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A Novice Crew Expands Their Limits on a Hallberg-Rassey

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

It's about small victories. 'It's about the journey', they say. Cliche, I know. But, whoever sat down with old sailing pals and reminisced tales of the time they made it to port? Stories that pull us all together in nostalgia are those of the hilarious and the victorious. Those moments make us. We develop through them and revel in their memory.

Last week I was sailing with my friends George and Matt in the Ionian. They were first-time sailors but long-time travelers keen to seize all they could. As an instructor previously, I'm conscious when sailing with family and friends not to act like one. I don't want to change the dynamic, so we sort of relax through the learning process, picking it up by "feel" without rigorous instruction. I try to be just a signpost on board, pointing out the answers to their questions, which they find buried in their initiative. 'Small victories' - they're personal. I like to point out phenomena once everyone's running the boat independently - I have 'told' them nothing. They own their knowledge.

S*$t happens

Anyhow, it's a poor philosophy to apply when using the Jebasco heads. That requires some 'leading by the nose', mind the pun. "Pump enough to clear the pipes, no loo roll, and leave the tab on empty". That'll do. The Hallberg Rassey 42 we sailed sends the pumped-out waste up over the inverted U-bend into the stainless steel holding tank. Then straight out through a seacock near the keel via the engine room. There's no option to divert around the tank.

On day three, we learned - it was blocked. By day 5, it was full. The smell permeated the hose. And the overflow pipe to starboard was leaking unattractively. And the plain bad vibe of having 40 immovable litres of waste behind my bunk bugged me. But we were not to be defeated.

There is always a way.

On day 6, we set out from Fiskardo to beat this issue. We found a shoal on the chart far enough from land to make a mess, and shallow enough to anchor. We ransacked the boat for suitable equipment to empty the Rassey's bowls. First, we rigged the powerful electric dinghy pump to a long hose, and duct-taped to the end a rubber plunger fitting to cover the sea cock hole. I googled up and went over the side to locate the sea cock. Matt rigged a line from a station to hold onto in the water, so we could relax enough to take a deep breath. 2m under the boat, working, with the anxiety of 40 litres of horror unleashing, under pressure, into your face, required good breath holding!

We had a long swig of George's "Monkeys Shoulder" whiskey on deck, then he and I dove in. We took turns, one going under, one floating on the surface as a wingman, watching for accidents while communicating to Matt on deck with the pump (and a camera). The air pump looked impressive underwater, but wasn't powerful enough once tightly sealed over the sea cock. We swapped it out for a pump action plunger.

I would have loved to have seen it through the eyes of one of the spectating fish. The technique was to relax above and, on a huge breath, duck dive under, keeping one hand on the hull to protect our heads. Get to the sea cock, located by the keel, and seal the plunger over it. Draw down the piston handle to apply suction, making it fixed enough to hang from. Then flip your body upside down, putting your feet on the hull, and, with two hands, pump the whole device like mad with very, very tightly pursed lips, until you run out of oxygen.

It took half an hour and about 8 dives between us. On the last, I relaxed well, with my fingers wedged into the heater exhaust outlet and limbs floppy. I dove down, felt good, and had a lot of oxygen. I put all my strength into the pump action plunger this time. The handle snapped and cut my finger. I turned upside down, feet on the hull, and pumped; I had air still. And then it erupted. A brown volcano billowed into the sub-marine sky. It was biblical. I was just quick enough to miss the torrent of horrors, and we surfaced. Fists in the air. Cheering in victory. Heads back under to witness the event, then cheering again; it was a joyous achievement! We climbed aboard, Matt poured Ouzo into my cut finger and into a barnacle knick on George's hand, and we all drank another whiskey in good spirits.

With fewer limits we create more memories

Of all our 'lads abroad' antics, this became our most treasured story of the trip - a combination of hilarious and victorious. We broke through the limiting 'uh oh's and 'don't know's. We became a team. Bound in solution, in Team Spirit. We own that knowledge now, which we found in our own intuition through trial and error. A small victory, with the same uniting joy of all victories.

This will be the tale we talk of again in years to come.

Jeff Leigh-Jones

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