Dire Straits / Battle of Trafalgar

After leaving Cadiz we motored into a steep sea and as we thundered into the back of the waves our speed fell away to 3 knots. The engine seemed to be down on power as it was a struggle to reach 5 knots.

As we turned toward Trafalgar Point we fell of the wind and raised the sails tanking along on a close reach at 7.5 knots (which may be 8.5 but we need to think about recalibrating the log) in 18 knots of wind and we started over taking the other 2 boats on our course. The first slipped quickly behind but the second was pulling every trick in the book to stay ahead. Close to the wind, making himself wide, taking the racing line. An hour later and we had him, we were ahead, we turned at the point and bang, there wasn’t a breath of wind.

The pilot book warns of tidal races at this point, the need to catch the eastgoing tide for Gibraltar which can run at 3 knots at springs which it pretty much was, the busy shipping lanes and further races off Tarifa. We had hit the point at about the right time.

We furled the headsail first. We were away and looked good to reach The Rock by nightfall. On went the engine and we motored away.

Disaster struck – throw out the pilot book we are now in our own world.

Suddenly we heared a kind of wheezing from the engine room so pulled the throttle to neutral and headed below. Wow was that engine room door hot, and everything inside was so hot to touch, the light switch cover felt molten. The torch beam showed a level of smoke in the engine room. We shut off the machinery immediately and started drifting just north of the busiest, most concentrated shipping we have ever seen.

The engine was hot and giving the exhaust a tug it just came away from the engine.


The clamp had rusted through. Now we had a problem; no engine and no wind drifting in the straits. The grib file showed no wind for 3 days, just round circles of calm. The current eddies around so we could be going anywhere, the nearest port we could get into, Tarifa, was 22nm away and if we got in without an engine it may be very difficult to get out. It was not obvious that there would be any services available. It had to be Gibraltar 36nm or back to Cadiz. Our sails wouldn’t perform in the 2.5 to 4 knot range so we would be pushed about by the tide so ideally we needed power.


The exhaust manifold clamp is quite unique and we could not steal from the generator nor the rest of the exhaust. This was a pretty big problem and it was 6pm so darkness was on it’s way. The shoreline was steep to and rocky plus the current would threaten to take us onto the shallows at Bajo de Los Cabezos. The Battle of Trafalgar Point was on.

We had few engineering options. We took the probably steel clamp, flicked on the generator and had a go at drilling a hole in the clamp. This was tough stuff and the HSS drill snapped. So out came the carbide tipped drill and that cut through. So with 2 holes drilled we then laced the two halves of the clamp together with seizing wire. Everything was in a mess with turbo and carbon soot getting everywhere.

We had also picked up some high temperature rescue tape which we happened to see in B&Q.

So on went the clamp and it was gingerly tightened – what is the tensile strength of seizing wire? Then a couple of wraps of tape went round the join. We started up and the joint was letting exhaust gases out. But worse there was a syphon breaker on the coolant and it didn’t look like it was flowing. Shut down and wrapped the whole tape length round the hard to reach joint. Firing up again and still leaking like crazy.

DSC01563Taking the highest quality plastic bags (Lakeland Plastics) and binding that round with a roofrack strap – still not enough. Finally with 2 Lakeland bags and one M&S bag plus 3 roofrack straps we seemed to have a working engine. But with 36 miles to go and an adverse current due?

We motored at just over tickover, 1000 to 1100 rpm, keeping to 3 knots and that seemed to be OK. It wasn’t clean and some exhaust output was reaching the cockpit through the open engine room window. It needed as much cooling as possible.

At Tarifa the tide turned against us and we were starting to make 1 knot heading for the east side of Tarifa, soon due to go backwards, so we turned downtide and dropped anchor on the west side at about 22.00. The next available east tide was 4am.

So we crawled along the coast and reached Gibraltar bay just as dawn was breaking. Attempts to get a place in a Gib marina were futile so we have ended up in La Linea Marina which so far is pretty good.


The Rock at dawn






We are now dependent upon the Perkins supplier for a spare having cut away the field repair of molten nylon, plastic and tape.



Dire Straits / Battle of Trafalgar — 2 Comments

Leave a Reply