The Time I Blew Up The Engine on a £500,000 Boat

The pristine blue waters sped past me in a blur. Crests of waves appeared in a constant stream on the horizon and each one I tackled head on. We moved elegantly through the waves, slicing through them with smooth precision.

On my right stood towering orange cliff faces, caves and scars carved into them. On my left was nothing except the vast expanse of blue ocean.

It was my second day at sea, learning how to captain a boat. I’d been late to start my training as Leeds Festival overlapped with our scheduled skipper training. My brother and dad already had their licenses after three days and one gruelling night on the water.

My first day had gone swimmingly. My trainer had informed me I was a natural when it came to navigating and driving a boat and I was glowing with pride. Finally, something I could do!

He had been so impressed, in fact, that he didn’t think I needed the night training at all. So I had 3 scheduled days on the water, one of which included driving from Mallorca across to Ibiza.

It seemed like everyone was pretty confident in my skipper abilities as a whole boat-full of a family friends had been invited on the boat for a relaxing day out whilst I ferried them around.

This would be interesting.

Introducing your very competent captain. This was not the boat I would be driving today though. The boat was one of those small ones on the right.

The day started off bright enough. I managed to successfully get the boat out of its mooring spot with minimal prompting. We untethered the boat and repositioned the boat’s fenders  so that they were no longer acting as a safety barrier on the outside of the boat.

It was time to journey to Andratx, a beautiful fishing port on the south west coast of the island.

The ride to Andratx yielded some stunning views. Rugged headlands stood proudly out to sea. Upon them were spindly shrubs in muted hues of green and orange. Below them, vibrant blue waves lapped, as they had for over millions of years, forming deep caverns and crevices.

Compared to driving a car, driving a boat felt easy. There were no gears to worry about. I could move the boat forwards by pushing a leaver one way and then backwards by pushing it the other. I had a steering wheel and a bow-thruster.

Now, the bow-thruster was a wonderful little treat. By pushing this lever from side to side, I was able to move the boat sideways. They’re not present on all boats and made the boat far easier to manoeuvre.

I also had a control for the anchor, a fancy navigation system and the boat was fitted with a depth-metre – so it would beep at me if we were going too shallow. But, I was a natural captain (my instructor’s words, not mine) so I never took it shallow enough to hear this warning.

The first issue occurred when we were coming in to dock at Andratx port.

I was used to parking in mooring spots (well, the one time I moored) between two boats. Fenders on either side of the boats prevent them from crashing into each other so it was no bother if you got too close to another boat.

This was different. I had to pull the boat up beside a stretch of concrete which was the main port strip where pedestrians were casually walking.

My instructor was there to guide me but it didn’t make the process any easier.

I got the 43 foot Baia One boat as close to the wall as I could before using the bow-thruster to help the boat slot in the rest of the way.

Our boat was alive with the rowdy chatter and giggling of the several people we had invited on board. It was incredibly distracting and their presence made me feel under pressure. I had to get this right or I risked making a fool out of myself.

Crash.

The boat jolted sharply and I heard screaming combined with laughter coming from the back of the boat.

The tail end of the boat had just clipped the concrete!

I felt hot with embarrassment and that was before I saw the damage.

There was a huge crack in the boat’s outboard and a little chip where some was missing. Oh shit! I should mention, this wasn’t our boat either. It was being rented.

My instructor tried to reassure me but it was no use. I felt like I was doing a shit job. There was no way I’d get my day skipper license now. I had just damaged the boat!

Eventually, I got into the spot.

Clearly this was not taken at that embarrassing point in our journey.

As everyone chatted and laughed over lunch, I couldn’t help but feel resentful that everyone was here. Yeah I know, I’m sooooo antisocial sometimes. I struggle to join in with people at the best of times but it turned out learning to captain a boat just made this challenging task even harder. I was separated from everyone else. And it bugged me.

I was glad when we decided it was time to head back to port for the night.

We tore through the Mediterranean waves with the sun gradually setting over the horizon. Many of our guests on the boat were sunning themselves on the front. They looked over, startled, whenever we charged through a large wave which sent the boat rocking slightly. Oops.

The cliffs around us were turning a beautiful red colour as the evening light hit them. The ocean in front of us was illuminated slightly and I allowed myself to relax and appreciate the position I was in. I was the designated captain on a beautiful yacht. I really needed to lighten up!

It was time to see that the white vessel was made of.

I increased the speed, pushing the lever further and further away from me. The boat roared to life, speeding past majestic islands and cutting through waves like butter.

Even more! I increased the speed again.

The wind was racing through my hair and land was passing us by at incredible speed.

More!

It felt incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever been so fast across the water before.

Beside me, people were chuckling, feeling the adrenaline flowing through their veins.

Until.

A loud bang sounded from the outboard and a blast of thick, black smoke started to emerge. The boat made intense juddering movements and unpleasant crashing noises before the speed started to gradually die away.

Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. What have I done?

I turned the lever down to try and bring the boat to a normal speed but I’m not convinced it had much effect. The boat seemed to be slowing down on its own.

I turned to my instructor, my eyes round with apology.

He advised me to cut the boat’s engines. At once, silence fell around us as the juddering sound of the engine died away.

I listened to the tranquil sound of the ocean and felt the boat gently crest waves.

The instructor had disappeared to the back of the boat and had opened up the doors to the engine.

One of the engines had blown. The boat fortunately had two engines but each engine was responsible for one side of the boat. If one engine was on, the boat would continue to turn in that direction, so it was impossible to travel straight.

I swallowed nervously.

Thankfully our home port was on the horizon, although it was still quite a way away.

Still, I was so grateful the issue happened this close to home and not in the middle of the ocean.

The instructor took over the driving from then on. Perhaps for the best! He started up the boat’s solitary engine which quavered awkwardly and, like expected, tried to take us in a circle to the left.

It was a long journey back to the shore.

Our captain somehow managed to get the boat on a wonky course towards the distant port, having to adjust the position of the bow constantly. It’s pretty accurate to say that we travelled on our side.

Travelling sideways across the ocean comes with new challenges. Hitting waves side-on was throwing the boat massively off-balance and we were rocking violently from side to side. This wasn’t ideal when many passengers, including myself, get motion sickness easily.

Eventually we made it to the port, all thoroughly relieved to be on dry land.

I shifted uncomfortably. I can’t believe I had blown up one of the boat’s engines. Reassuring voices told me a healthy engine wouldn’t just die like that so it must have been on its way out. But I don’t know.

Was the boat faulty or was I just a terrible captain?

The boat still had one last surprise in store for us.

One of our group decided to go to the toilet just as we had docked up. The toilet exploded on them and appeared out of the boat dripping in shit.

Oh my god. It was hilarious but I felt sorry for them at the same time.

It had certainly been an interesting day at sea.

By some way of a miracle, my instructor gave me a skipper’s license and informed me I didn’t have to have another lesson on our route to Ibiza. Was he worried I’d destroy the replacement boat we were getting for that trip as well?

I may never know! But I’m now a fully qualified day skipper. Message me for day trips 😉

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