Considering the urgency when all this began, it has dragged on, rather.
With 700 miles still to go to Falmouth, the gas alarm went off.
At least it meant there was some gas – too much, in fact. The last time I returned from the Azores, I ran out of the stuff. This time I had three 7kg cylinders. The trouble was that rather a lot of it seemed to be in the bilges.
Still, after pumping at nothing for 100 strokes and flapping a tea-towel at the sensor, it did agree to turn back on long enough to cook a plate of pasta (just as well I like it al dente).
But that was only a temporary concession. A couple of days later, the gas lasted only long enough for couscous. By the time it refused to allow me a cup of tea, I had chosen a new cooker out of the Force4 catalogue and was getting used to the prospect of 500 miles of what I liked to think of as “iced coffee” (Nescafe, Nestles Milk and water from the fridge).
As soon as the Isles of Scilly broadcast the faintest whisper of a mobile signal, I was on the phone and justifying £499 worth of stainless steel with flame failure devices on all burners and a thermostatic oven.
The trusty Flavel Vanessa was 47 years old, after all. It was time it retired.
Delivery on the new one would be 5-7 working days, they told me. I would have to go to Pendennis Marina – I couldn’t see how I could get an 18kg package almost half a metre square from the Harbour Office, out in the dinghy and then hoisted aboard at anchor off Trefusis Point – at least, not without dropping it on my toe or in the water.
In the end, delivery took longer than 5-7 working days – something to do with the Coronaviris pandemic (have you noticed that everything gets blamed on the Coronavirus pandemic, rather as people used to sigh and say “It’s the war…”)
That would have been OK if only I hadn’t plugged into the marina’s 240volts and made a cup of tea. Oh, the joy of a hot cup of tea!
But was it worth it for £34.90 a day in marina charges?
This was not something that concerned the other residents. For instance Mariette, the 42m Herreshoff gaffer had plugged in a cable as thick as your wrist. She might have been built in 1915 but she has a washing machine to run.
Alternatively, there was Mike on Blue Gypsy – even older than me and living in retirement in the marina after a lifetime in the Pacific. If you were going to stop and look at Mariette because she seemed brand new but still had a gaff rig, you were certainly going to look at Blue Gypsy. She started out as a Nonsuch but Mike ditched the wishbone masts and put up a junk rig. Five minutes after pausing to look, I was sitting in his cockpit with the rum bottle and he was pressing a camping stove on me.
Just as well too: The new gimbals didn’t fit. They would have to go off to Falmouth Boat Construction to be welded (and delivered after hours to the night watchman to ensure social distancing).
This was getting expensive – and I hadn’t even started with the gas engineer to connect it. I did consider doing it myself but couldn’t find anyone to sell me the bits and, anyway, this being gas and inherently dangerous, it would be sensible to get the job done properly.
It is at this point that I am going to show you just how sensible – in fact, just how dangerous. Indeed, at the risk of over-dramatising the situation, just how close I came to not being able to show you at all … because I would have blown up 700 miles south-west of Land’s End.
The source of the leak turned out to be not the trusty Flavell Vanessa (still going strong after 47 years) but the 47-year-old copper pipe connecting it to the cylinder. Someone had decided to run it through a reinforced plastic hose for protection. A good idea, you might think.
James of Marine Gas Solutions did not think it a good idea at all. He knows only too well that there is nowhere in a boat that the water cannot get to – which is all very well as long as it can get away again. In a reinforced plastic pipe it just sits there… for decades… slowly turning the copper pipe into turquoise powder. Until it looks like this:
“You’re very lucky you didn’t go bang,” was the way James put it.
We decided that the only reason I didn’t was because I still haven’t managed to stop the steady drip from the stern gland. That means a lot of pumping goes on – and it’s become a habit to add a few extra pumps of nothing for luck.
Having admitted all this, I now expect the anti-gas fraternity to descend on me with all their gloomy predictions. So, I had better explain that I have tried paraffin and I have tried alcohol and, over the years I have concluded that gas is readily available, wonderfully convenient and, as long as you take sensible precautions, it is perfectly safe.
If you’re lucky…