Harm Done and Ill-Effects

ME---Harm-skyThere was another strong north westerly as I sailed off under just the jib towards Mariehamn. An Australian of my acquaintance who was returning from St Petersburg had emailed to say that he would be there that evening, so I thought I’d sail the relatively long distance to swap stories over a beer.

Some sections of the trip were directly to windward, so I furled the jib to punch up towards Enklinge under motor. With 13 or 14m/s on the nose and a short, choppy sea, Zophiel was making rather heavy weather of it and I was surprised that, under the usually quite powerful motor, we were struggling to go at 3 knots. There was also a little bit of vibration from the engine. Not a lot, but just more of a rattle than I was used to.

As usual, whenever I think I’ve heard a change in engine note, I started to get paranoid. Perhaps I’ve damaged the prop a bit. Maybe chipped a bit off a blade. It’s a three bladed variable pitch propeller that’s been on the boat since I bought her 11 years ago. It’s a complicated and expensive piece of  kit. Perhaps something had happened to stop it setting the pitch exactly right.

The perfectly sheltered guest harbour at Enklinge was just a mile or two ahead, so I decided to stop and take a look. I did feel a bit of a wimp though, as my paranoia about these things is invariably unjustified.

At Enklinge I hopped over the side with a snorkel and mask. My 3 bladed variable pitch propeller was now a two bladed variable pitch propeller. One of the three blades was completely missing. I could scarcely believe my eyes at first and had to jump in again for another look. How the hell had we been able to keep going at all with two thirds of a prop without the engine rattling itself off its mountings? It seemed incredible. But yes, one of the blades was definately not there. Bugger. I should revise what I wrote in the last blog and take out the ‘no’s. It should now read “Harm done and ill-effects”.

Mariehamn east harbor/marina

Mariehamn east harbor/marina

This was a proper problem. I was on a small island with no facilities for boats, with strong winds still forecast, winding channels to punch up against the wind and a broken propeller. Even if I made it to Mariehamn to lift the boat out at a yard, the chances of finding a suitable propeller were just about zero. I envisaged mountains of problems in getting this fixed ranging off into the distance for about a month.

Then two enthusiasms came to my rescue. It turned out that a guy on a small motorsailer from Hanko, about 3 boats away, was an enthusiastic amateur diver, with the full diving kit aboard. I also remembered that the previous owner of Zophiel had been an enthusiatic hoarder of old crap.

Deep in the bilges of the boat was an old propeller with three fixed blades, which I assumed to be the original prop which he’d replaced about 15 years ago with the expensive variable pitch one. It had been sitting down there, dirty but apparently undamaged, for at least 11 years. Attached to it with a piece of string were a fixing nut and a brand new split pin. For once I thought I had on board the right tools for the job, including the special prop puller tool. Perhaps I had on board a ready made replacement kit.

The diver was keen to help if possible and said he’d take a look. People on the other boats in the harbour volunteered various tools and, of course, loud words of advice. Just two hours after I’d discovered the serious and apparently insurmountable problem which was likely to stop my cruise in its tracks I had a new – well a new old – propeller properly fitted and we were ready to go.

Sailing again

Sailing again

The poor diver, a welder and metal worker by trade, who didn’t want to be paid for his efforts, was then pounced on to take a look at other people’s boats, change a shackle on one of the mooring buoys and various other little jobs. He seemed not to mind, but if I were him I’d put a sign on my boat and a list of rates. At least he could pay for his holiday.

Thanks to Kristian (for that was the diver’s name) for a brilliant job under difficult conditions and to everyone else for their help and advice.

That night I joined Kristian the diver, his wife and two small sprogs on their boat for a beer and a whisky. Well, I should perhaps make it clear that they didn’t serve the two toddlers beer and whisky, just the three

He talked enthusiastically about diving, boating, fishing, driving a snowmobile, the outdoor life and hunting. I had a little difficulty with this last subject and began to realise that here was another huge cultural difference between the Finns and the Brits. To Kristian hunting was a matter of constitutional right.

People in Scotland who enjoy outdoor pursuits – be they hillwalking, boating, climbing or even fishing – are not the same set of people who enjoy hunting. Of course there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved in this. We love our little fluffy animals but are mostly quite happy to eat the ones that have been farmed. Recently, when it turned out that some supermarket beefburgers sold in the UK had a bit of horse meat in them, the outrage was as great as if they had been full of human meat.

Anchorage on a calmer day

Anchorage on a calmer day

The image of the hunter in Finland seems to be entirely different. Kristian and his wife suggested that, in the north, in the past at least, hunted meat was an important and necessary supplement to a poor family’s income. I’m not  convinced that there are many modern Finnish families who really need this source of food, but clearly hunting is an important part of the Scandinavian male image of the backwoods man and hunter-gatherer.

I see this desire for a macho, outdoor image in other aspects of Scandinavian summer life. In the Stockholm archipelago, for instance, I visited a number of islands where signs proclaimed that there were no cars allowed. They were proud of their environmental image. And fair enough, you might say. Except that every summer resident of these holiday islands drove around a big, smelly, noisy, polluting quad bike. So how is that more ‘eco’  than cars? They could have invested in a few plug-in electric cars. They are, after all, all IT consultants and Lawyers from Stockholm just pretending to be lumberjacks, so they could afford to do so. Small electric cars would purr quietly around the island making much less noise and pollution. But no, this would not suit the macho image of the part-time, seasonal, make believe graphic designer-come-wilderness survivalist.

There are probably plenty of such people in Britain as well, but the idea of  the guy who can chop down a tree and build a house out of it, armed only with an axe, is not nearly such a dominant cultural icon in our urban dominated culture as it seems to be in Scandinavia. If you’re keen on doing anything outdoors in Britain you are likely to be sneered at slightly as lacking a certain sophistication.

These strong north westerlies are endless. The following day it was blowing about 16m/s. Not the best conditioons for the sea trials of my ‘new’ prop.  So one more day in Enklinge before heading for Mariehamn.

Read the full story of Martin Edge and Zophiel sailing in Finland in 2013

Click on the links below to read about Martin Edge’s Finnish sailing experience as he slowly sails through the archipelagos of Åland and Turku.

One thought on “Harm Done and Ill-Effects

  1. What a lucky turn of events. Your scenario really sounds terrible, to have lost a third of that balancing act! I congratulate you on such a well written story & resolution of a potentially serious event. Thanks


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