Thank you God!

There is a wonderful moment in Notting Hill when Rhys Ifans discovers Julia Roberts in the bath.

First he makes a hasty exit, then goes back “just checking” and finally – wait for it – he clasps his hands and says: “Thank you God!”

I said the same – although it  was over the jib halyard, which – without a stopper knot in the end – would have disappeared into the mast. It was bad enough that I was having to replace a perfectly good halyard because I had been obliged to cut the old one (embarrassing story – see below) but if the end were to disappear into the little slot in the side of the mast then I would have to climb to the top to reeve a new one.

Nothing wrong with climbing the mast – I have an ingenious gadget for that very purpose. It’s just that if I make any more work for myself through stupid mistakes, I shall start wondering whether this was such a good idea after all.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, after all it’s 20 years since I have had a boat – and more than 25 since I’ve done any singlehanded sailing in a proper boat. I suppose I thought it would all come back – after all I managed to sail half way round the country last year…

But time after time, I seem to be doing something stupid – and apart from the extra work putting it all right, this is getting expensive.

Take last night, for instance. Last night I had to pay a marina fee when I should have been anchored down the river for nothing – only coming alongside in two days time to take the mainsail to be mended (see last post).

Well, how’s this for stupidity: It started out as routine maintenance… topping up the engine oil. This is something I did countless times with Largo. It’s easy enough, you just open the cap on the top of the engine and pour it in.

Although, of course, this isn’t Largo is it? Largo had a seawater-cooled Bukh engine. Samsara has a freshwater cooled Nanni – which means there are two filler caps on the top of the engine – so which one do you think I poured the oil into?

I mean, there was only a 50:50 chance of getting it wrong, so do you think I got it wrong? Of course I got it wrong. I shouldn’t beat myself up too much: I do know of a man who poured screen wash into the engine of his Audi R8 (Audi were really decent and gave him a new engine under the guarantee).

Of course, to begin with, I didn’t know I’d done anything wrong. I just couldn’t understand why the level on the dipstick hadn’t risen – so I added some more oil … and then some more … until it spilled over the top.

It was at this point the penny dropped. “Oh, no…Oh what have I done…” etc. etc…

Now the panic sets in and rational thought goes out of the window. The first thing to do is get the oil out of the cooling system. Fortunately, being oil, it is floating on the top. I find a length of hose. I put one end into the cooling system and suck on the other. I get a mouthful of oil. I spit it out. Half a pint pours into the bilges (would have been better to make the time to find a bucket). The oil stops flowing. I try again. This time I get a mouth full of coolant. Good; that seems to be all the oil…

It is maybe half an hour later, when I have topped up the oil correctly and run the engine, that I begin to think about this more slowly: I just had a mouthful of engine coolant. I spat it out but I can still taste it. What is in engine coolant? Anti-freeze. Isn’t anti-freeze supposed to be poisonous?

I look it up. Yes, it’s poisonous. Well, obviously the first thing to do is drink two large glasses of water (which, of course, just takes it further into my system. Then I look up “how to make yourself sick”. I stick my finger down my throat. It works – but all that comes up is a spoonful of bile.

Maybe I should be taking this a bit more seriously. Further research tells me: “Long term outcomes may include  kidney failure and brain damage. Toxicity and death may occur even after drinking a small amount.”

‘Strewth, this is serious. I began to consider my options. I am anchored on the River Orwell near Ipswich. Ipswich has a large hospital. To get there I would have to leave the boat somewhere secure. I might be in hospital for days (weeks?). The Marina where I was due to take the mainsail on Monday would be the obvious place – but how much would they charge?

Hold on a moment, why am I worrying about money when my life is hanging by a thread. I should get there as soon as possible. I did. In fact, I phoned for a taxi to take me there. The taxi driver knew all about anti-freeze: “Oh, that’s very dangerous. Do you want to go by the main road or through town? Through town is cheaper but the main road is faster… OK, we’ll go by the main road.”

At Accident and Emergency reception they asked me why I was there. I asked them if they still accepted patients who were only there because they had been incredibly stupid. They told me that if people weren’t incredibly stupid they wouldn’t have most of their customers. They asked me to wait. A screen on the wall said “Waiting time: Two hours”. How long since I “ingested” the poison? Four hours already. Was that the beginning of a headache, I could feel?

In fact I sat there for only five minutes before a nurse took me away for cross-examination – and it was a cross examination. He went away to look it all up. He came back and told me: “I think because you didn’t swallow it – you had it in your mouth and you spat it out and rinsed your mouth, your membranes cannot have absorbed it. We’re not going to do anything, we’re not going to admit you. You did the right thing coming in but I think there really is nothing to worry about.”

He took my blood pressure and blood-oxygen levels for good measure but finished by saying: “The symptoms would be intoxication, light-headedness, headache, abdominal pain… just be aware for the next day or so.

– So I shouldn’t have anything to drink …

“Probably a bottle of wine would not be a good idea.”

It is now almost 48 hours since all this happened and I have been completely teetotal. I have given myself such a fright that I shall remain so for another 24.

I suppose I should be grateful that I have not killed myself – but all I can think of is the taxi fares and the marina charges. If I keep on doing things like this, the whole project is going to run out of money.

… and the trouble is that I do still keep doing them. You want to know why I had to buy a new jib halyard? I was trying to get the creases out of jib and there isn’t a winch on that side of the mast so I led it through a block at the base and onto the cockpit winch – and jammed it in a riding turn. The luff didn’t seem to be getting any tigher… crank another turn on the winch. It was when I was trying to release the tension that I broke the padeye for the spinnaker block – and I still had to cut the halyard…

Imagine if the new one had disappeared inside the mast…

But no, this time – without any help from me – things turned out all right. As they say: “Thank you God!”

The Old Man

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