Thursday, April 14, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 7

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 7 (Friday, May 7, 2004)

Friday morning we awoke rested despite the previous night’s interruption. We took a quick dip off the stern, then fired up the engine and started motoring out the way we should have come in the day before, through the gap between Prickly Pear Island and Mosquito Island. There was absolutely no wind and the water in Gorda Sound was like glass, a huge difference from previous days. As we approached the west end of Prickly Pear, the engine alarm suddenly sounded. I quickly turned off the engine and then went below to check on it. I had been doing all the morning engine checks that the Conch Charters people had instructed me to do, and everything had been fine. Now as I removed the cover, something was obviously wrong. Heat poured out of the engine compartment. I set the cover aside to let the engine cool and then climbed back out to the helm. I told Nan that the engine was overheating and that we should put up the sails even though there was no wind. In the short time I was below, the boat had drifted closer to Prickly Pear so we were facing an imminent lee shore problem. Just then, the Salty Kat crew, who had spent the night at Saba Rock, passed us at a good clip under engine power. We thought they might notice us floating aimlessly and ask if we needed help, but nobody even glanced our way. I put the mainsail all the way up and unfurled the jib. Both sails started luffing like lazy flags. We weren’t making any noticeable headway and shore was getting closer. I said to hell with it and started the engine. We motored away from shore for about two minutes before the alarm went off again. I turned off the engine again but started to figure that we could go along like this, using the engine for a few minutes at a time until we reached open water and hopefully some sort of breeze. Several starts and stops later, we were floating aimlessly again, in open water with no wind.

It was time to call Conch Charters. I got Miles on the phone and explained our situation. He asked me to start the engine and check to see if water was coming out with the exhaust. Since the exhaust pipe was underwater, I had to go under the boat, for the third time in six days, to check it. Sure enough, there was only stinky diesel exhaust coming out, no water from the cooling system. I called Miles back and he said it was probably a problem with the impellor, the little spinning device that circulated cool sea water through the engine to keep it from overheating. He said he would have to have his mechanic Tom come out and fix it for us. About an hour later, Tom showed up in a big speed boat.

Tom was a laid-back mechanic from Canada, and very different from the intense all-English crew at Conch Charters headquarters. He tossed me a line so I could tie his boat to our stern, then came aboard with his toolbox. He went below, carefully spread a protective cloth, and went to work on the engine. Sure enough, the impellor was the problem. The rubber part with the little fins on it had spun loose from its brass core. Tom replaced it with a new one, put everything back together, and came back up to the cockpit to test the engine. He started it and looked over the stern. It was now pretty obvious that water was coming out with the exhaust. Big smiles all around. Tom was sweating hard from working on the hot engine, so we all sipped Cokes in the cockpit while he chatted about his split existence between the British Virgin Islands and Canada, and also about hockey, of course.

After Tom took off, we decided to keep the engine running for a while to charge up the batteries and keep the refrigerator cool, plus there still wasn’t much wind. The combination of the engine and the sails kept us moving along at about four knots, which was good because we had lost a lot of time already and were hoping to make it the remaining ten miles to Manchioneel Bay, on the west side of Cooper Island, before dark. It would be our last night on the boat, so we were hoping for something special. We were not disappointed. The little bay and its tiny facilities—a beach bar and restaurant, and a few modest rooms—are a magical place. We arrived late in the afternoon, tied up to a mooring, and took Squishy over to the dinghy dock. We toured the area, which took all of five minutes, then headed to the bar for what felt like a well-deserved margarita. On our way out, we made dinner reservations for later, then headed back to the boat for a swim and a shower.

When we returned, it was dusk. The sun was setting over Salt Island to the west and the wait staff were lighting the candles on the small tables overlooking the bay. We ordered a good bottle of red wine and sipped it while we reflected back on the week. Nan asked if I was ready for the trip to be over. I smiled and said I could keep going forever. I could tell by the look on her face that she was ready to be back on dry ground for a while. She started talking about the great week we would have at Round Hill Villa on Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay starting the next day. Dinner arrived and we ate fresh seafood prepared in an Italian style that was so good we bought drinks for the kitchen staff. We ordered a second bottle of wine, then dessert and coffee. By the time we stumbled back to the dinghy dock, it was apparent that we had had enough to drink. The dock was pretty high, so when I turned around and started to climb down to the dinghy, the step was further than I thought it would be. Combined with the night-time squishy condition of Squishy, I lost my balance and tumbled backward into the water. Whatever wine buzz I had was lost immediately as I thrashed my way back into the dinghy. Nan was still on the dock, looking concerned. I’m fine, I said, just very wet. I hadn’t lost anything, but my watch, wallet and shoes were soaked. We motored slowly back to the boat, where I toweled off and spread my stuff out to dry.

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