When you live on an island, the first boat signifies the start of an adventure. a departure from the known mundane repetitive nature of modern day life into the unknown, unseen and mostly unplanned that invariably happens. Life is experience.
So it was both with trepidation and simultaneous excitement that we boarded our first (and unbeknownst to us – only) boat of the day from Belfast to Stranraer. For someone who was worried about riding a bike onto the boat Helen showed no issues. We were both still getting over the shock of the heavily loaded bikes. I could not believe the difference it had made, especially at low speeds. It felt like the front was disconnected from the back. Almost as though some git had half filled the top box with water and it was sloshing about. This can‘t be normal…
As any biker knows one of the biggest concerns is leaving the bike on the boat, strapped down by whatever means the dude could be bothered with that day. This depends on a number of factors such as how nice you are to them, what the weather is like and what mood he is in. That day the guy seemed chirpy enough and sensing our concerns (which we as bikers do our best to hide) he said “like a duck pond out there“. Happy days. He then asked if we were just over for the day? Um no. Not with spare tyres etc.
We rolled off the ferry and I chose that moment to setup the satnav. In truth the past week or so had been filled with frantic, much too late tweaking and servicing (as usual) so it hadn‘t got done. luckily it worked well enough to get us on the right road to Newcastle before it started crashing. Thankfully I had installed other software that used the same maps and it worked ok.
So we cruised along rather uneventfully for a while until I decided to open the bike up a bit in top gear to see how it went with all the gear on. We got to about 60 before the bike died and the engine fault light came on (installed a couple of days previous). I was all arms and feet trying to find the hazard lights in my blind panic while we were still rolling. I am sure I had them someplace. In a pannier maybe?
One feature of the engine warning lamp is you are meant to use a button to get it to blink out the fault code. I had wired this to the horn so that you effectively had to beep to get the code. Helen had no idea why we were stopping or what I was beeping for but went with it anyway. No blink codes came up so I tried restarting the engine which was ok.
Around 30 miles later it happened again. This time the bike restarted ok but when we pulled away it cut out again. Not good. I started to panic inside. Not even out of the UK and the bike is stuffed. I was taking it personally and starting to feel like a failure. My fate and destiny intertwined with that of the bike.
We pressed on and my mind was racing round in circles. What is the problem? Is it something I did in the last week or so? Engine failure? ARG!
I caught myself on and forced myself to think of the “when does it happen“ instead of “why does it happen“. Both times had been uphill so perhaps it was oil level? Or power demands – fuel rail sensor? Or Injector or something?
I thought about fuel a bit more and then drifted laterally to the rest of the fuel system. Fuel tank has fuel in. Pump is lifting and pressure gauge shows ok. What else. hang on a sec, gauge is BEFORE fuel filter. What would it do if that was blocked? Maybe that’s it? I‘ve never had to replace the fuel filter yet and its quite small. I had a couple spare with me. I‘d noticed the pressure gauge didn‘t bounce around like it normally did with varying engine demands. It was all starting to add up.
By now we were running low on time. 15 miles to go – come on baby just 15 more. Every hill was a challenge to climb without triggering an engine cutout but while also making decent time. 3 more miles baby just 3 more. The bike cutout again but started ok. We were reduced to a crawl just to keep going as it turned 4. Little did I realise that the ferry terminal was on the other side of Newcastle 11 miles away so it was all irrelevant. The bike cut out stubbornly in front of the Hospital at a set of traffic lights. All around us cars were starting to look and some drivers beeped impatiently as I dismounted and pushed the heavy bike up the footpath (gimmie a freakin break a-hole).
The bike was left for a bit and eventually started as we tried to work out the direction to the ferry terminal. We came back onto the main road and managed another 100 metres or so before it quit again. Realisation set in that it was all over. Google maps said it was still 11miles to the terminal and checkin time was over. We reluctantly decided we needed to find someplace to stay but I had to sort the bike either way. We rolled into a little layby and I laid out some tools while also hoping my theory was right.
Some drunk and dodgy people dandered by in what was obviously a slightly dodgy area of the City. So I worked as quickly as I could and in around 10 or 15 mins the fuel filter was changed and I was covered in Diesel. The filter was indeed blocked so I kept it to cut apart later (important to learn from these things). The bike started right up as if to say “finally! I needed that for ages!“
We found a premier Inn where nothing was premier except the price but were too tired to care at that point. Feeling a bit amateur we went to bed and slept right through.
The next day was not so eventful. We only had to find the smart dealership to get some more spare filters. I checked the new ones against the old one and they looked the same. Some more faffing about it turned out they were petrol ones. Lesson well learned from previous experience = Always check parts! Happy days.
We cruised over to B&Q to get some bungys and straps and a new lock for Helens pannier. At the petrol station we met first a young guy on an R1 with a white fairing that looked like it had seen the tarmac once or twice. He rode by then came back to ask if my bike had a turbo and what was it off? Erm its off a smart car and so is the engine. ‘Well kool‘ was the lovely Newcastle accented reply. Turned out he wanted a turbo on the R1 and started talking about forged pistons and all so was clearly not just a pipe dream.
Then just as he left we met Dina, the secretary for a womans biking MCC. Unlike the boat guys she had noticed the tyres and wondered where we were heading. She wanted to do a similar trip so I gave her a card with the address of our blog. As she left I could not help but contrast the different outlooks of both people. One who preferred small bikes and travelling and the other adrenaline junkie who needed more HP than an r1 could supply.
I guess that’s one of the great things about biking. you meet so many interesting people, each getting something different out of bikes, but also sharing the same passion as you. Its like an underground cult that hides in plain view sometimes.
We rolled onto the ferry later that day, expecting the same drill of waiting for someone to come strap the bike down. Only they didn’t come. It soon became apparent we were on our own. “Well screw em“ I thought. If I gotta strap this thing down myself I am sure gonna do it right. I took a good 15 mins and no less than 6 straps off every conceivable point to do the job. Over the seat, off the pegs, handlebars and pannier rack. The boat could have capsized and my bike would not have moved. Meanwhile Helen who was worried about getting on a boat only 1 day earlier had strapped her bike in like a pro and was showing some of the other blokes how to work the ratchets!
We‘d got settled into the boat when an announcement came for us to report to guest services! When we went over they told us the police were looking for us! They gave us a number to call because the captain would not wait and the cops had to get off the boat. We wondered what they wanted and could not speak to them when we called. They wanted a number to call back on but we could not give one since we were leaving the country for 8 months. The whole thing was a farce but it didn‘t stop us worrying about what it could be? where they unhappy about the loading of the bikes? Was there a problem with us leaving the country?
Eventually I figured out that a battery out of a radio would fit my (now dead) phone if I held it with a finger and left the back off. It had same voltage and pin layout so it did the job long enough for me to call back and find out the query was there was no record of Helens registration on their database (because it was ‘exported‘ to NI but kept the GB plate). Confusion sorted the detective explained they were checking for stolen bikes and friendly wished us well on our trip. Mind finally settled we went to bed after watching some of the cheesy cabaret. Money well spent..