33. Crisis on the Costa Blanca (Part 2…) Garrucha – Cartagena

After a few days in Garrucha enjoying some new surroundings and meeting some new folks (32. Well, It’s Never Dull, Is It?!), the spare part for the engine had now arrived and been fitted, and it was time to head for our original goal; Cartagena.
Having corralled our friend Peter into joining us for the journey, the plan was for an early evening departure and overnight trip, which would bring us into Cartagena early morning – just in time for Peter to get a bit of diving in. What wonderful things plans are…

And so, we were ready… The engine started, didn’t leak, and everything seemed on track. We re-fuelled (filtering it very, very carefully….), and off we set towards Cartagena on what turned out to be almost a carbon copy of our journey from Almerimar to Garrucha (31. Crisis on the Costa Blanca (Part One…) Almerimar – Garrucha). There wasn’t much wind, but we got the mainsail up to steady us and settled in for the 8-hour motor to our new marina.

Off we go…so full of hope for fish, functioning engines etc…

In a sentence you may remember from ‘Part One’… Around 21.00, just as dusk was falling, I went off watch first for my 3 hours’ of sleep. Then it happened. The engine stopped and wouldn’t restart. Again. I have now been forbidden taking the first off-watch slot if we’re motoring. It was dark by now, and we weren’t crazy about the idea of emptying the lockers in the dark (the contents fill the cockpit and make moving around a considerable hazard), so we tried to sail a bit, but we were making only slight headway (less than 1kt) using the current – the wind was doing nothing for us. We decided that we had to do it; we had to empty the lockers. Again. At least Hugo was in bed, and we were all fairly buoyant (excuse the [slight] pun) since we knew what we had to do, and were well-practiced after last week.

So, having heard all the stories, Peter also now got to experience the locker emptying, filter changing, system bleeding, and praying (repeating all steps as necessary) that go with this situation. He didn’t seem overly enthused, but rallied impressively, pitching in and getting his hands dirtier than his share. Like our friend Joe (from ‘Part One’), we suspect this was also not what he thought Mediterranean yachting was going to be like. However, we do like to share these experiences with our friends…

But, even after all this, the engine still wouldn’t start.

Hours passed as we tried various things, there was no wind, but there was a considerable amount of swell, and Peter – a Divemaster and former sub-mariner – suffered from a case of ‘not being under the water’, which was fairly quickly resolved to the delight of the local fish… But we all felt utterly exhausted. I succumbed first, possibly falling asleep before I’d even finished lying down. Peter followed with a nap, but the noise from the main sail (despite being pulled in tight and there being no wind, the swell meant that we still rocked, which moved the boom [the horizontal bit that supports the bottom of the mainsail] and it was very, very noisy) made sleep impossible for Jamie. We tried dropping it, but – fairly predictably – this then made sleep impossible due to the roll (having the main sail up ‘equalises’ the boat and stops it rolling quite as much when the sea has a swell). Frustration, lack of sleep, and lack of new ideas to try were starting to take their toll. Jamie and I were starting to get a bit disheartened, having been in this same situation exactly a week ago, but also having been so sure we had got to the root of the problem and fixed it. We started to discuss buying a camper van.

We also became aware – as we were rummaging around the engine changing filters, bleeding air etc – that the engine was extremely hot. Far hotter than the pleasant warmth on a cold night that it normally produces. So now we had ourselves a new problem; engine overheating. We checked the tension on the alternator belt, as this drives the raw water pump for our seawater-cooled engine (this was a problem we’d had back in Barbate: 15. The Hotel California, Barbate) and all was fine (we had tightened it last week…) but as we were turning the engine over (and it was stubbornly refusing to start), the water that normally comes out the back was no longer coming out the back…

No problem, we knew about this one too… check the water pump, check the piping, change the impeller. Which is (for once) handily located in the locker that was already empty. We took the plate off to expose the impeller. It didn’t look terrible, but it didn’t look great either, so we cleaned it all up and changed it. We cleaned the raw water filter – although it didn’t look as if it needed it, we did it to cover all bases. We checked all the connections, pipework etc.

The impeller

But the engine still wouldn’t start. And now we were running the start batteries down.

We set the batteries to parallel (which makes the power from our house batteries available to the start system), but we realised we were just running them down too. We have solar panels and a wind turbine that charge our 4 batteries (3 x 110A house, and 1 x 110A start, for those of you that may be interested) – the wind turbine was obviously useless on this calm night, so we would have to wait until the sun came up so we could charge the batteries and then – hopefully – start the engine. However, even after changing the impeller, cleaning the filter, checking the pipework etc, there was still no water coming out the back when the engine was doing its (underpowered) turn over, and this was quite concerning. On the plus side, we had been drifting towards Cartagena on the current at just under 1kt, so we were now only 27NM away!

As the sun rose, the batteries started to power up, but the engine still wouldn’t start. Jamie and I started to discuss what we were going to do. Peter called the dive school to cancel his dives.

A lovely sunrise, but we just wanted the engine to start… (Photo: Peter Booth)

There was no wind at all forecast for the rest of the day, but the evening of the following day was due to bring extremely strong winds in off the Gulf of Lyon, and we didn’t really want to have to wait another 24 hours in a swell to then try and sail it in to Cartagena in 30+kt winds. We called the insurance company (again) to explain, slightly sheepishly, that the problem we were calling about was basically the same problem that we had called them about last week.

Completing the Ship’s Log… Nope, still drifting… (Photo: Peter Booth)

We also called the nearest marina (Alguilas – about 6NM away), and explained the situation. They suggested we call the Salvamiento Maritimo and get towed in, which would cost 5000 Euros. There were essentially two problems with this: 1) it would cost 5000 Euros, and 2) we would be in Alguilas, where we didn’t want to be. If we were going to be somewhere with a broken engine, we wanted it to be Cartagena. We also contacted our other friends Sarah and Martin, who had left Almerimar that morning. They were anchoring overnight, so would not be passing us until the following afternoon, but offered to help if we were still there. We were grateful for their offer, but desperately hoped that something would have happened one way or another by then! But then… Raul from the dive school said that he would come out and tow us in (with the big dive school rib) to Cartagena for 400 Euros. But he couldn’t do it until after lunch. As if we minded at that point! We contacted the insurers again to get their agreement, which duly arrived by email, and we put Raul on standby. Then we put the kettle on to wait for the batteries to charge up a bit more – resisting the urge to keep having ‘one more go’, and actually give them the chance to get to full power. We chilled out, started packing the locker items away etc

Then it happened.


Full action stations on Peter’s old submarine could barely have been reached quicker. It should be noted that I was also ‘off watch’ at this point, and enjoying a bit of a snooze – maybe I will be allowed to be off watch and asleep when we’re motoring after all….

Things were checked, re-checked and checked again. We had a slight fuel leak from somewhere-or-other, which Jamie eventually tracked down to a bolt on the fuel pump, more checking was done, and then we were off again! Diesel engines (we discovered) need full batteries to get them going, so as soon as we started losing power on them, we’d lost our chance to start the engine. However, by this time we were only 23NM away from Cartagena, and we let Raul know that we were on our way and would (hopefully) make it under our own steam, but he said that he would wait on standby with the boat until we were safely moored up. A mighty gallant offer, since it would take us another 5 hours!

Another leak found and resolved!

Spirits up, we settled in to those final 5 hours of the journey. Jamie finally got some sleep, and Hugo was chipper as anything, having – once again – slept through the dramas of the night. The engine ran well, but we still checked off every passing mile with relief. The sun was shining… so much in fact, that we put up the beach umbrella, lodging it in one of the deck drain holes (the chance of needing to drain the deck in those seas being almost zero)… and Peter still managed to get burned! I’m sure passing yachts must have had a laugh at our parasol, but we didn’t care… we had an engine that was running!

NOW we’re happy! (Photo: Peter Booth)

Finally we entered the large harbour of Cartagena – both a naval base and a cruise ship port, as well as having two yacht harbours and a fishing port, there are no shortage of things to be aware of, and we had to wait our turn on the VHF radio when approaching. Luckily for us, although the yacht who’d radioed in before us and confirmed his berth technically had priority, he then fluffed it by proceeding into the wrong marina, so that left it open for us, and we didn’t hesitate! A marinero (marina worker) was there to show us where to go, and we got our fenders and lines on the right side. I shouted ahead to him that we had engine trouble (erring on the side of caution) and, as if to confirm it, the engine lost revs and cut out just as we turned into our berth. We couldn’t wipe the speed (which, to be fair, wasn’t that great), but the marinero did a fantastic job of fending off the front with his body weight (we guessed it wasn’t the first time he’d done it, and with a lot bigger boats than ours, going a lot faster!), and within moments we were secured alongside.

The final approach into Yacht Port Cartagena

Finally the moment had arrived to break out the crisps and Cava that we had carried since Almerimar, along with another 2L of Tinto de Verano, and the remainder of our beers! This was a moment to be celebrated!! Raul finally went home, and wouldn’t take a thing for his goodwill – waiting until 19.00 when we were secured on our berth in case his help was needed. Another case of the selfless kindness that we have experienced on our journey so far, but especially in this part of Spain where it feels like we have had more than our share of issues!!

On our new mooring – alongside (a lovely change from stern-to!)

At the time of writing, we have been here just over a week – we will be posting more about the city soon – but in the meantime we must say that the marina (Yacht Port Cartagena) is fantastic, the security is good, the berths are in great condition, and the staff are excellent: friendly, helpful, professional, and will go out of their way to help you with your queries/problems. Sorry, Almerimar, but we wish we’d come here earlier (and not just 10 days earlier when we’d actually set off to come here…)







One thought on “33. Crisis on the Costa Blanca (Part 2…) Garrucha – Cartagena

  1. I can’t believe it all happened again…..I thought I was reading the previous blog! ……the very graphic photo explained all to a non sailor. I am really pleased to know that you are now in Cartagena.
    Love to you all Jane xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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