48° 57′ 0.6336” N 4° 21′ 10.1448” E
Monday – July 6
Krasch! Krasch! Krasch! Hearts are still. The brain refuses to believe it. We are shocked, when we hear the exact same sound from the engine compartment, which forced Ronja in the hands of French mechanics last year and cut off our sailing holiday, even before the first week was over. We don’t doubt: It is the universal joint that is the problem again. It has broken loose.
We see for ourselves, how last year’s tragedy now will be repeated. New mechanics, new waiting period, new parts, new repair. This year’s sailing holiday interrupted. This year after only one day of sailing.
The morning actually started with Per and Kirsten playful to be on the water again, got up early and started the engine to start today’s sailing, even while the rest of the family was still sleeping in the aft and main cabin. Ronja was not ten meters out into the basin, before the terrifying sounds from the engine compartment forced the boat back to the dock.
When we open the engine room we see a chaos of twisted metal and loose bolts. All of the spare parts had broken loose. So much for French mechanics.
As an unexpected surprise that we may yet end up with a bit of luck, the skipper of the Dutch neighbouring boat stuck his head up from his cabin: “Do you need help? I am diesel mechanic. We pinch ourselves – are our neighbour really a diesel mechanics? – and explain to him, that we will certainly need his help, and that we had a bone to pick with a specific French mechanic, who spent months repairing Ronja, only for her to break down after a single day of sailing.
Per gets hold of the harbour master, a young student who is good at English. He is briefed and dials Meca Max Service, and he makes Alain Reinhardt aware of the situation. Disaster! Totally serious! We are the beginning of a desperately short vacation. Totally unacceptable. Something must be done immediately. Tout de suite!
Hey! He is at the boat within less than half an hour. We have never experienced this before.
He jumps into the engine compartment and comes up again soon – with the harbour master as interpreter – to reassure us that it may be a problem, but it is not a serious problem. It can be solved. The replacement part is intact, but the four (or six) bolts, as the brand new universal joint are secured by, has been found to be too short. Therefore, they have twisted free. Such a large part requires a stronger attachment, he explains. We do not need a mechanic to figure that out, but we are pleased, that the disaster apparently may be limited to only one day of repair.
Two mechanics work on it for seven hours. Voila. Now we can sail again. Alain Reinhardt claims, that the new repair will last for many years, adding that today’s repair is to be considered a service. Without charge.
No charge. You bet there is no charge. Rather a warranty claim. We grits our teeth, and with a strained smile we thank him for being ready for rapid deployment. Inside we think: Hell of a truck mechanic. Next time, we must make an extra effort to find a mechanic, who knows about marine engines.
Our Dutch neighbour looks at the engine, whenever the French mechanics are home at their workshop drilling holes for longer bolts. He agrees that the problem is less serious, than it was first thought. But he is not impressed by their skills, and when we in the evening inspect the repair with him and test the engine for an hour with the gears back and forth, he declares that it will probably hold, but it is not a “nice job” they have delivered. Even we can see that.
“Garage mechanic,” snaps the Dutchman. He himself has worked with engines and engineering for major river-projects worldwide.
He stopped working a few years ago, and the decision to retire is the best, he has ever made. He and his wife are now sailing six months a year and spends the rest at home in the Netherlands. His wife whispers to us, that he has far to go, before he is relaxed pace. He is still restless even after two years in retirement.
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
July 11. – 2014
We start the day by attending a start of Tour de France. The whole Epernay is on the other end. Lots of audience along the route. Advertising cars in the hundreds. School children with flags. Tents with entertainment. Yellow leader-shirts and polka dot-shirts for sale and at one point: whousshh !, and all the riders has passed. That was that.
At 11 o’clock we pull into a quiet side street, because we are expecting a call about the engine. We have brought forward the best competences in french, that we possibly can. Anders and Kirsten have left Epernay to travel for Paris. They did not get much of sailing in the french rivers this year. Bad luck.
Now Kirsten’s older brother Jørgen and his wife Hanne is on their way to embark Ronja. Hanne is excellent in french, but her friend, Vivi, is possibly better, so we have Vivi call the mechanic at 11 o’clock to get clear information on the progress of our repair. When is it expected to be completed? Can it be speeded up at additional cost for the weekend? In there any way whatsoever that the repair can be accelerated?
The answer is no good.
Neither the warehouse in Holland or the manufacturer in Germany are able to deliver a new sparepart, so now the part has to be sent from Malö shipyard in Sweden. It cannot be done until next week because of Bastille Day on July 14. The mechanic will come Friday morning and photograph the shaft and measure the dimensions, so that he can order the sparepart – in the harbour known as “la piece“.
The new part will be mounted on Wednesday and installation will last one and a half hours. As the mechanic do not show up as agreed Friday morning, we probably should already have suspected mischief.
Sigh. We go to Bernards office and pay for the one night, we owe him, and for five additional nights. Overall, eight nights in Epernay. That is a long time for a boat on its way round the world. Perhaps we shall acquire some potted plants to the foredeck of Ronja like the other river boats, of which many are permanently moored.
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
July 9. – 2014
Today, we have to find a mechanic. Nothing in the world is more needed, than the certainty that our engine problem will soon find a solution. Harbour Master Bernard, however, is disappeared from the surface of the earth. We find Bernard’s friend, who makes a dramatically french claim, that it is a very difficult task, monsieur Bernard is doing. “Tres difficile“. No one has time. No one calls back. “Tres difficile“. She lets us understand, that there is not much hope.
Later we find Bernard himself. We are sitting in his office, while he calls another three mechanics. Rejection after rejection after rejection. No one has the time. We show him a business card of a mechanic, that we got from a gate guard just before Epernay. Bernard is skeptical. He does not know the mechanic. Do not think he knows anything about boats either. We insist, and he calls. Bingo! The mechanic can be with us at 11.45.
We give high-fives to monsieur Bernard, proclaiming him our hero and feel certain, that a solution is near.
The mechanic comes. He seems competent and says the problem is, that the cardan-joint of our shaft (transmission shaft?) is kaput and needs to either be repaired or replaced. He cannot say a word other than french, but the communication goes on in the way, that he on his cell phone rings up a man called Bill, who is an Englishman, explaining his diagnosis, and then he gives Per the phone, to let Bill explain, what the mechanic just said. Afterwards Bill translates Per’s questions to the mechanic.
The cardan-joint will be removed on Thursday. Whether it can be repaired or if it needs to be replaced with a new one, is undecided. How long the exercise will take, he leaves us hovering totally in the dark.
We change the crew. We say goodbye to Henrik and Susanne. Half an hour later we say hello to Anders and Kirsten.
Outside it is pouring rain. That makes it six days in a row, and we wonder why every time we have news from Denmark, we get reports about both 28 degrees and 31 degrees. In France for almost one week we have had nothing over 20 degrees. Well, anyway excessive heat may be overrated?
Later in the day Göran and his crew arrive in “Evanna III”. We’ve got neighbours.
45° 38′ 57.12” N 4° 47′ 40.5888” E
July 8. – 2014
We get up early. Kirsten and Henrik send Ronja back into the river. We we are heading towards a new goal. We agree that we need to sail 75 kilometres in two days, so Henry and Susanne can disembark in the city of Epernay, where there are trains to Paris every two hours. The stretch we can either split into two days or do it in one day. We end up doing the whole trip in one day.
We have begun to hear a strange murmur from the engine. At irregular intervals, sounding unpleasant, as if the propeller is about to fall off, or something else is wrong. It is a sound quite different from the diesel engine’s otherwise very stable rhythm. We are trying to get rid of the sound by changing the engine speed. We close the door down the toilet. We stabilise all on the boat, that can go into oscillation. We really do know, that it is not that. But it feels good to act. As we open the door to the engine, we can hear that it is not the engine itself, that is the problem. The motor hums stable, as it should.
It must be something external. The propeller? The shaft? We sail cautiously with successive revolutions in order to find a level, which eliminates the new and unpleasant engine sound. We did not manage to do so. In fact, it is difficult to attach the murmur to a particular RPM level. It occurs when we run at 2,600 revolutions per minute, and when we run 1,600 rpm. What’s worse, the sound gets worse and worse every hour that we sail.
Along the way, we stop at a bridge. We let the motor cool down and examine, what might be wrong. We tighten the vibration dampers. We can see that there is a loss of oil at the cardan-joint (transmission shaft) between the horizontal shaft of the motor and the inclined shaft down to the propeller, and we can see that the concertina-membrane enclosing the cardan-joint, has been worn in pieces. Probably the problem is to be found here.
We decide to proceed. Gently. Preferably all the way to Epernay. For Epernay is a relatively large town (27,000 inhabitants). We think that in such a city there will be a marine mechanic or a truck mechanic.
We are approaching the – almost – only port in Epernay – Nautique de Epernay. In our river map it says, that the port can only take vessels with a draft less than 1.60 meters. But we continue anyway. Maybe they have deepened the harbour recently? Perhaps they have not got the real measure? Perhaps there is still room for us?
Yes! There is room. We put ourselves outside of a briton from Norwich. Harbourmaster Bernard accepts us with grand gestures and invites us for a welcome drink in the marina bar.
It is the world’s smallest marina. It has room for ten boats at the highest. Maybe rather eight. Yet, the head of the capitainerie, monsieur Bernard, acts if he is the head of a marina with 800 boats. Very helpsome, he is. We explain to him, that we have an engine problem, and he offers immediate help in finding a mechanic. His first call has no results. The mechanic has plenty of work and have neither the time nor the inclination to take a new job in.
Bernard says that he has asked the mechanic to ask amongst his colleagues, and soon one of them will call back and take on the task.
Log-book: Today’s distance: 75 km. Locks: 6 pcs. Sailing time: 8:00 to 17:00 = 9 hours. Weather: Grey, dry weather as long as we sail. The rain starts exactly when we arrive at Epernay (and continues for 24 hours thereafter).