Saturday, April 2, 2011

For Want of a Nail ...

Posted: May 9, 4:41 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)

Josh had the new V-drive sent in overnight, and installed it the next day, and we were on our way again. We were motoring along on a gorgeous day, and noting that the engine realignment Josh had done had our engine/transmission running smoother than it had been when brand new. We jokingly told him that we’d confirmed that improvement with our high-tech “teakettle-o-meter.” Previously, the teakettle couldn’t remain on the stove when we were underway, it vibrated and rattled, but now it was quiet. We were traveling comfortably and discussing dinner options, looking forward to a favorite anchorage we'd reach in about an hour, when we heard a thump, and then AGAIN had no propulsion. TowBoat U.S. to the rescue AGAIN. They towed us to a funky little marina in a rural area. We were safe, but immobile … AGAIN. This was getting old … and expensive.

The marina owner had said that several people had hit floating logs or other junk in that stretch of river, or run aground and bent propellers and shafts. But neither felt like the right explanation to us. Dan’s navigation is meticulous, and we hadn’t seen floating debris either before or after the impact. We were right in the middle of the channel in 10-15 feet of water so running aground seemed equally unlikely. The towboat guided us into the haulout slip; in the morning we’d lift the boat out of the water and see if there was damage.

There wasn’t. They lifted the boat just high enough out of the water to check, and we saw the bottom paint and prop were untouched. They put us back in the water and guided us into a slip to wait. Josh came by for a diagnosis and learned that his repair had exposed another latent weakness, in the coupling holding the (new) V-drive to the shaft. In addition, our depth sensor started giving us nonsense numbers. To us it felt like a cascade effect, one setback after another. Ironically, the V-drive and coupling were rebuilt, among the very few things that weren’t brand new in the 5 years we spent refitting the boat before we took off on our cruise.

We were stressed and frustrated while we waited, first for Josh to come and diagnose the problem, then waiting for parts to be shipped overnight. We were certain Josh could get us mobile again, but the depth sounder was another issue, a classic catch-22. In order to replace it, we’d have to haul the boat completely out of the water “on the hard” and they couldn’t really accommodate us at this yard. But we couldn’t travel to a place where they could fix it, without having the depth information to navigate safely!

In the end, we were there for 5 days, in a marina with rickety docks where we went aground every low tide. A pair of little black and white birds with brown faces sat on our docklines and chirped an intricate song as though trying to cheer us up. And the people were friendly and fascinating – the new owner, a former policeman, former carpenter (I’ll bet he gets those rickety docks repaired before long!); another liveaboard who’s forever adding “one more project before I go.” Everything about him, from the tattoos to the cap, says “former Harley rider” and his boat hailing port is in South Dakota. South Dakota? Not many seaports in that state! The marina staffer who offered us his personal car to go into town. He explained, "I'm working until 4:30, I won't need my car until then because I'll be right here." And the cruisers who’d come in for the night and be on their way again in the morning, with us looking wistfully after them as they made progress up the river while we were stranded.

I kept cycling a sketch from my childhood in my brain: “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for want of a horse, a battle was lost; for want of a battle, a kingdom was lost” … The great big V-drive problem was fixed, but now we were stymied by a relatively small one. Now we could move, but how did we know where to go? Could we find someone to follow, very close on their heels for 65 miles and hope they navigated perfectly? What about being our own escort, putting a depth sensor in the dinghy and then one of us would lead in the dinghy while the other piloted the big boat? Finally Dan had an inspiration, and he and Josh designed a solution that redefined the term “jury-rigged” as they strapped a fishfinder to our side swim ladder, which would trail in the water. I wish I had a picture. Um, then again, maybe not. I’m sure it looked pretty dorky, churning quite a wake. We always smirked at boats going past with their fenders dangling, presumably they were careless and forgot. Bad seamanship; our friend David K used to point out boats like that and say "Their embarassments are hanging out." Now, with our ladder down, we were the ones who were embarassed. The ladder snagged a fair amount of grasses and a jellyfish, but it gave us acceptable depth data and kept us safe. Finally, after 2 days of travel on “high alert” staring at the fishfinder screen, we arrived at Deaton’s Yacht Services in Oriental, NC. We were immediately impressed by their expertise as they chuckled at our improvisation, then, with the help of their electronics guru Pete, we began to zero in on the source of the problem.

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