Technology is what keeps us going on this trip: our iPads tell us where we are, they keep us entertained and connected. The autopilot saves us from being locked to the wheel, the engine keeps us going when the wind goes astray. We get weather reports via a satellite phone, communicate with nearby boats with the VHF radio, update our position on an online map every ten minutes with a tracker, and carry five laptops to handle whatever the rest of our dinguses can’t cope with.
Sailing south from Dublin, our autopilot suddenly decided not to turn to starboard, leaving us with the choice of either going in a circle or steering ourselves. The autopilot had made some odd noises before, but had kept at it and steered us diligently across the North Sea, so we had chosen to wait and see before replacing the thing.
Later the same night, our fuel filter clogged, and the engine stopped: thick, black blobs were floating around in the filter housing. We had either bought some seriously bad diesel or grown a healthy colony of diesel algae ourselves. Regardless, our engine couldn’t be trusted until we could get to shore and get the tank cleaned out.
By this time, there was a bit of wind so could keep going by sail, but we were now hand steering. This is pleasant enough for a few hours, but keeping it going day and night gets exhausting. Far too exhausting for our normal four hour watches, so we switch to two hour watches, making anything resembling normal sleep impossible.
With all of us short on sleep, the mood rapidly deteriorates. Cooking became a drag we’d rather avoid, reading a book demanded too much concentration, drinking coffee could mean I wouldn’t get that much-needed nap once my watch was over.
Two days and nights later, we arrived exhausted in the Scilly Islands, the far southwestern point of the UK. Rarely has a mediocre fish and chips tasted as hearty as that evening.
The spare autopilot I had brought came in handy, and along with a thorough cleaning of the fuel system and a massive raiding of the local purveyors of diesel filters, we were again ready to head out.
Our journey is mostly one of comfort and enjoyment, but we are always just one technical failure away from an oil-infested session in the engine room, cursing the old Volvo and its odd temperament, wondering how the hell it came to this.