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Mending and wending our way across the Western Med

My new chum, Bernie, tells his girls not to talk to strange men on the internet. Well I'll be a bit more careful next time. It started on the forum where a member had been looking for a boat in Italy where he lived. Too pricey apparently so he was chuffed to pick up a bargain off ebay for £900. Trouble was that it was in Mallorca. Moreover it was a 40 year old Westerly Pageant and the new owner knew next to nothing about boats and had never sailed before. There was quite a bit of encouraging but cautionary advice. The boat had been used for a bit of round the bay picnic trips for the last few years at least but had had a “full engine overhaul” on its Volvo MD1. The new owner offered all expenses for any help and it somehow happened that two of us said we'd go and have a look but with the firm understanding that neither boat nor crew would leave the pontoon unless everything was tickety boo.

The boat was on the hard at Pollensa and as far as we could tell, looked reasonable to Bernie and I. Owner was expecting something a bit more glossy. We got the mast up without having to lower it again for tangles so promising teamwork there. Launching next

Oops, can't seem to correct that.

As you can see, it's like a smaller Centaur, about 23'. Engine next and of course it wouldn't start despite two new batteries. The fuel tank outlet was blocked so the tank and pipework got poked and cleaned as best we could. New fuel, filter and impeller as well. A whiff of Easystart and away it went. We were beginning to be dubious about this “complete overhaul” by now – both throttle and gear cable outers weren't properly retained.

The sails looked not bad at all although the roller boom reefing had seized up – easily solved by using a crude slab reefing system instead. Time for the first trial out in the bay and I was surprised at the sailing qualities. However the engine got hot. Maybe blocked waterways but also a leaking impeller cover, which was bodged, and a suspect thermostat, which was modified with a screwdriver by Bernie. All this and more happened in 5 days of pouring rain.

We kept sending the owner off for lifejackets, but he'd come back with £300 binoculars instead. The anchor mission was similar – came back with cockpit cushions. An agreement was eventually reached that we'd head for Menorca (about 30 nM) and see how things went provided that safety requirements were fully met and no guarantees about extending trip beyond that.

So off out of the bay with a favourable forecast and then engine off

Ciudadela was the destination and we got in during the dark with no problems. A pod of dolphins came to play in the bow wave. We found a bar open for some food and discussed the next move. The boat sailed well and the engine was OK for getting in and out of harbour so we'd go for Mahon next. This meant 30 nM along the south coast of Menorca. The wind blew up a bit but from the north so we romped along with dolphins playing again. The last 5 miles was a beat up to Mahon which was a reality check for the owner.

A few less important bits had fallen off so we spent a day tinkering, provisioning and checking forecasts. The boat didn't seem likely to sink; it sailed quite well but with 20 degrees leeway and the engine would do an hour before it got hot enough to concern us. Hand-steering though to preserve battery power. Decision time for the long leg – 200 nM minimum to Sardinia.

We cast off as evening came on and started watches: 2 hours on, 4 off. Very little wind so the boat slowly drifted east. The wind picked up more from the south and we made better speed but decided not to correct being pushed north above the rhumb line; after all the wind might switch west or we could change from heading for the Straits of Bonifaccio and instead opt for going over the top of Corsica. Caught a view of whales blowing – quite a few of them and probably Pilot whales but we're no experts. We were pushed along by a F5 on the quarter so the boat slewed about quite a bit but we made good mileage. Daylight on the third day and the west coast of Corsica gradually appeared out of an overcast sky.

Spectacular coast but rather chilling – could be somewhere above the Arctic Circle and not a lee shore to be caught on. Something else had fallen off ( forgotten what ) and owner had coped manfully with new experience but could do with a break so we opted for calling at Calvi. We got around into the lee of the Point and the Citadelle came into sight

Foreign Legion barracks inside the walls and the town and marina just behind. So far so good....but. We fired up the engine for the last mile but it petered out. Another attempt and this time we got oil out of the exhaust and terminal failure. The genoa took us to anchoring depth and we attempted to call the marina but Gallic non-cooperation. The owner phoned Italy and got his fluent French speaking missus to negotiate. Eventually we got a tow in for 200 Euros. 280 nM and 69 hours for this leg.

Within a day, Bernie's perseverance had got us an outboard and also got it mounted. No brackets available on the island so the motor first of all got clamped to one of those plastic outboard mounts that go on the pushpit. To adjust the angle, a lump of pallet between the two halves helped then the whole thing was bolted to the stern ladder

Crucial deployment of line to keep it all more or less central. We weren't too sure about reverse but forward was OK once the tilt was adjusted. This was done by Bernie jamming a bit more pallet down the transom

Still some way to go. Not a lot of wind at all so we drifted 60 odd miles up the coast. The shipping got a bit busy off the northern tip but the outboard gave us steerage. More drifting until the mileage to go matched the petrol. The last two hours under engine, with dolphins again and into Viareggio. The mooring was a locally arranged, free berth alongside in the canal but a bit dodgy in terms of exposure and security. However, no longer our concern so we tied up as best we could and began to wind down. 130 miles and 46 hours.

So we got the boat there in the end, 484 miles total. The original plan had been to go via Bonifaccio, see a bit of northern Sardinia and then up the inside of Corsica hopping to Elba and some of the other Italian islands. The five days of prep at the beginning meant we had to be more direct. We also finished on good terms. Bernie was indispensable – we might have got there without him but it would have taken far longer and with a greater likelihood of grinding to a halt on the way. The new owners view of his boat and of sailing changed completely but I'd guess that what he found out might not be something he wants to continue with.

Date Published 24th May 2013