Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You Can't Predict the Weather, or Engine Failure

Yet again our plans have been foiled by unforeseen, uncontrollable circumstances. Apparently when it comes to sailing, itineraries are more like new years' resolutions than anything: nice ideas, but generally unachievable. We are supposed to be in Long Boat Key right now, preparing for the second leg of our journey to Venice. Everything was perfectly on schedule. We were amply stocked with provisions, the boat had been scrubbed from stem to stern including the unsightly underworld called "the bilge" from which Patrick actually relocated a veritable colony of marine-plant growth out from under our floorboards and back into the ocean. 
For the first time ever, we were motoring out of the slip at 8:30 am, right on schedule. We had turned in our keys to the marina, said our goodbyes, and set our course for the Gulf. This lasted about 15 minutes. We had only just motored out of the harbor and maneuvering through the first set of crab-traps when the exhaust started spewing steam and the thermostat suddenly flickered up to 250 degrees. How very untoward. 

Things honestly couldn't have been worse. Patrick hadn't even put up the sails because we couldn't head into the wind until we cleared the crab-traps. I had no choice but to kill the engine, leaving us at the mercy of a particularly nasty incoming tide and probably 17 knots of wind coming from the same direction. Even in the lee of the harborage the Bay waters boasted 2-3 foot rolling swells. 

For those of you who have not sailed before, I will share a little information that should put the crisis we found ourselves in into perspective. In order to possess what is called "steerage way" one must maintain a certain minimum speed through the water. With no sails and no engine, one has limited to no maneuverability through the water. Luckily we weren't all that far off from the dock we had just left. However, getting back to the dock required several turns and each turn diminishes one's speed. With a current moving faster than the boat and a nasty tail-wind, I had strong doubts about our ability to keep our hull off of the jetties or any of the fancy power-yachts along the entrance to the marina. 

We both allowed ourselves a self-indulgent moment of panic before we began formulating plans A, B and C (C being the most interesting: call the coast guard and request a helicopter, or my favorite, wait for a pod of dolphins to swim us in). Patrick frantically fendered the boat (I totally made up that verb "fendered") while I tried to make our approach at wide angles that would minimize our leeway (the amount the wind drives the boat sideways rather than forward) without bleeding off all of our forward momentum. We cleared the first jetty without a problem. Next we had to turn down a channel towards our dock that exposed us to the wind but utilized the current. The flood tide kept us drifting along at an impressive 2.5 knots. Finally we reached our dock but the worst was still to come. How to get into our narrow slip with unresponsive steering and how do I keep from being pushed by the current into the other boats? Luckily we had gained so much speed by riding the current that we were able to maintain a direct course even though it ran perpendicular to the tide. Patrick was ready with the docklines and I cranked the wheel hard over making a slow turn towards the slip. The wind came at a perfect angle and pushed the bow into the slip allowing Patrick to jump from the boat to the dock and tie us off. 
This being done, we immediately busied ourselves with self-congratulatory exclamations and high-fiving. Our very first crisis! Docking with no engine. (I just learned that running aground is only a crisis if one runs aground on a reef, or rocks. Sand is nothing to write home about.) 
In all of our text books in the chapters designated "When Things Go Wrong" (I did not enjoy reading them) diesel engine failure was the first thing addressed. It is an extremely unpleasant situation to find oneself in, but as it happens we have already conquered it. 

This brings us to our next triumph, more Patrick's than mine really. Obviously, with a faulty engine, the grand voyage had to be put on hold. When we purchased the boat, we included in the contract that the seller would pay to do a once-over on the engine because it performed so poorly during our sea trial. Over the last two weeks he had been sending his close friend/mechanic who actually built the engine himself to take a look at it. Now, this man is without a doubt a lummox with an overblown sense of self-importance. He is incapable of any small talk aside from patronizing criticisms of our gear, our experience, our education, our common-sense, our ambitions, etc. After our bout with the engine, we had a different mechanic take a look at things since obviously the lummox hadn't fixed it. It turned out that this blathering imbecile who actually said to Patrick, "I have never made a mistake on this boat," had done nothing but replace a part that didn't need replacing and turn a few screws. Patrick, who was beginning to doubt this coxcomb's credentials and grow weary of his condescension was nothing short of exultant. If I were a little more forward I would call him up myself and say, "Listen you jackanapes. Patrick may be exactly as young as he looks, but there are qualities that make up for youth and inexperience, while there is nothing that makes up for arrogance and foppery!" But I think it would be better to prove him wrong by successfully sailing this poor neglected boat from the western coast of Florida all the way to Baltimore. Hah! 

Anyway, if we can pull the engine together and prepare the boat for departure again by tomorrow morning, we will be off to Long Boat Key and resume our original schedule. It is honestly a mark of our good fortune that the engine failed when it did, right outside of the marina, rather than 5 hours later in the middle of a narrow channel. However all of our engine difficulties are serving to increase our desire to sail rather than motor. We are beginning to look forward to the ocean passages rather than dread them. Give me deep water over a narrow, poky channel! 

This should be the last post for awhile, as we will have no internet access for around two weeks. The next post however should be a good one, with videos of Patrick and I taming manatees, making little shirts and hats for lobsters, spear-fishing, and drinking beers with one-eyed sailors. 

1 comment:

  1. "In and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened with slime, invaded the contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair... It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares."
    - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

    I'm back from Colorado and reading all this. Sorry for the "impotent despair," as Conrad would say. I'd wish you better luck, but I'm a week late and the next post appears less than encouraging...