stock is longer than it seems!  Afwerki himself stripped down to his shorts to join his team in the water, the handle of the jack was almost too high to reach, the chocks were starting to look distinctly precarious – and then finally the top of the stock came free and the rudder was lowered into the water.

We applauded, the team knocked off, and as dusk fell a solitary night-watchman sat and watched as we removed the shaft and cleaned it up, replaced the cutless bearing and repacked the stuffing-box.  As darkness fell we headed for the shower (a stand-pipe over a blocked squat toilet, cold water and no light, but a wonderful luxury by that time), and afterwards to a bar along the road which served nothing but cold beers – we had five each before returning to cope with dinner and bed on a slope.  There were some disconcerting cracking noises during the night (compressing polystyrene, we eventually realised), but in the circumstances we slept pretty well.

Afwerki was quite relaxed about relaunching us when he appeared early the following morning, so we spent a couple of hours cleaning up and checking over what we’d done before the team arrived to unchock us. This operation produced the only mishap of the entire operation: the jack slipped and “Gladlee” dropped several inches on to her rudder, though quick thinking by the crew got the remaining chocks out so that she remained on an even keel.  Fortunately the only injury was a gashed finger, and we decided that Westerly construction could probably cope with a relatively modest bump.  There were mutual congratulations all round – Afwerki all smiles after what must have been quite a difficult challenge – and the team seemed pleased with the tip we decided to leave on top of a remarkably modest bill.  We made our way carefully back to our berth in the port, this time rafted outside “Decibel”, whose crew had gone up to Asmara (Horst and Sieglinde visited us briefly at the dockyard before taking themselves off in “Inspiration” for a cruise round the Dahlak Islands).  Solomon at the port agent’s was genuinely delighted with our result – though he may not have been quite so delighted with his tip – and we called in to thank “Vana of Clifford” (whose skipper Kelvin had offered help and advice when we first returned to Massawa) and were generously entertained to cold beers.  For what we hoped would be our farewell dinner at the “Eritrea” we chose injara, the curious local flat bread made of fermented millet, and zigini, a beef stew eaten with the fingers: this seemed to please our usual waiter, and after a couple more beers we felt pretty pleased with life too – how fortunes can change in a couple of days!




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