While I could easily entertain you with what we did that weekend, the food we ate, the movies we saw, all with cleverly-timed quips and supporting Google images, this is, in fact, a sailing blog, and I imagine (scratch that, I know – because several of you have pestered me about it) you all are far more curious about the boat and what the heck is going on with the engine than anything else. Well … join the club. The boat was our main concern too.
Thankfully, Mechan-Eric called on Monday and said he had found the problem. It was the transmission. Of all things. Turns out we had run it completely out of fluid and it over-heated and locked up. While we certainly appreciated the news, it was not well received by the lawn mower focus group. We were still standing around scratching our heads:
The transmission?!? That thing ain’t got no transmission!
(And, just for fun – check out this creative bunch of eligible bachelors):
Some people clearly have too much time on their hands. They must write blogs or something.
We really were surprised by the diagnosis, though. I mean, like a car, the transmission fluid is not something you regularly check on a boat. At least not as much as the oil or the coolant. And, we’d had a survey done just a few weeks prior (which we assumed had entailed checking the fluids). We had also had no problems with the transmission – no issues shifting gears – no sign at all that the transmission was struggling. Like I said before, that engine ran perfectly, up until the moment it didn’t run at all. So, needless to day, it was incredibly irritating to find the reason we had to call The Crossing and leave the boat docked up at a diesel mechanic’s marina in Carrabelle was a lack of transmission fluid because: a) it’s super cheap, like a buck forty-nine a jug or something, and b) we had some on the boat anyway.
What’s worse – and this is Mitch’s ultimate redemption – when Phillip was checking the fluids that fateful morning (the oil, the coolant, the gas, etc.) he asked Mitch to hand him the engine oil so he could top it off, and Mitch had inadvertently handed him the transmission fluid instead.
Yes, irony – the opposite of wrinkly. And, when used in a sentence:
No, Doug, I don’t think your elbow handshake is awkward at all, I just want to know how Ted here got his shirt so crisp and irony.
While that usage is fun (obviously I’ve had a little too much fun with it), I meant it just as Alanis intended, like rain on your wedding day. When we looked back on it, we couldn’t believe Mitch had almost saved the day. Almost. But, more so, we couldn’t believe we had run the thing slap out of fluid. Really?? Thirty-eight cents worth of that pink nectar dumped in there and it would have saved us? But, we learned a very valuable lesson. Always, ALWAYS, check all (and I do mean ALL) of the fluids before you crank the engine. We do it every time now – even the transmission fluid.
Of course, that is now. This was then. And, we were looking at shelling out another $2,500 for a new transmission (not to mention the labor to have it put in). Kind of sucks, don’t you think?
We spent the day Friday working (despite all deceptive blog content to the contrary – we do, in fact, have day jobs, which we certainly needed to keep in light of our impending boat-related bankruptcy) and recovering from our kite session the day before. (Kiting has a tendency to make you sore in places you didn’t even know existed!). Particularly when you master tricks like this:
Which I can assure you I did NOT. I’m about 834 lessons away from it though (and still sore all the same).
We finally got a call from Eric the mechanic in Carrabelle with some good news and bad. Doesn’t it seem that’s always the case. He had taken the engine apart and it didn’t seem the problem was with the engine. A big whopping “Whew!” from the Plaintiff’s Rest crew! He initially had thought that water on the heads was preventing the engine from turning, but he had taken it apart and found no water. He then found what he thought could be metal shavings in the oil filter which he told us was a particularly bad sign. That meant something in the engine had likely failed and locked up. He examined the entire engine, top and bottom, but nothing. That left the transmission, which he planned to take apart and have a look at in the next few days.
We were a bit relieved that it wasn’t the engine. Replacing those puppies can be very expensive with the cost of a new engine running in the $10k range. Of course, that’s just the cost of the engine, not the labor to put it in and actually install it (we’re talking thousands in labor). Anyone know a good bankruptcy attorney? (I do!) Not a small chunk of change, and not a price anyone is happy to pay, particularly so right we had just shelled out some serious change to buy the dang boat. But, we were not pleased to hear about the metal shavings and likely failure. The repair was likely going to require a rebuild or replacement of whatever part had failed. We knew we were going to have to put up some more dough.
Depressed and downtrodden, we did exactly what I did when I didn’t get asked to prom: made some comfort foods and ate our feelings:
Yum! I’ll have three please, but with a Diet Coke … I’m trying to watch my weight.
We did make some dough of our own, though (pizza dough) and put together some killer home-made thin-crust pizzas.
The trick is to keep pressing and spreading it until it’s paper thin, almost see-through, to get that great crispy thin crust.
One grilled chicken and home-made pesto with mozzarella.
The other – fig, prosciutto, arugula and bleu cheese.
Un-friggin-believable. Trust me. And, with plenty of wine, of course.
Ruin this savory Italian feast with a Diet Coke? Please! We settled on a nice pinot and didn’t stop until the bottle was empty and every morsel was devoured.
We relished the feast, toasted the sunset and called it a night
We hoped for some “good-er” news about the engine next week. We were all bad news-ed out.
We all stood helpless, watching the boat inch closer and closer to the Catamaran. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth (the only thing I knew to do at the moment) while my mind conjured horrific images of boat crashes:
Okay, not deadly, fatal crashes, but pricey ones all the same. I was sure the boat was going to come out of it looking something like this:
If not worse:
But, just as I was bracing for the worst, I felt a tug on the anchor line. It had caught. Finally. I gripped hard and shouted to Phillip. We didn’t want to yank it up so he said it was best to let some line out and let it dig in a bit. A dicey proposition when your boat is headed straight for one three times the price, but it wouldn’t help anything if the anchor slipped. I let some more line inch through my hands as the boat slowed. Finally. We eased up to the Catamaran with just enough room for the guy to push us off of his glistening gem. We handed him a line and he helped us walk our boat over to an empty spot at the dock and tie up. The relief of having the boat stopped and secured made us forget momentarily about the engine. At least she was tied up and not going anywhere. (Ted Bundy would be so proud!).
The Catamaran guy was a big help, though, and quite understanding. Turns out he had also had a boat that was broke down on the other side of the river. It seems engine problems are common in the boating community.
Boat humor with a legal spin … man I’m on fire today!
We joked that there must be something in the water, but that was actually a legitimate concern. We checked the fuel pump to see if it was clogged and preventing fuel intake or wasn’t separating the water from the fuel, but it seemed fine. We checked the impeller (where the boat pulls in sea water as a coolant for the engine) to make sure it wasn’t clogged, which could have caused the engine to overheat. But, no dice there either. We simply had no answers. We had checked and filled the oil that morning, checked the coolant, gassed up, and she had cranked fine. She was running fine, up until the moment she wasn’t. We felt like the guys on King of the Hill, just standing around scratching, and drinking, and wiggling a wire here and there, with no real progress.
A lawn mower focus group if you will.
We tried to crank her a couple more times at the dock but she wouldn’t even turn over. It was almost like she had a dead battery, but we knew that wasn’t the case because the house batteries were full and running fine. We were at a loss.
So, Phillip had me get on the phone and try to find a mechanic that could come out and take a look at the engine. The bad news was most of them were located in Apalachicola – a good 30 minutes away – without the resources or time to make a special, emergency trip to the Carrabelle River to check us out. But, thankfully, after a handful of calls and some groveling and pleading, we were lucky enough to find a willing victim. Turns out he worked out of a marina just around the bend in the river from where we had docked, which he had been operating out of for over twenty years, and his family owned a local restaurant on the Carrabelle River. In those parts, he was the diesel engine guy.
Coincidence? I think not!
The mechanic’s name wasn’t Bailey, though, it was Eric. And he looked nothing like Will Ferrell, in case you were wondering. He had a big job on a barge to get to that day so he told us he’d stop by on his way out to see if our problem could be fixed quickly and he could get us back on our way that day. Eric arrived within the hour, and he was super sharp. He immediately began tinkering and turning bolts and troubleshooting and crossing items off of his differential diagnosis. We were glad to see him roll up his sleeves and go to work so quickly, but not pleased with the fact that he, like us, kept coming up empty-handed. We continued our super-helpful practice of standing there, watching, scratching … and drinking, but apparently it wasn’t enough. Eric came up greasy, sweaty and shaking his head in defeat. He was going to have to take the engine apart to figure it out, but he had to get out to that barge. He said he would send his guys back out in a couple of hours to get to work on it.
Unfortunately, we were approaching high noon, a very hot high noon, and we were tired and drained and just … weary from the passage. Phillip and I sat on the dock, baking in the heat, frustrated with the situation, waiting for the engine boys to come back, both of us thinking of any place we’d rather be than stranded there on a hot dock with a broke-down boat.
Perhaps lounging in soft hammocks on the beach:
Enjoying cocktails at sunset:
Or back at the helm of that beautiful boat, a gentle breeze blowing over us:
Anywhere but there. But we had a tough decision to make. It was already noon, on Tuesday, and we had at least another 48 hour passage ahead of us, assuming the engine could be fixed on the spot. The possibility of even making it back to Pensacola by the end of the week looked grim. We talked it through and decided we had to call it. We were going to have to leave the boat at the marina in Carrabelle and make the four-hour drive home by car. We were truly disheartened. Phillip and I wanted to make this passage, to bring our boat back to its home-port, once and for all. Make the dream a reality. But we just didn’t have the time to spare, especially with the status of the engine currently a complete unknown, and any solution hours, days, maybe even weeks away. We hated the thought of leaving her there, alone, miles away from home, without any answers, and we hated the thought of coming back to Pensacola in some crappy rental car, when we were supposed to sail in on crystal green waters, in our shiny new boat. Phillip and I sat somberly on the dock, one apologetic hand on the boat.
Unfortunately Mitch, however, wasn’t sharing in our mood. He bounded up to us like Tigger at the circus, all giddy and goofy, and said, “You know this restaurant here opens at noon. Do you think they’ll have curly fries? I could really go for some curly fries.”
Phillip and I exchanged a pointed look: Did he really just say curly fries?
I swear, if we didn’t get that rental car soon, I was going to shoot him.
We didn’t reach the mouth of Carrabelle River until around 9:00 p.m. on Monday night. It had been a very long day (and an even longer night). Nerves were worn and it was clear we were trying not to snap at each other but anything that had previously come across as an easy request or friendly suggestion (“Hey Mitch, can you had me that line?”) now seemed like a personal attack and was responded to in kind (“I was just about to give it to you” with a snare). We were just exhausted. We’d been at sea for about 36 hours, and the dinghy incident had really drained us. And, we were hungry. Which didn’t help matters. All we wanted to do was dock, shower, eat and rest. In that order.
We were able to find the entrance to the river on the Garmin, despite the sad excuses for markers. I mean, it’s usually pretty easy to see the red and green blinking lights at night, they look like Christmas trees on the horizon, but these must have been the Charlie Brown version.
They were blinking once every four seconds, at best, and were barely eeking out enough light that it you squinted and turned your head to the left, you could just make them out. We were like George Costanza without his glasses – spotting those dimes!
But, spot them we did and began making our way into the river. Phillip asked me to find a marina on the river, whatever was closest that had fuel, water and pump-out, get directions in, and get us a transient slip for the night. Sounds like a tall order, and for me, it was. That’s a lot to ask of a blonde (I mean, directions? Are you kidding?). But, remember what I said about the personal attacks. Phillip was in no kind of mood for questions. I just started Googling and hoped for the best. I got another Harry-Dick-Lou character on the phone. He was with The Moorings marina on Carrabelle River. And, I swear to you, these are the exact directions he gave me:
“Just stay ‘right of the river’ till you get around the bend, then you’ll see our fuel sign.”
Now remember who I’m dealing with – your average, everday dockmaster:
I asked several times for clarification (knowing this probably wasn’t going to suffice Phillip), but that’s all he would give me: “Just stay right of the river and you won’t have any problem.” Right of the river. I have to admit I was a bit confused. I was sure he meant stay on the right side of the river. Surely that’s what “right of” meant. But, I’d never quite heard it put that way (and mind you, I know a good bit of ‘country’ directional terms: up yonder, down yonder, past the ditch, up a ways, etc.) But, I guess I’ve never been introduced to nautical country, and I was clearly struggling. I came up to the cockpit and relayed the directions to Phillip, watching his face closely for what I was sure was going to be disapproval. His shoulders dropped and he looked me dead on and asked, “Right of the river?” He had the same reaction as I did. What exactly did that mean? Well, I tell you, we were about to learn.
We started into the river, trying to stay on the right side as much as possible, but Carrabelle River is about 100 yards across in some places, pretty narrow for a sailboat. The left bank was marshy and overgrown, and the right bank was littered with docks and piers and homemade sea walls. There were also plenty of boats docked up on the right side, jutting out and forcing us more toward the “middle” of the river, than the “right.” It was also hard to see in the river at night. There were just a few little pier lights and street lights casting a light glow on the water. We found a great spotlight on the boat only to find the DC inlet it plugged into wasn’t working. So, we relied solely on the ‘Costanza squint’ and kept checking the depth gage every few seconds. Mitch saw some other sailboats anchored up ahead on the left side of the river, which gave us some comfort, but apparently too much. Mitch was pointing and we were all looking ahead, trying to make them out, when the boat came to an immediate, gut-halting stop. We all lurched forward as a thick, muddy sound erupted from the river.
We had run aground.
I couldn’t believe it. I had spent hours (yes, hours, probably – all told) watching that depth gage and calling out readings to Phillip. I knew it was a concern. I knew it was a possibility, but it’s like I didn’t believe it could actually happen. Surely the boat doesn’t go that deep …
Apparently it does. I thought that was it, we were through, that was the absolute worst thing that could happen. Images of the boat looking like this the next morning flashed through my mind:
But, thankfully, it seems if you’re going to run aground, the best place to do it is in thick, soft river mud. Phillip threw her in reverse and she lurched out, with a loud, muddy smack. We all let out a monstrous sigh of relief and started looking around, apparently with new clarity, because it wasn’t until then that we noticed, right in front of our faces, was a string of red day markers (no lights), forming a line beyond the middle of the river, showing us how far out the shoal came, leaving only a narrow channel between the markers and the docks on the right side that was deep enough to travel. Lou really meant right of the friggin’ river. Phillip rolled his eyes and shook his head, but kept on.
We made it to the marina and, this time, docked with ease. The river was protected from winds and we were a bit more experienced at bringing her in. We got her tied up and buttoned down and hit the showers. If I had to describe them, I would call them … semi-functional truck-stop showers.
Although some ‘stalls’ had flimsy, torn curtains, most had none at all, so they were pretty much like gym-class community showers, but at least I didn’t have as much to worry about as the boys.
Truth is, though, we were exhausted and smelly and dirty and salty. Any rusty spicket that dribbled luke-warm water on us would have easily been deemed the best shower we’d ever had. It’s funny how uncomfortable conditions can make you truly appreciate the smallest amenities of your everyday life. A hot shower … it was like a Christmas miracle.
I was second back to the boat. I climbed on board, every muscle and joint aching, deep, purple bruises forming on every bony prominence and just thoroughly exhausted, and I find Mitch stretched out on the settee. I mean laid out, the full length, arms behind his head, ankles crossed, totally kicked back and he asks me, “So … are you going to make that sausage for dinner?” It was a record-scratch moment. Time stopped, at least for a second. I wish I could have seen my face when he asked me that. Because if this is what Mitch was thinking:
Here’s what I was thinking:
I didn’t even know what to say. Thankfully Phillip walked in and I didn’t have to (because I don’t think Mitch would have wanted to hear it). I turned my back to Mitch, looked at Phillip and told him I was going to go check the dock lines while he got the sausage started for Mitch for dinner. I bit my lip and threw up an eyebrow as I passed him on the way out. I don’t know what conversation ensued while I went topside to emit some hot fumes but when I came back down Mitch was setting the table and pouring me a glass of wine and we all made dinner together and never mentioned it. There wasn’t any need. We were all tired, we were all hungry and I’m sure it was just his caveman instinct kicking in. “I am man. Feed me.”
Except this guy is way better looking than Mitch. Ooohhh … burrrnnn. Okay, now I feel better. (We’re even Mitch).
We inhaled our food, eyelids drooping and heads bobbing, and went straight to bed. I don’t think I’ve slept that hard since my last college bender. (Okay, my last bender – we all know it was well after college). We woke up a little disoriented and groggy, each blinking and looking at each other suspiciously wandering where exactly we were and why we felt like we’d been run over by a Mac truck. But, we rallied quickly, cracked some jokes about community showers and started readying the boat for the last leg of the passage. It was Tuesday morning. We were about a day and a half behind schedule, but we had crossed the Gulf. Our plan was to cruise along the coast to Panama City for a quick stop, overnight if necessary, before making the last leg of the trip into Pensacola Pass late Wednesday evening. We all moved with a little more spring in our step as we fueled up, pumped out and filled the water tanks. Phillip checked and filled the oil and we cranked her up and started back down the river.
I went down below to start some coffee and breakfast for the boys, making some light joke about sausage. But, just as I started to fill the kettle, a deafening blare filled the galley. It was the sound the engine makes when you turn the key just before starting it, and it was a somewhat familiar sound (in that I heard it often during the trip) but it was usually one sound in a series of several familiar sounds that ended with the cranking of the engine: click, beep, rumble, crank. This was just the beep. A shrill, lonesome, ear-piercing beep. Then it dawned on me (I know, I’m brilliant, try to keep up) that the engine wasn’t running. That’s why the beep seemed so loud and persistent. I heard footsteps pound overhead on the deck and Phillip shouted “Mitch, go get the … ” something. I couldn’t make it out, but the tone in Phillip’s voice was urgent. I climbed the stairs to the cockpit and saw Phillip looking frantically about, his hands on the key and ignition. Mitch shouted back to him, “Did you try to re-crank it?” Phillip looked at me and rolled his eyes. It was a legitimate question, but I mean, really?? Nope, I’m just sitting back here watching the wind blow. I could tell by now that we were having engine trouble, but I have to admit, as a sailing newbie that didn’t worry me immediately. So, the engine won’t crank. What’s the big deal? I know what you’re thinking. Remember, you heard it from me, first. I’m brilliant.
Then I looked out and the gravity of the situation set in. We were floating helplessly along the river. The narrow, shallow, expensive-boat-lined river. And, without the engine, we had no way to stop ourselves from crashing into any one of these options – the bank, the bottom, the half-a-million-dollar Catamaran that we were drifting effortlessly toward. It then dawned on me why Mitch had run up to the bow. He was trying to drop the anchor to stop us.
And, I know you boating enthusiasts and avid sailors are getting a big hearty laugh right now at my ignorance. Go ahead, laugh it up, seriously. Looking back on it now, I do too:
Golly jeepers Cap’n. The engine won’t crank? Are we in a pickle?
I was an idiot. I know this.
Phillip scrambled in the cockpit and asked me to help him get the other anchor out of the lazarette. We were both grabbing and throwing lines, jamming our hands in as fast as we could to get everything out because of course (of course!) the anchor was on the very bottom. I tore a huge chunk out of my knuckle in the process that I only discovered later by following the blood trail back to the lazarette. We finally got the anchor out and chunked it overboard. We fed out line frantically, hoping she would catch. We looked up to see where we were drifting and the owner of the half-a-million-dollar Catamaran, who, before, had just been gingerly polishing his boat, wiping away any small, unwanted spots and specks, was now watching a 35-foot, 15,000 pound unstoppable sailboat head straight for it. I gripped the line to the anchor and watched as the Catamaran guy stood up and stretched his neck tall like a crane, his hose now hanging aimlessly, splashing water loudly on his deck, and his eyes opening wide as we inched closer. There was nothing we could do. We were going to hit him.