Week 202: Diesel Drama

Boat drama after boat drama this week as weather and mechanical issues conspire against us.

Week 202: Diesel Drama
Sometimes when it all goes bad, you just have to retreat to the marina cafe and have a drink.

Whatever you do, don't talk to me about diesel. If I never smelt diesel again, it would still be too soon.

When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, Matilda was in good shape. There were no leaks or smells, the solar panels were working, and the fridge was still on. With the hot weather, there was some chocolate we forgot to move that is no longer edible, but aside from that, there are no real worries.

Happy to be home again on Matilda

Yes, the mechanic hadn't returned to the boat in the two months we were away, and the battery issue wasn't resolved, which was disappointing. Still, it was not unexpected–you can't be too disappointed when things turn out as expected. First thing Monday, we rang him, and he promised to come by on Tuesday with the electricians, which he did.

So far, so good.

Some exciting news is developing. We've made an offer on one of the barges we saw in France, and it's been verbally accepted. I'm not going to go too much more into that yet, as we're still negotiating detailed terms and have yet to sign the actual contract. We'll share more about the barge and our plans when the deed is done. The fact this is happening, though, is relevant to the tale of the rest of the week.

That kicked off a lot of hard thinking about what we really need to be doing now and our plans for the rest of the season. With a specific barge in mind, we have a sense of the scale of work required to prep it for the season. Sitting back and thinking and doing a lot of talking with each other about our "critical path", we reached the somewhat uncomfortable but essential decision that our season on Matilda is over. There's just too much to be done to establish ourselves in Belgium to wait.

We've described it in the past as a Rubik's cube puzzle. Everything is a mess; twisting it one way messes up something else. Eventually, with patience, you work through it all and see that if you twist this like that while holding your tongue like that, the piece over there clicks into place, and everything else can follow.

Matilda was filthy with Saharan dirt and desperately needed a good wash.

As of yet, we haven't clicked that first piece into place.

Without boring everyone with tedious details, the high-level issue is that the barge is Belgian-flagged, which is great! But Belgium now insists you are either Belgian, a Belgian company or a resident to maintain the flag, which we want to do. Guess what? We don't have a company and are not residents yet. We've been chasing accountants and lawyers in Belgium to get answers on how we can establish a company without residency and, if so, how quickly. We've also been trying to confirm the Belgian flag rules. Trying to check that the barge is genuinely registered in Belgium and... and... and... and... it feels like a never-ending list of questions and enquiries.

The frustrating part is that we're blocked from moving forward without advice and want answers NOW, while most places don't even respond to their website contact forms. In the meantime, the seller would like to sign a contract with someone, please and thank you. We're just not sure that should be with us or, if we go that route, what the implications are for transferring the barge to a company later.

While all this legal and administrative research is going on, we decided that we're making this more complicated than it needs to be doing it from Greece. We've chosen to move on to a barge and, when we were in Spain, to move on to one in Belgium. Now, it's just timing. Regardless of this specific barge and deal, we need residency, a company, and relationships to make everything happen quickly.

This all brings me back to the critical path. The fastest way forward amid uncertainty is to move Matilda to Athens, put her up on the hard while we wait for a buyer, and relocate ourselves to Belgium.

Ahh! But to do that, we need boat batteries.

The mechanic arrived as promised on Tuesday morning. They refitted the batteries, and the electricians tested a range of things, and there was a lot of discussion. The problem we're having with Matilda isn't an obvious one. When we're cruising, a low-voltage battery alarm is triggered. Initially, they thought it might be the alternators, but they were rebuilt. The electricians have run a multimeter over everything and say all the outputs are right. But the alarm keeps triggering. They think it's the computer. The mechanic thinks it's in the wiring, and the electricians aren't doing their job correctly. Despite what's now hours in diagnosis and several things tried, the problem is NOT going away.

Batteries are being returned into the engine room.

At least, come Tuesday afternoon, we have batteries again, the engines start, and despite the intermittent alarm, Matilda is once more a boat and can be moved if needed. The mechanic has an idea and convinces the electricians to return Tuesday afternoon and test some wires. This happens, but it does not fix the computer issue.

I woke on Wednesday around 4 AM to hear the bilge pumping over the side. There is a strong smell of diesel. I've been here before. Back in Week 193: Medical checks, then off to Copenhagen this problem happened with the generator suddenly leaking fuel (after the electricians and mechanics had been on board!). Sure enough, diesel poured into the bilge from the generator, so I turned off the fuel tap. Once I was awake, I called the mechanic, pumped out and disposed of the diesel and waited for them to arrive. The generator fuel filter was tightened and it seems that everything was a good as it was going to be.

A desperate attempt to make "diesel-proof" footwear. It didn't work. They ripped.

Now, the other issue with moving to Athens is the weather. It's a 24-hour cruise from here for us. We have to cross the North Aegean, which has very strong northerlies that create a lot of swell. In windy conditions, it's uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. The best time to cross is when it's calm. But we're now entering Meltemi season.

With the generator "fixed," Karina and I agonised over the weather. If we left NOW, we could cruise into the night and make it halfway, anchor up in the dark, and get through the rest of the trip in the calm. If we didn't go today, the 10-day forecast was for constant wind, and we'd be stuck here in Lesvos.

We both raced around and prepped the boat. Karina dashed to customs to collect our boat papers and pay our cruising tax. I checked the engines and cleaned up again. By 1 p.m., we were ready to go. There was a brief go/no-go discussion. I was very uncomfortable with it. We were rushing, and we really should take the boat for a sea trial, but with trepidation, we jointly agreed we'd go for it. We could always turn back if things went wrong.

We swung by the marina office, said our goodbyes, handed over our security keys and started Matilda, ready to depart. We have a thorough checklist, which includes running the engine in forward and reverse gear before leaving. A new series of errors pop up on the engine controller. We turned them off. I opened the engine room and saw it was full of diesel sprayed everywhere again. The fuel return hose from the starboard engine had come loose.

Not at all coincidentally, the hose connects exactly where the electricians detached and cleaned the wiring harness. I could reconnect it quickly enough, but the mechanic wants to take a look to make sure there's no other damage, so that's it. The trip's off. The weather window has been missed. We're now stuck in Lesvos for over a week.

With the hose reattached and the engines tested, we decided instead to head out on Thursday for a small test cruise and to hang out and go swimming. When we pop into the office, they tell us there are storm warnings, which, of course, weren't on any apps or our weather forecast. Sure enough, a huge lightning storm rolls through. We're stuck on the boat again.

Thursday night, the smell of diesel permeated the boat once more. Guess what? The generator is leaking again. The mechanic returned (finally); this time, they are ordering "genuine" parts from Athens. I cleaned the bilges of diesel AGAIN.

So that's been our week. We didn't get anything fixed. We didn't get to move anywhere we wanted. We didn't start establishing a company in Belgium. We didn't get to sign the contract on a barge. We didn't achieve anything.

While, in a way, achieving a lot. We've firmed up plans, we have a concrete course of action, now we need to start acting on it.

Buy a boat they said, it will be fun. Now, if things go according to plan, we'll shortly own two (until we can sell Matilda). Twice the fun, I'm sure!

To add some spice to the mix, this next week is a heat wave, with temperatures predicted to hit 38C plus, which won't be pleasant on a boat stuck in a marina. Oh, and the current weather forecast? It's still windy until at least mid-July now. We're not moving Matilda anytime soon. Thankfully, the air conditioning in the bedroom is working well, so we have somewhere to retreat from the heat. We're doing our best to maintain a sense of humour about it all.

Until next week,

Tim & Karina