I’ll never forget the day: Storm scuppers maiden voyage

Force 8 gales and an engine room scare made MBY reader Jan van der Meer's maiden voyage on his Hatteras 70 one he'll never forget

Buying a 36ft Litton trawler in the Netherlands gave me the boating bug and soon I decided wanted another, bigger boat to keep somewhere sunny in the Med.

When I saw a Hatteras 70MY advertised online, I immediately flew out to Palma to have a look with my wife, Antoinette.

We discovered the boat hadn’t been used in seven years and almost everything needing replacing.

Undeterred, we embarked on a short sea trial and I put my money down there and then, walking away the proud new owner of Spica.

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She needed a good deal of work before she was fit for the seas. I serviced the engines and generators, put five new toilets in, replaced all the hoses, repaired the seacocks and the autopilot and installed new nav gear. I’d even laid new carpet. She was perfect!

All that was left to do was take her on her maiden voyage – a mere 907nm from Alcudia, Mallorca to her new home in Gouvia Marina, Corfu.

Hatteras 70 MY Spica

This was it – our first big journey! My crew consisted of myself, my nephew Peter and our friend Marco, who has no experience on the water but was happy to come along as chef.

Maiden voyage mayhem

The weather was beautiful when we left, but darkness bought with it fresh winds from astern.

By the next morning they had really picked up and when the waves lifted us we’d go from a steady 9 knots to an unsettling 22 knots.

After a few days of this, I’d got used to handling Spica and felt pretty confident until one night the fierce winds got worse and a thick blanket of black cloud enveloped us.

The wind shook the whole vessel and I could hear a tremble in the starboard engine. For three hours the strange vibrations kept up, but there was no way to stop and investigate.

Next thing we knew, the fire alarm was sounding from the engineroom and the oil pressure meter of the starboard engine started jumping up and down.

I shut down the engine and rushed down below. Outside the machine room Peter stood anxiously with the fire extinguisher. Thick, black, smoke choked us as we entered but thankfully there were no flames.

To make matters worse we had a Force 8 gale on our stern and no stabilisers to help steady us as they run off the hydraulic pump of the starboard engine.

With 6 metre waves on our stern, we couldn’t hold our course and were heading into the path of a cable ship.

The ship called us on VHF ordering us to stay away and we had to shout our predicament over the sound of the gale, warning that we couldn’t keep our distance. I tried to turn the engine over with a big pipe on the flywheel but it was completely seized.

Up in the wheelhouse I realised with horror we had another 100nm to go. With only one engine left and no stabilisers it was going to be a long night.

From bad to worse

It was a terrifying seven hours, but we finally reached the north side of Corfu, soaked to the skin. I called my wife and assured her we were all okay.

It was now only a few hours to Gouvia and we decided to press on. It surely couldn’t get any worse…

How wrong we were. The sky turned black and the gale moved round on to the port bow. I insisted everyone put lifejackets on in the wheelhouse.

All the appliances were thrown around the galley and the wind metre leapt up to 64 knots. My crew were looking very pale as I explained that if we capsized we would have to abandon ship and stick together.

Hatteras 70 owner Jan van der Meer

Hatteras owner and MBY reader Jan van der Meer

Thankfully Spica did not go down which goes to show how good the Hatteras yard is – I don’t think other vessels would have been so lucky!

We moored up exhausted and happy to be alive. It transpired that a valve spring had broken in the engine and made a hole in the piston.

The pressure pushed all the oil out of the engine, creating the fog of smoke.

It was back to the drawing board for more repairs!

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