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One reads about the Sargasso Sea as some dangerous mass of seaweed and eels, Crowhurst’s abandoned trimaran drifting aimlessly with the random currents. Somehow we are feeling the same about trying to get this journey back where it should be, on the river.

The statement from the Schifffahrtsaufsicht (SFA) was that the boat either had to be set up with a motor, and thus registered, or it had to be shown that we can paddle at a speed to match the current (approx 6kmh) for several minutes and remain “capable of maneuvering” – whatever that precisely means. While the speed is possible, but only with some practice, we think that we showed, by crossing the strong stream immediately downriver of the Wallsee dam, that we can deal with the river’s current safely.

But the wording was also prefaced with “If he thinks that we cannot estimate that” and derogatory references to our “oars” (yes, in inverted commas) which are simply shaped planks, similar to those used by Greek or Thai fishers and those that we used for 3 weeks in Australia. So we do not fit within their expectations and would need to prove something to them that is unclear, so probably they can happily say that we have not proven things enough, regardless of what we do. We fear that the main problem comes down to the fact that the vessel looks a bit odd and we do not have standard oars.

So the most reasonable thing to do seems to be to get a motor for safety and get a license for the boat. This means that the vessel will only be usable by qualified boaters (luckily I did my 10m ticket a few years ago for no apparent reason) and that we need to find a motor. The law states that we need at least 6 Horsepower (HP) to be able to use the locks. As the lockmasters have already expressed their reluctance to deal with us (the second lockmaster called the SFA and refused to allow us lockage until he had said that all was well – “we had everything but the piece of paper”) we need to be more than legally correct. So a motor over 6HP was needed. The only ones we have around are a 3HP Italian one from the 1960s or so (lovely, loud, unreliable and shaking itself to pieces) and a 38 kg 15HP Tomatsu that is overpowered and over heavy. So the last 4 days have been spent trying to find a motor that is between 6 and 9 HP and reliable enough.

We actually hope we will never have to use it. The project is based upon the non-use of fossil fuels. The motor should only be there to get us out of trouble, say if a ship sinks immediately in front of us. So it almost is irrelevant whether the motor works, except that it should if it needs to.

During the week we have been busy while looking for a motor. We will  avoid a whole swathe of problems by applying only for a temporary license for a single journey. Then we do not need to get an engineer’s analysis of the vessel or anything. Such temporary licenses are intended to allow a vessel to be tested for suitability or to enable a single transfer journey to be made. We have also been trying to keep our eye on reusability questions: if we get this motor happening, how can we pass on the working motor? How can it be recycled? Where can we get it from?

So this morning we think we cracked it. A very enthusiastic person we know indirectly turned up with an old motor, some other machine to pull apart, images of his floating pipe accommodation (like a smaller version of Dasparkhotel on pontoons) on a laptop that he needed some help getting working again, some hunger and a lot of energy. Did I mention that he was bouncing off the walls? He praised the motor, also mentioning that last time he used it it died while overheating, And that it was fine. Whilst pulling apart an electric motor to re-use for something else, talking about all sorts of other projects and maintaining a very high level of entertainment. Wunderbar!

The motor started after not too many tries. So it was not seized. We killed it quickly as we were running it with no water as a test. We started trying to drop the bottom of the motor off, essentially the gearbox bit that has the driveshaft and propellor as well as the direction changing setup to get to where we could look at the water pump, but that was being stuck. So while it soaked in WD-40 we opened the screws to the gearbox and a mayonnaise like oil-water mix started oozing out. Oh dear. This is a real problem.

This hiatus has brought to a head that the Danube river is not just any waterway. Commons goods are not just left lying around. but have complex and perhaps complicated regulatory systems built up around them. Kites, model planes, hot air balloons and commercial air traffic are another side of industrial pollution, Sahara dust and pollen. Not everybody can throw themselves upon the river in any old floating device and do as they wish. A friend related a story of his uncle who, some time ago with a friend, decided to build a raft and float down to Vienna. Before they even got to the first lock, about 6km downstream from Linz, they found themselves unable to get out of the way of a freight barge. The friend was dragged under the whole 100-odd meters of barge keel, luckily not being sucked into the propellor, and the two reached the shore without significant injury, their vessel destroyed. Another friend dragged a drifting raft from the path of a barge with a rope between his teeth as he paddled his kayak as hard as he could. Such stories indicate  and remind us that the river is perhaps a commons, but it is also a trucking lane. And an irrigation source, a swimming pool, a waterskiing area, a fish breeding space,…..

As we tried to decode what sort of motor it is (all we know is that it is a Selva, Italian, made in 1976 and that no one else seems to know what it is either – lots of unanswered questions on various boating forums) we slowly got the messy screw loose, the mayonnaise drained, the gear shift connector disconnected, the gearbox separated, the water pump open and discovered that the impeller is completely shredded.

With any luck tomorrow we will be able to find some suitable replacement impeller, refill the gearbox with oil and maybe drain it again to remove the mayo, reassemble the motor and take what was on its way to being a lump of oily trash to being a working backup motor. Then we can bring in all the documents to the officials after the Easter weekend, wait 8 days for the temporary license and once again set sail down the Danube River.

Whereupon we will regail you with more stories. Like how amazingly well the sail worked down the river with the wind behind us and astounded people waving from the banks or photographing us from other vessels. Very cool.