Ways and Means

Alas the hoped for rendezvous between husband and wife did not take place, since John had to leave for the bus station just minutes before Rachel with Jane, Peter and Robin managed to struggle through Gotaborg’s rush-hour traffic to Lilla Bommen and find a momentarily lonesome Voltair hanging a yard and a half off the pontoon in a strong side breeze. Peter’s friend Ured joined us and kindly took us shopping. Later we found a pleasant Italian restaurant where we were joined by his wife Karin on her bicycle. A jolly meal was enjoyed in the midst of celebrating end-of-term students. We were lucky to be able to spend the evening with Karin and Ured (perhaps the world’s leading slap bass player), since they had just had a grand-child and were off early the next morning to celebrate Ured’s mother’s 90th birthday, their daughters wedding and the wedding of a niece. A very active family!

Peter and Rachel demonstrate good lock technique.

After shedding some SEKs on charts and stuff, we slipped our moorings the next morning and set off up the River Alv. I am sure you, dear reader, already know that the Gota Canal starts nowhere near Gota-borg, but it came as a complete surprise to us. First we had to navigate the river Alv which was pouring down towards the sea at 1.5 knots; then we had to go up the Trollhatten Cannel; then cross lake Vanern – Western Europe’s largest lake – and only then would we be able to enter the Gota Canal. Now the charts that we had bought only started at lake Vanern and our electronic charts only took us up the first 23 miles of the river Alv, so our first lock was a bit of a surprise, coming at us round a bend in uncharted territory. This lock had fixed bollards set into recesses in the side walls at convenient intervals for tankers, but far too far apart for Voltair’s crew to grab more than one. The recesses were duplicated at various heights in the wall so that the navigator could re-moor as the water rose. The vertical intervals between recesses was 12 ft, clearly designed to be convenient for giant Trolls, but somewhat of a challenge for Voltair’s crew. Later we were to develop an elegant technique for handling these locks involving boat hooks, lassoes and lines below water, but this first one we muddled through somehow aided by liberal doses of adrenaline.

After the lock we proceeded up an elegant open stretch of river with wild-flowered fields and woods running down to the waters edge. Until suddenly Perkins stopped. A little burst of speed, a splutter or two and then nothing. There we were, drifting in Sweden’s blue ribbon waterway. So we unfurled the genoa and managed to get enough steerage way to get out of the fairway. We dropped the anchor and considered our position. Preliminary indications indicated that this was not going to be a quick repair. There was no way we could land where we were or get help should we need it, but back a half mile or so was a small hotel with a rickety landing stage. Hermione, who had been deflated until now was rapidly pumped up and launched. Voltair and Hermione were linked bow to bow and the tow commenced with Hermione going astern ahead of Voltair. Surprisingly, we soon established a reasonable speed. Just then some commercial traffic came upon us and we realised we did not have the correct lights up for ‘vessel towing – under 50 in length – length of tow less than 200m’ or indeed any lights at all. Although Peter had removed the inverted triangle for ‘sailing vessel under power’. So we manoeuvred into a bay. Getting Voltair across the current to lie alongside the flimsy jetty required some rapid learning in the art of tug operations. The jetty squeaked and squealed under the unexpected load, but we fixed that with some WD40. Eventually we were snug and safe for the night.

This was the place where we were forced to spend a day sorting out Perkins.

Early next morning we began work on the engine. Slackening the water separator caused some diesel to spill onto parts below. Immediately clouds of vaporised diesel smoked up and around us. We found the source to be a hot armoured fuel line. Suspecting a short circuit somewhere we quickly checked the battery to find it was still OK. Now, dear reader, I have given you all the clues you need to work out what had gone wrong – but in the true tradition of the detective novel I can confirm that the actors in this little drama did not read the signs laid out before them correctly. But you may have!

There are two ways to solve a problem – the female way and the male way. So while Peter and Robin struggled with progressively dismantling bits of engine, Jane and Rachel donned T shirts and shorts and wandered into town. By the time they returned, filters had been changed, seals re-fitted and attempts made to bleed the b****y engine by pumping the manual fuel pump till their fingers were sore. But the girls had met a helpful man in a Volvo garage, who had come up with a list of people and phone numbers who could help. At the top of this list was Johan. And then they made their only mistake of the day. They allowed Robin to ring Johan. There ensued a long discussion about what we had tried which led to the conclusion that what we needed was a new fuel pump – and Johan thought he had one. He would check and ring us back. But there was no ringing back, so we called again. He was out on an emergency, “Ring back in an hour”. And so it went on throughout the day until finally at 5 p.m. Johan announced he was on lifeboat duty and would not be able to come till Monday. Next on the girl’s list was Benny, and even though it was late on a glorious Saturday we decided to give his number a try. But this time we did not make the mistake of letting Robin place the call. When Jane spoke to him, he was charm itself. Yes he would come and help; he was tied up at the moment, but would be there at 7:30. And behold he was. He looked at the engine and said at once, “There has been a short against the armour of the fuel line, which has punctured it. I will make you a new one in my workshop and bring it here in an hour and a half.” And, more or less, that is what he did. The girls served him coffee and chatted gaily while he fitted it, and in the end he only charged us £40, ‘because this is not real work on a working day. My normal charges are £120 for callout and then £100 per hour, but for you…”

Dear reader, did you diagnose the problem? Looking up from the bottom lock

The lesson for today is that it is better to be able to pull a local expert, that to wield a spanner in tight places. Peter and Robin, bloodied and oily, were left regretting that they had not relied entirely on the female method. Had they done so, they could have spent the day relaxing in the sunshine drinking cold beers.

With Perkins back on top form we cruised a few miles more up the river the following morning, finally joining a small flotilla of boats waiting at the bottom of the Trollhatten locks, which lift boats passed the 132 ft of the Trollhatten falls. They comprise a three lift staircase followed, after a short pound, by the final single lift lock. There was a large coaster entirely filling the bottom lock of the staircase going up and a cluster of boats in the pound waiting to come down as a group.

So what were our prospects?

Would we have to wait:-
a) until the coaster was the second lock of the staircase.
b) until the coaster was in the third lock of the staircase.
c) until the coaster had passed the boats in the pound.
d) until the coaster had passed the cluster of boats at the top and they had come all the way down.
e) until the cluster of boats at the top had entered the middle lock of the staircase.

Answers on a postcard please, with explanatory diagrams. Marks will be awarded for neatness.

Anyway we made it to the top the same day and motored on to Vanerborg and the final lock on the Trollhatten.

That evening we anchored in a reed fringed bay with the green parkland behind coming down to the water’s edge in places. Some boys were playing in the lake up to their waists in water. We changed for dinner and took a couple of jugs of Pimms into the cockpit, where we enjoyed the evening sunshine. There was not a boat in sight. We dined on roast lamb with mint sauce and cranberry jelly, roast potatoes, broccoli, cabbage and carrots, accompanied by an unusual Merlot rose wine.

An early swim

Later a fawn came down to the water’s edge and swam.

Will the day lost prove fatal?
Is Perkins recovery permanent?
Did we leave the power cable on the dockside in Gotaborg?

For answers to these and other fascinating questions, read our next mailing.