Throwback Thursdays: technical problems

So last week’s Flashback saw Triple D finally with all three of its crew on board, after a number of mishaps to the start of our year away. But, personal problems aside, the next few months were characterised by technical issues on the boat, some minor, some stupid, some annoying, and some seriously dangerous……….

1: Stupid

We left Povoa de Varzim very early one morning to motor down the coast of Portugal towards Lisbon on a flat calm day. The plan was to set the autopilot (the machine that steers the boat for us, according to compass / GPS) and then spend the day relaxing and getting used to life on board. But our plan was scuppered by the fact that the autopilot wasn’t working. We soon realised the issue was a huge difference between what the boat compass was telling us, and what the GPS compass was telling us – they were off by almost 90 degrees and so the poor boat didn’t know which way to go. But WHY? Which compass was wrong? What was making it wrong? How could we fix it?


Well, to cut a long story short, mum had brought several cans of M&S tinned food back over from the UK with her and we had packed them away in a cupboard – the same cupboard in which the boat compass was stored! All the metal from the cans was affecting the compass and as soon as we moved them to a new one, the compass worked again.


2: ignorant

We had a few days in Oeiras, just outside Lisbon, and then in Lisbon itself. Lisbon is gorgeous, if you haven’t been, you really should go.


From there, we set off straight out into the setting sun, towards Madeira. Five days at sea, adjusting to night shifts, the constant creaking of the boat, enjoying the beautiful sunsets. We had spent a long time beforehand discussing how to work the night shifts, ultimately deciding to do two hours on, four hours off each, and we cast off with trepidation and excitement.


The night sky, the stars and the moon on that first ocean trip were incredible. Every night we watched the moon set, growing every evening, sailing directly up the silvery path cast by its light until it turned red and sunk under the swell, allowing the stars to come out in their full glory. My first shift was 10pm-12 and the stars were amazing, taking up the entire sky with the Milky Way visible as a dusty thumbprint smudge of stars. By the time I groggily awoke for my second shift, from 4am to 6am, clouds had obscured all the stars and the night was pitch black, other than the lights of a ship over in the distance, which kept blinking as we both surfed the waves.


I passed the time by staring at the stars, and having stolen mum’s iPod I sung away to her rubbish music – Boyzone hits of the 90s! One night I was sat with my legs dangling into the hatch, music turned up loud and singing my heart out when all of a sudden something grabbed my leg from below and I screamed. Mum laughed and popped her head out,

Sorry! You woke me up with all your singing! How’s everything going?” We had a brief chat and I promised to sing more quietly before she went back to sleep.

Through all of this, we had had extremely little wind. The ocean was clear and glassy as far as the eye could see, broken up by the occasional pod of dolphins that came to play. Even a turtle floated peacefully past us! We were using our engine so that we could keep moving and were powering our way towards Porto Santo. We hadn’t really worked out how best to use the engine to not waste all the diesel, and with one night to go, had almost run out of fuel after motoring at 8 knots an hour for a few days.


We therefore had to try to sail despite the fact there was actually no wind. With hindsight, we should have saved our diesel much better earlier on in the trip – and from that point onwards, we motored much more slowly to save diesel. Sailing overnight meant that the night was pretty much sleepless– with the sails up and what tiny amount of wind there was constantly shifting, it was extremely noisy. Although the engine is much louder than the sails, its soothing drone makes it easier to sleep than the crashing of sails. There is no rhythm to the crashing and it sounds like the loudest thing ever. None of us got much sleep that night and we were all tired and cranky the next day as we sailed into Porto Santo, a little island just off the coast of Madeira.


3. annoying

When we arrived, we discovered that our fridge, wind vane, speedometer and bilge pump had stopped working. And why had all of the electrics stopped working? Because there was a lot of water in the bilges of the boat. We spent the afternoon kneeling on all fours, bailing water out and then squeezing it from a sponge into a bucket. We managed to mend the rest of the electrics but the fridge needed a new part that we couldn’t get until somebody could bring it out from the UK for us.

Any concerns about not having a fridge were put into perspective when we met the people on board the boat next to ours – a tiny boat, half the size of ours, with three on board. They didn’t have a fridge at all and had been living on board for over a year!

Boats often get a bit of water in them so we hadn’t been too worried that there were any serious problems. You just bail the water out and keep an eye on it. But over the next few weeks, we kept having to bail more, and the water kept coming back in. Eventually we realised we had a leak……

By this point, we had sailed from Madeira to the Canary Islands, arriving at Lanzarote shell-shocked very early one morning after an extremely windy and sleepless crossing. We fell straight into our bunks (there is nothing like sleeping on a still, quiet boat after an ocean crossing)  and slept until lunch time. We explored Lanzarote for a few days, and then had another bumpy overnight crossing to Gran Canaria.


Jilli had promised to cook us dinner as we set off, but the wind increased and she soon disappeared to her bunk with a queasy face, only to surface for her night shift. The plan was to spend the next month exploring Gran Canaria and Tenerife, with lots of visitors, before we returned to Las Palmas in the north of Gran Canaria to start preparing to cross the Atlantic.

We had heard of a good boatyard on the south side of Gran Canaria, in a town called Puerto Rico. By now, the frequency at which we were having to bail water out had meant we had finally realised something was probably wrong, and so we headed down to Puerto Rico to have the boat lifted out of the water, and the leak fixed.


Puerto Rico was a funny little town. Imagine the worst possible stereotype of Brits on holiday in southern Spain, then put it back several decades. Arcade stores. Irish pubs. Every restaurant serving an English breakfast and showing X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. Mini Golf. Twiglets. Not a Spanish person in sight. We LOVED it. Don’t judge us too much – it was the end of October and we had been away from home, on and off, since July. We loved English breakfasts while reading English newspapers and using the wifi at a local cafe, cocktails and X Factor at the weekends. We stayed there for almost two weeks while the boat got fixed. I would never go back…. but it was perfect at the time!


The leak was just one of those things that happened. It was annoying as the water kept causing other parts of our boat to break, but at no point was it dangerous, and as our boat was relatively new it was still under warranty – so we didn’t even have to pay for it to be fixed!

Next week – we set off across the Atlantic Ocean, where things really started to go wrong………….



  1. […] Last week I continued telling the story of Triple D’s trip across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean by outlining some of the many things that went wrong. I left off as we were in Gran Canaria, Triple D having been hoisted out of the water to have a leak fixed. I promised to tell you about the sail across the Atlantic and some actual dangerous disasters….. […]

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