As you know, the Elizmor journey has been slightly longer and more complicated than I initially planned. In November 2013 I took ownership of her, intending to do the work needed to make her ready for the water again, and for a sea journey down south. I completed this work in 4 weeks and wanted to launch in December, but ended up with a battle on my hands in terms of bureaucracy around organising the launch. I finally managed to get her back in the water this April.
And, last week, I was in a position to begin Elizmor’s journey down south. I had my crew together, picked my weather window, and managed to complete a never-ending list of things that had to be fixed, upgraded, re-wired, serviced, checked, added, secured and double-checked before we set off down south.
We left Preston on the 16th June, and it was the best feeling of my life (sorry Prestonites). To know that I had achieved the largest and most important part of my dream was amazing: to have put Elizmor back in the water, made sure that she floats, and sail her the 14nm down the River Ribble out to sea. Time to get some salt water back under the old girl’s keel. As long as we could make it far enough not to have to go back into Preston, we had achieved the most important part.
And boy was she keen to get away!
We stormed our way down the Irish Sea, averaging about 6 knots including the tides. My passage plan earmarked Holyhead and Milford Haven as potential stopovers/refuge ports, but the main plan was to keep going as long as Elizmor was happy (and we didn’t run out of Twinings Earl Grey (no I’m not sponsored by them)). Elizmor knew that was the plan, and my god did she put her entire heart and soul into the journey.
We spent the daytimes basking in the bright blue skies, warm sun and a following sea breeze. At 22:30 each evening the sun finally dipped over the horizon and night watches consisted of star-gazing around Anglesey and across the Bristol Channel. We had a magical half an hour crossing the latter when a pod of dolphins joined us to play in our bow wake. Watching the sun rise at 04:00 as we were approaching the inshore passage around Land’s End was also incredibly surreal. After the nightmare I had been through at the beginning of the project, this was just unbelievably awesome. The perfect weather. Elizmor clearly loving every second.
Chief Engineer aka Dad has been the star of the whole project. He is the best dad ever, and there is absolutely no way I could have done any of this without him. His pedantic and meticulous approach to everything is exactly what Elizmor needs; his engineering & electrician skills are amazing and it all has to be done perfectly! Dad lived on a 65ft De Vries Lentsch with his family when he was 12; they cruised around the Med for 2.5 years, and Dad took it upon himself to learn everything he needed to know to look after the engineering side of the boat, and pristinely maintained his beloved engines. For a birthday present one year he asked for the rocker covers to be chromed. One of my favourite stories about their travels is hearing about when they used to pull in to little harbours, and being a nice big motor boat, local fishermen used to come up to my granddad and ask him to send over their boat’s Chief Engineer because they needed help fixing something. They were always a bit bemused when a pasty white (because he spent all his time in the engine room, even in the Med) 12 year old came round to their boat and managed to solve their engineering problems.
So Elizmor owes a lot to my dad. And my dad seems to be equally fond of Elizmor. I have never seen him so absolutely gutted as when we ended up being towed into Falmouth (which was going to be our first stop) after making it so far under our own steam – 300nm, and 46 hours non-stop at sea. Just off the Lizard, with a nice swell building, the engine room fire alarm alerted us to the fact that the engine exhaust was so hot that it had started to smoulder the deckhead above it. We managed to contain the situation – Dad was amazing, getting down in the engine room and pouring buckets of water all over the wood before flames had a chance to appear, so there was no actual fire – but in line with my best assessment of the situation at the time, I put out a Pan Pan call, and the coastguard soon sent out a tow to take us in to Falmouth. The whole situation was absolutely textbook; if I had waited a few more minutes before making that Pan Pan call to see if Dad was able to control the smouldering, then we would probably have been able to carry on under our own steam after continuing to douse the wood with water for the last 2/3 hours into Plymouth. But those few minutes are crucial, and the situation could so easily have ended up very differently. That smoke alarm probably saved Elizmor from a very different ending.
We spent a night in Falmouth, and managed to source some extra thick exhaust lagging and made good the exhaust situation. We filled up with diesel, set off this morning for the rest of the passage to Brighton. About 10 miles south of Plymouth, there was suddenly a horrible massive clunking noise which came from the prop shaft. We jumped to our action stations again, and Dad’s engine room assessment quickly told me all I needed to know: “It’s over.” There was a foot-long gap in between the gearbox and the prop shaft, where the coupling had somehow just disappeared (later fished out of the bilge in tiny pieces). We turned the engine off, checked we weren’t taking on water, and realised we would have no choice but to ask for assistance. Of all the lists of work and precautions we had undertaken to get the boat ready, this eventuality was one that nobody had imagined. We spent an hour or so waiting for the Plymouth lifeboat to come and tow us into Plymouth, and Warship Lancaster was standing by 1nm away throughout – hearing ‘Elizmor, Elizmor, Warship Lancaster, Warship Lancaster, over’ on the VHF went a little way towards cheering me up about the whole situation. I was gutted. Dad was gutted. Crewmates Niall and Nora were gutted. But there was nothing we could do, so we had to accept this setback and try not to feel too bad about having to get the RNLI out again, as we knew we had done everything we could to prepare Elizmor for the trip and this was one of those things that we couldn’t have foreseen. At least we didn’t have a hole in the boat and massive water ingress to deal with. Absolutely massive respect and appreciation for the RNLI; that’s my lifetime support gained, and many beer tokens going their way.
And so, here I am, tied up alongside in Plymouth at 01:30hrs, absolutely knackered, buzzing with adrenaline, sitting on the foredeck aboard Elizmor. Everything is still totally surreal; I can’t believe Elizmor is actually here, on the south coast. She knew that we have put our hearts and souls into getting her ready for sea, and she gave it her all, by giving all she had to get herself round to the south coast. Now we’re here, everything seems a bit more manageable. And Elizmor is getting her own character back; she is no longer ‘Elizmor of Preston’ or ‘Elizmor who’s been sat in a boatyard for 13 years’ or ‘Poor old Elizmor’; she is Elizmor, the historic wooden ex-Scottish fishing boat, who has had a new leash of life and has made it further south than she has ever been before in her life.
Tomorrow I am going to find a marine engineer to have a look at her shaft, and the journey shall continue.
P.S. The photo is of me and Dad, taken just before we left Falmouth.