Alexandra's Log

Mike turns a disaster into a hiccup

I mentioned that we had an issue on Alexandra some time ago with the head gasket. This is an extract from her log at the time…..

Well, it was a usual Friday afternoon – a mad helter-skelter dash to the boat to try to beat Bank Holiday weekend traffic. Our June Bank Holiday was promised to be warm and dry, so there was no way we were going to miss it! Actually on that, bank holiday weekends are very precious to me. There are only a few during the boating season, and they are an opportunity to go further afield – Alexandra not being the fastest boat out there means we can only travel a certain distance on a Saturday, as we have to be mindful of the return journey on Sunday, followed by a long stint in the car to get home. So any events that occur on a Bank Holiday weekend are a serious disruption to my boating!

Anyway, back to the boat.


Heading for Lough Key

We left Albert Marina, heading for Lough Key, but didn’t get very far. Not even as far as Ardnaraffin Bridge on the Jamestown Canal, and there was a loud bang. Really loud. I thought it was a gun, and got a fright. Alexandra’s engine started spluttering and the whole boat started to shake. Our poor engine wasn’t a happy camper at all. I looked on, helpless and clueless, as Mike made some checks. In a way we were incredibly lucky that this happened on the Canal, and not on an open lake, as Mike was able to give it his complete attention knowing that the boat wouldn’t come to any harm with no engine running. But his diagnosis was quick and not good news at all. It seemed our weekend trip to Lough Key was over.

Our only option was to go back to base and for Mike to start stripping the engine to see how bad things were.


Help is at hand…

Many a time we have helped out others (and are glad to do so), but today it was the turn of Phoenix. She left the marina and followed us through the lock, and then dragged us back down through the lock (a bit scary when you have no power to steer or stop), but Phoenix were fantastic and we were able to get back home with a minimum of fuss and no bumping into anything.

We were tired and to be perfectly honest, very upset. Idle chatter of new engines, and thousands of euro, and all sorts of other damage made me sick to my stomach. But Mike is an expert, and he was positive that anything could be fixed. He started talking of parts to order and work to be done. We decided to forget about it and enjoy our weekend anyway. I made myself really useful and poured wine. 

Din dins

By weird coincidence, we had been given a haunch of wallaby for our dinner. Yes, that’s what I wrote, wallaby. Small kangaroos to me. There are wild wallaby living on Lambay Island in Dublin. Honest! And MK Meats are the only butchers that can supply wild, Irish wallaby. And we had one. Not much clue how to cook it, but that never stopped us. Into the oven it went.

Tadhg, Eithne and Elaine, the lovely crew of Phoenix dropped over to see if we were ok, and we asked them to join us. And the crew of Lady Gwendoline joined us too, squashing up around Alexandra’s table, trying out our unusual dinner. And it was good! I would definitely recommend wallaby if you haven’t tried it. It is a dark meat, very dark like venison, and with a strong flavour, but so soft and tender. We didn’t do anything special to it, just roasted it in a tin.

I will be forever grateful for these friends who cheered us up that night.


So what is a head gasket?

Mike got cracking on the engine the next morning, stripping it down, and finding our problem, the head gasket. For those of you who aren’t mechanically minded, the head gasket is a thin strip of metal with lots of holes in it that is fitted in between the top and bottom parts of an engine. Sort of like a washer. And when it breaks, it affects pistons and causes water to leak where it shouldn’t, and eventually leads to an engine that overheats and all sorts of other serious issues. But Mike was confident that it was just the head gasket and that no other damage had occurred.

Mammy Alexandra (her real Mammy, that is) was very concerned about our broken engine. She knew that these things take time to fix and breaking down in June, at the height of the season… well she assumed we would be out of action for the remainder of the season.

The following weekend, I went to stay with Mammy Alexandra, while Mike, who had already got a delivery of the necessary parts, went to Carrick to start putting our engine back together.


How Mike rolls…

On Saturday evening, I got a phone call from Mike. I could hardly hear him with the background noise. He told me that he had worked all day, that the parts were fine, that the head gasket had been replaced, and the engine was now up and running perfectly. He turned it off, and there was silence. And on again and even over the phone, I could hear that the engine sounded smooth. I was surprised, but this is not fair to Mike. Actually it is very unfair. This is what he does – diagnose engine problems and fix them. He correctly diagnosed the problem, stripped the engine down, ordered the parts, and got Alexandra’s heart running sweetly, just like he said he would. All in the space of a week.

A big, big thank you to Mike from Clinton Marine, to the crew of Phoenix for rescuing us, MK Meats for dinner and to the crews of Phoenix and Lady Gwendoline who reminded us that even if a long weekend goes pear-shaped, life is good when you have the right people around you.


MK Meats

Clinton Marine

Carrick on Shannon

Lambay Island

Lough Key


2 thoughts on “Mike turns a disaster into a hiccup

  1. As ever an interesting tale with a great plot, cast and a happy ending what more
    could the readers ask for, the Oscar goes to Mike !

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