A Bit about the Old Girl

…I mean Tainui, not Maxine.

Without sentimentality I must say that Tainui has served us well indeed. As usual, she has never given me a moment’s anxiety, although she cannot say the same of me. Much of the novelty on this trip has to do with the conversion of a high latitude cold weather boat into one suited to tropical climates. I find that takes time – March fly screens, mosquito netting, sun awnings and shades, adequate ventilation, swim boarding ladders, cockpit bedding, engine cooling etc all need review.

IMG_3555The waters of the Volga River are pristine only in a relative sense. Our epoxy topsides are going powdery and they have absorbed much of the river’s oily pollutants. A paint job is in the offing and I will do that in Izmir at the end of the season.

The other novelty for me is having the mast on deck. Dock work with 10′ of mast sticking forward of the bows and another 7′ behind us is not hard but needs care. In any sort of seaway the motion is not natural and I do not like having to be totally dependent on our engine. Fortunately the river is only 12-20′ deep on average, so that anchoring is always the solution in an emergency. But there is a lot of commercial traffic – huge barges, Volga cruise ships and bulk carriers – and I can imagine an awkward emergency arising.

Our mast stands 19 metres off the water and there was no question about our need to pull it in Vytegra. I made three 6 x 1″ cross frames to support the beast above the cockpit dodger and it slotted in neatly below the solar panel arch aft. The cross frames are through bolted and also lashed at the cross. Fore and aft support for the whole structure is by way of six  5/8″ lines. Despite all that, we have found that there is still fore-and-aft movement when some clown rushes across our bows at speed. Then the whole mess creaks and groans and I grit my teeth. I envy Fremantle sailors with their ready-drop mast step arrangements.There are many 20 mile stretches of river on which a mast and genniker would make for delightful sailing.

Miles Clark  (“Wild Goose”), who pioneered this route for foreign yachts, rebuilt his mast so they could fit under the bridges and aerial cables. But she was only 34′ and it was not a big job, I gather. Cruisers doing this route in future should consider how best to deal with the 15 metre height restriction.

Compared with Gota Canal, the huge commercial locks on the Belomorsk and Volga-Balt Canals are straightforward. There are enormous mooring hooks which rise and fall with water level, and it is an easy matter to lash firmly to them with a tight breast rope. For topsides protection, big round fenders are a must.  Water movement is sedate even though the level changes are at times spectacular, and there is always plenty of room. I could not imagine how you could transit the locks without a competent Russian speaker though. There is much obligatory VHF communication during the process and you often share the locks with 5,000 ton tankers.

Our one big problem with Tainui has been persistent fresh water coolant loss. We are all baffled by it. I have pressure tested the header tank and the exhaust manifold hot and cold, replaced the water pump, removed the head and had it pressure tested and honed. I have replaced the head gasket. The engine itself runs faultlessly and there is no milkiness or rise in levels of oil. The header tank fluid does not bubble. I have cordoned off the calorifier exchanger and the bus radiator circuits and there is no external loss. But we continue to lose about a pint of coolant per hour, and much more if I tighten the radiator cap and run the engine at more than 1300 rpm. The only possibility I have not been able to investigate is a leak from the welch plug at the aft end of the block, inside the gearbox bell housing, but there is no external loss from the housing. Anyone who can find the source of our leak will win a large prize.

The distances are huge.  We’ve been at it a month and we still have almost 2,000 miles to go. But there is so much to do and to see. This is a wonderful trip and Tainui is just the vessel to do it in.

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