12 May 2014 | Malta to Tunisia Passage
Ships have personalities and I rather like Necessity's. She is kindly in a seaway, comfortable onboard and reliable. She does however have her quirks.
A nice weather window opened up for a passage to Tunisia. We would need to get underway quickly and make good speed over the 34 hour trip. Crew and I did a speed made good of 6.3 knots from Sicily to Malta about a week ago. The weather showed no wind for the first half of the voyage and then a very nice 10-15 knot breeze out of the south for the final leg. Distressingly there were to be big winds blowing out of the northwest afterwards, and lasting for days. We would need to be off the water in good time.
A very efficient crew had the boat ready for sea by early morning. Even our exit documents and passports were prepared and stamped in a timely fashion. Untied from the dock and cleared the fortified point of Valletta before 10 am making 6 knots under engine power. Slipped through the Malta - Comino gap heading out into the open sea on a gentle swell. Then the dolphins came out, always a welcome sign. What a show they put on! Leaping out of the water flying through the air for 10-12 feet. What a show!
And then the engine quit.
Yikes! What could have caused the normally reliable Westerbeke motor to slowly sputter to a halt? Check the fuel filters. Seemed fine but we switched over to a new filter just in case. The engine started up right away and off we go. Two hours later, the engine dies again!! Could it be an oil pressure switch problem like we experienced in 2009? I wire up a temporary electrical supply to the fuel pump bypassing the oil pressure switch. The engine fires up right away and off we go. That lasted an hour. What could be causing the engine to die in such a way? Now the trip is in jeopardy. No wind until tomorrow and then not enough time to make it to Hammamet before the big blow fills in.
So with 150 nm to go, or 50 nm back to Malta or 65 nm to Licata the decision was made to head for Sicily where known mechanical expertise would be available. Running the engine at lower revs seemed to work and it never sputtered to a halt for the 14 hour trip.
While off watch and sleeping in my bunk on the gentle swell of the Med while the diesel droned away reliably once again, Crew came in to inform me a fog had settled in and the AIS has stopped working. Fog? Right. No AIS could be serious as we were crossing the extremely busy Sicilian Straits. Got up on deck - the bow was not visible!! Quickly reset the navigation system, fired up the radar and switched on every light we own!! Once the AIS and radar come on line we learn a large freighter is bearing down on us and will come within 400 feet within 15 minutes. Majed offers to make the call on the VHF. "Very large freighter Imperial Fortune, very large freighter Imperial Fortune. This is Sitting Duck, Sitting Duck" !! A very large wake rolls by.
Strange gremlins onboard Necessity on this trip. Auto pilot quit, engine failure and an AIS malfunction at a critical moment. Arrived safely back at Marina di Cala del Sole in Licata early the next morning.
Dean, Crew, Olga, Jim & Majed