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The following testimonials to our products and service are true to the original writer. They are not edited in any way beyond correcting the occasional spelling mistake and removing private addresses.

It was a moonless, starlit night; we were motoring south of India on our way from Sri Lanka to Oman. There wasn’t a ripple on the ocean; you couldn’t find the horizon, the stars seemingly to come right to the boat. The only mar on the mirror-like surface was our bow wake causing the reflected stars to bend as though seen through an empty beer glass. I was standing in the cockpit leaning on the spray dodger, the radar painted an eerie green picture with a large blob 5 miles south of us. The blob south of us was lit up like a Christmas tree and we couldn’t discern the running lights so I was keeping an eye on it. Suddenly a horrible scraping sound and then the engine started racing. We had driven over the top of a Long Line fishing net and were now entangled in the belly floating on the surface.

 I called the boat south of us on the VHF but no reply – suddenly all their lights went out and she started heading south – It was the end point of the drift net and they had opted to drop it and run – this was an illegal area for fishing. We winched the net either side of us to the boat and then very gently I went into the water to see what the damage was. The net was full of dead fish. There was a huge tangle of net where the propeller should have been. The net extending all round the boat. Not the most enticing place for a swim. The random fact that it was over a mile deep in this part of the ocean popped into my head. I climbed back aboard and started by cutting through the hawser on the top of the net with a hacksaw and then kitted up in my diving gear to try and clear below.

 Tied on via a safety line, torch in one hand and bread knife in the other I fought my way through the net to the prop and started cutting it away. The only illumination was from my torch and Deb leaning over the side shining our spotlight into the water. There wasn’t any moonlight to help. Above, back on board, our cat was making a racket wanting to know what was going on. The worst moment was when I became entangled in the section of the net I had cut away and it started to sink. Swimming like crazy held down by the weight of the entangled net I fought my way back towards the boat keeping the torch shining on the bottom to give me some sense of direction. Even though I was tied on with a safety line and could have increased the buoyancy in my diving vest BC, this did not enter my head at the time. Finally, getting my breathing back under control I restarted clearing the prop. Surrounding me were bits of net and dead fish. Looking back it was funny, but all I thought about was the theme music from the movie Jaws and all the dead fish around me. A small dead turtle caught in the net just below me kept nudging my feet. At one stage a plastic bag wrapped itself around the side of my head. Needless to say I used a lot of air then screaming into the mouthpiece – to this day I think I may have even wet myself.

 After two hours we were finally free and drifted very slowly clear, frightened to start the engine and get caught again. In the morning we were ascertained the net was over 6 miles long and now very obviously abandoned – it did not even have a radar reflector on it. We assumed because it had been dropped illegally right beside the shipping lane as it carried no lights or markers. Starting the motor to try to get clear when we engaged forward gear nothing happened. The motor worked, the gearbox clunked in but nothing in forward or reverse. The propeller we had at this stage was a two blade folding with a rubber cushion in the hub. The safety rubber cushion in the hub had sheared so we now had nothing.

 11days later of windward work and a tow from friends when the wind stopped we were in Salalah. Many phone calls and faxes later we had decided on replacing the folding prop with a three-blade feathering propeller from Seahawk marine. The area at the time had minimal tides to beach the boat and no haul out facilities so we had to fit the prop to our saildrive underwater. I had quite a long discussion with Wayne from Seahawk as they experimented until they thought they had it cracked. The prop arrived and life underwater started again for me.

Clearing it through customs was a story in itself. I had to get permission from the port captain – he was based in a large white building with marble floors. A huge man in a white dish dash and a wicked looking bejewelled dagger in his belt sat impressively behind the desk. A cup of very strong, muddy coffee later he sent me on my way to the airport in his Mercedes. In fact, fitting it was very easy after staring at it for a few hours. I have since fitted two more of the same props underwater (not recommended).

 We left Oman with a brisk NE under spinnaker and a sleigh road down the coast to Yemen. Aden is the place for cheap alcohol and fuel – it has nothing else to recommend it. The civil war had just finished and there were burnt out tanks in the street. Once through the straights of Bab el Mendab the problems started. Every now and then when motoring it would slip out of gear leaving the motor spinning and us going nowhere. From here we beat our way through the reef-strewn waters of the Red Sea without a motor. The morning radio sked was dominated by the conversation  “What is wrong with Interludes gearbox”? Entering the marsas (dried up old rivers that have caused a break in the fringing reefs) was exciting. The break in the reef usually only a couple of boat lengths wide. Visibility was down to a couple of miles due to the dust in the air; the charts were up to a mile out – GPS had just arrived and the co-ordinates were from other yachts. Our boat handling skills and anchoring under sail improved dramatically. In all, from the time of the incident to when we finally made it to Cyprus we had sailed 3500 miles to windward. Arriving in Port Said to transit the Suez Canal we had to do something – the quote for a tow through was $10,000 US dollars (out of our reach). After much prodding, staring and phoning Australia, UK and the manufacturers in Denmark it was decided the clutch plates for forward had also been damaged causing it slip out of gear without notice. The most attractive alternative was to buy a large outboard and bolt it on the back.
An option used before, but not in this story...  Reverse, however did not seem to be damaged but to make sure I took off the top of the gearbox and bolted the plates together and held it permanently in reverse. 

 After a lot of consultation with Wayne of Seahawk, once again it was back underwater to change the configuration of the prop. At this stage the props were made in either Right or Left hand versions and not interchangeable. Once again Seahawk went to work on the test bench and came up with a solution for changing our left hand prop into a right hand configuration. Thus enabling us to motor forward in “reverse” without resorting to large outboards or expensive tows. Now the props can be easily adjusted to either hand. A morning spent being dragged around by the boat while watching the prop and adjusting the pitch we were ready for the Suez Canal. The whole canal was done with the gearbox in reverse but motoring “forward”.

 As a small addendum to this part of the story the toilet had decided it had enough and was blocked. Through the canal you have an Egyptian pilot on board who usually arrives and starts explaining how much his gratuity or baksheesh should be. During the day at the Moslem prayer time he wanted to wash, as is the custom. We provided soap, water and towel but asked him not to use the head, as it was broken. He duly appeared, after consulting the compass, placed his map on the foredeck pointing towards Mecca and prayed. The time came to deliver him to the shore we gave him $10 and with ill grace he departed.

 Deb went below to get ready for sea as there was no way we were stopping any longer in Egypt. A sharp and forceful expletive from below- Deb had just discovered he had indeed used the head. It is bad enough cleaning your own when unblocking heads but this was the final straw. I unbolted the whole head and threw it over the side. It was bucket and chuck it all the way to Cyprus.

10 years later we have a new boat (same designer, just larger) and have fitted another of the Autostream Monel 3 blade props. We have just completed an eighteen-month trip motoring through the French canals after sailing the previous year to Finland and Russia in the Baltic Sea.
Morning on the French Canals The bonus of the prop is being able to adjust the pitch from underwater and very easily. I can do it using a mask and snorkel - two quick trips below it is done.

 For the canal trip I increased the pitch of the prop dramatically. The maximum speed in the canals is 4 knots so being able to rev all the way out is wasteful. By doing this our fuel economy was dramatically improved. We usually burn 2.6l/hr motoring but were able to get this down to 1.2l/hr. Back in the Mediterranean Sea once again it was a couple of trips with the snorkel and the pitch was back into proper sea going mode. Since then I have fine-tuned it to give us maximum efficiency at 6 knots and by doing so have compromised our top speed. The best thing about this is it is easy to change and adjust it for whatever you want.
Adjusting the pitch in the French Canals using a snorkel
This has turned into a little promo for the prop but I cannot recommend it highly enough – its pitch is infinitely variable; it is robustly built and easily adjusted. Importantly has a “get home” feature in that if the rubber cushion is damaged it still allows you to motor. Unlike the hub on our two blade folding prop. One last thing in its favour – on the old boat at 1800 revs we made four knots with the two-blade folding prop. Changing to the three-blade feathering at the same revs we motored at 5.5 knots for a small increase in fuel consumption. All the benefits of a fixed three-blade prop without the boat feeling like you are dragging a bucket behind you.
 Running under spinaker and poled out headsail in light winds  In the Carribean with 4800 hours on the prop

Brett and Deb
Interlude III

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