I’m going to do my best to write all this in one coherent post without resorting to expletives. After all, it’s too easy to resort to words like ‘Shit!’ and ‘Fuck!’ when expressing outrage, dismay, anger, and disappointment. That’s not a very creative use of language. I like to think I’m a better wordsmith than to rely on simple expletive. And I would never take the easy way out. If I were to use words like ‘G** damn it all to hell!’ you might think that I didn’t give my posts much consideration. You would be wrong, but even so, this weekend SUCKED! And it sucked bad.
The weekend started off great. We tootled down to Portland’s new West Marine where our Garmin 820xs was waiting for us. The new West Marine store in Jantzen Beach is just lovely and electronics sales associate Dan was very helpful and solicitous of our business. We bought the chart plotter, a handheld GPS for back up (because we just like to have a reliable handheld unit), and a G2 Vision card. Yes, we dropped some money there. But we were flying high when we left and it was money we knew we would be spending anyway.
It was a beautiful, warm sunny day and as soon as we got to the boat Mike began the installation of the electronics. He was like a kid at Christmas with his new stuff and everything was working out really well. It all came together for him and that chart plotter is just glorious. We love it. Of course we have to order a special connector to get it to get information from the triducer, which is manufactured by Raymarine, but this will happen.
While Mike worked his magic on the electronics installations, I got on top of the dodger to finish sealing up the window there. Then I deployed the cockpit enclosure. My thought was to make sure I knew how it went together and see if it would serve a couple of seasons before being replaced. All of the snaps had been removed from the hard dodger when it was last painted, so I had to replace those. Fortunately we had a good supply, left on the boat by the previous owner. I got the thing up and we reveled in having a protected outdoor space from which to view our surroundings. To say we love that cockpit enclosure would be to seriously understate the fact. There will be a new one before we ‘leave the dock’ for the long voyage.
And here’s the cockpit enclosure from the inside. Notice in the first photo the boat is sporting her cockpit finery.
Last weekend we got the genoa back on. This weekend we installed the mainsail. This was an exercise in patience and stamina as the wind was abeam and nothing we could do about that. Eventually we got her on, but we’ll wait for a quiet anchorage out of the wind to put in the battens.
By Sunday at lunchtime all these things were accomplished. We knew we’d have to wait for the connection to the transducer to get the water depth. Meanwhile we have charts, which have depth, and we were anxious to get this boat off the dock and out into the river. The new engine has not yet been commissioned. This is a process by which you put it through its paces at different RPM’s in order to break it in. That needed to happen.
The difference between a great day and a disastrous day starts with one small decision. And this one was ours. Who knew?
Mike was at the wheel for the 8 or 9 point turn it took to get us out of the marina. Why so many turns? Well it’s like this: our dock is right at the mouth of the entrance to the marina. It is not protected from wind or from current because of its location, a fact that has kept me up at night as I envisioned learning to handle this boat at the same time that we are dealing with significant current and the ever present significant wind in the Astoria area. You know the rule about going ‘dead slow’ in a marina? That does not work for us. If we do not pick up speed quickly, the current takes us where it wants us to go. This is also true when getting to our dock. Please remember this fact later, as there will be a quiz.
We were so happy to be out on the water again! I breathed a sigh of relief, my heart rate returning to normal as we left that damned marina behind. A glorious, sunny and warm day, new territory to explore, and a beautiful boat to explore it with. What could be better? We cracked open a couple of cold beers and clinked bottles in a toast to our good fortune. Our plan was to meander up the river for a bit, putting the engine through its paces. Then we would find a place in the lee of the land where we could practice backing up and maybe even learn to deploy that anchor! Oh we had plans, alright. Big plans.
After our first sips of our celebratory libation, I revved the engine up to about 1500rpm per Mike’s instructions. Mike looked behind us and noticed white smoke billowing out from the rear. WHAT?? He popped down into the engine room, but things looked fine and the smoke went away. Everything appeared to be working fine and the Beta Marine engine sounded and performed well. So we carried on. Because ignorance is bliss and we were happy in ours.
Next there came a loud noise of unknown origin and disturbing vibration from the general direction of the underbelly of the beast. Alarmed, Mike popped back into the engine room to check on the baby. Again, nothing appeared amiss and the engine was performing well. I mean really well! We were pushing 9 knots against a considerable current and we didn’t even have the thing wide open. We could not identify the noise and he rationalized that maybe something had been caught on the prop and had worked its way off. Hmmm. At that point, it was the only explanation we could figure but we both knew that was wrong. And so it proved.
Enjoying the day and the ubiquitous sea lions, and absolutely loving our cockpit enclosure, we made for Tongue Point where the chart showed an area of water plenty deep, but protected from the wind. We planned to practice maneuvering the boat. We had noticed that the shifting from forward to neutral to reverse was stiff. Mike had already ordered a new part for the steering pedestal, but it was set to arrive this week. The shift was stiff, but it worked. As we closed on Tongue Point, we worked the shifter from neutral to reverse, back to neutral, and forward. We were not happy. What had started out to be just stiff, was now recalcitrant. After many trips to the engine room to sort out the shifting we decided we’d better get back to the marina.
It was when we were close to Tongue Point that we had noticed the bilge pump was coming on intermittently. This particular pump has a hair trigger and is likely to come on if it’s nudged the wrong way by a wave. The pump wasn’t working hard, just gurgling briefly. Still, anytime a bilge pump thinks it has a job to do, it’s worth investigating. Another pop down to the engine room to take a look. The bilge looked dry. And yet, on the trip back, the pump kept coming on. Since we weren’t sinking, Mike said he’d figure out what was going on when we got back to the dock.
I took the wheel to get us into the marina because I somehow believe that I must face my fears head on. What I’d really LIKE to do is just let Mike do all the docking all the time. But that’s not really fair and, after all, I always docked Moonrise. When Mike docked this boat for the first time, it went without a hitch. If he could do it, I could probably do it too. (Beats head against wall.) He reminded me to keep speed until the last minute so the current wouldn’t push me into the wall, and then went to get the lines ready.
Had there not been current and wind, my first try would have nailed it perfectly. But I was going too slow and the current was going faster. It pushed us too far away from the dock. I had to back up and try over again. Had the gear shift not stuck in reverse, all would have been well. But the gear shift DID stick in reverse. I could not put the thing in forward to save my life. Or to keep our boat from hitting the large steel fishing boat behind us. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live; completely helpless to keep this thing from happening, both hands pushing with all my might on the gear shift trying to get that boat to move anywhere but where it was headed. There was no time and the shifter would not budge. Our steel davit hit the boat behind us and my stomach dropped into the sea. Maybe it was the jolt from the impact, but suddenly the gear shifted into neutral, and another shove moved it into forward. I don’t remember getting the boat close enough to the dock for Mike to toss the line to the dock hand, but apparently I did.
In retrospect, I don’t even know if it made any noise. Trauma is like that. You record different aspects of the event as different types of memories. I remember how it felt. But I don’t remember how it sounded, or how fast I was going. I remember the Coast Guard boat fueling up, all hands watching what probably looked like the Ricky and Lucy show, but what was really a woman trying to get a boat in gear and a husband running to the aft deck to… to do what? Prevent it somehow? As if. I remember, too, the marina dock hand shouting at me to put it in forward, as though I didn’t know that’s what I needed to do. If only I could tell those people that I’m not a complete rube, that I’ve docked a boat hundreds of times, even if it wasn’t this particular boat, that it wasn’t my fault. But I was at the wheel, so it definitely feels like my fault. Definitely.
The damage was minimal, really. Our rear light is gone, our davit is slightly bent, and the big steel boat has a scratch on the paint. The davit acted like a shock absorber. The deck on our boat where the davit is attached is fine. We were very lucky. Or my angels were working overtime. We hope to keep insurance companies out of the mix. The davit will still work. His paint can be repaired. The light can be replaced. And eventually I’ll have to get back on that horse and ride it. But I’ll need a prescription for Xanax first.
Shell shocked from this failure on so many levels, I sat in the salon and tried to put myself together while Mike went to check on the bilge pump. I’m listening to him move around in the engine room and I hear him say ‘OH SHIT!’. Mike doesn’t generally curse. It’s beneath his nature and it’s undignified. But anyone would curse when they have just determined that the reason the bilge pump is coming on is because the shaft seal is leaking. And the reason the shaft seal is leaking is because one bolt has come completely out and another bolt came out in his hand when he touched it. The other two were finger loose. This is worthy of many curse words, most worse than what he said. Somehow the lock washers the mechanic used for this piece did not hold. In fact, they had been completely flattened. Maybe made of Chinese steel? I’m pretty sure they are not supposed to do that. Likely that terrible noise we heard was that first bolt being thrown. He found it under the engine.
The leak was considerable but not a gusher. Still, it was a solid stream of water that had the bilge pump coming on every 15 minutes or so for a few seconds. Mike called the mechanic and told him the bad news. Then we arranged for someone to take care of Skippy for another night and Mike called in to take today off from work. We had to spend the night on the boat because there was no way we were going to leave a boat with that kind of leak. Mike tried everything to get the leak to stop but was unsuccessful because he doesn’t have the right tools. The mechanic, chagrined to say the least, said he’d be out there today to fix it and this time he would use nylocks on the thing. I’m sure he will. I’m also sure that from now on Mike will be checking that thing every single time we take the boat anywhere. Add ‘check shaft seal bolts’ to our checklist.
Discouraged, but knowing this would be put right, Mike continued looking into the problem with the gear shift. I went back to my settee, tired as dirt and emotionally drained. After a few minutes I heard Mike say one simple word: ‘No.’ It was almost a whisper. This word, so small and insignificant, was uttered with such complete despair that I was off my settee and flying across the salon in an instant. He was white as a sheet, standing there with an oil dipstick in his hand. He literally looked like a man who had been been given a death sentence. I thought he had somehow injured himself. But he looked up at me and said, ‘There is water in the oil.’ This is a death knell for an engine like ours. Standing there together we both felt the same way. We were just done. We felt utterly defeated.
So let’s just pause and regroup here. That’s a terrible docking experience, a stuck gear shift, a leaking shaft seal, and water in the engine oil. All. At. One. Time. And, for the uninitiated among you, these are completely unrelated incidents! (Except for the shifting and docking fiasco. Those are completely related.) Oh, and one other minor inconvenience: when I was crashing into the other boat, Mike was running to the aft deck to be closer to the real action and put his foot through the lovely cockpit enclosure. Now the back starboard panel has a huge hole in it. Meh. That just adds insult to injury. I’ll fix the hole and we’ll use it anyhow. We’re getting a new one in a couple of years. But still. It’s just another slap down.
One more time: Our engine has 3 hours on it. It has been installed to specs by a certified mechanic. The engine started the first time and ran like a dream. And yet, there is water in the oil. I have to write it again, because I still just cannot believe it.
Another call to our mechanic, who had the grace to pick up the phone, and now it looks like we have a warranty claim on this brand new engine. Shawn was very good at talking Mike off the ledge. He reminded us of the warranty. He was trying to make us feel better. He wanted to keep Mike from panicking. In fact, he said ,’Don’t panic.’. But it was pretty much too late for that.
Instead, we both went up to the bathrooms to take long hot showers, hoping to wash the stench of our failure down the drain. It didn’t work, but at least we were clean. We ate Thai food and drank beer. That’s two beers in one day for me. One to remember the day, and one to forget about it.
A trip to the grocery store to get milk for my coffee the next day also found two packages of chocolate cookies in the cart. When the going gets tough, always eat chocolate. It’s been known to cure many things.
We spent the night on the boat to guard her. Then did a few small tasks to just make us feel better and re-engage with the process. Then we went home.
As of tonight the mechanic has stopped the leaking shaft seal, but neither he nor the distributor can figure out where this water has come from and, of course, the engine is completely out of alignment now anyway. There was 1 1/2 quarts of water in that engine. Mike and Shawn had run the engine for 40 minutes after putting the fluids in it initially and everything had tested fine. Mike hasn’t added any fluids since then. The exhaust elbow was dry. And he has done some kinds of tests on the engine and found that it does not appear to be damaged. But this needs to be figured out. Last night we were worried we would have to have this engine pulled. Today it looks like they might be able to replace whatever part is malfunctioning. Maybe a heat exchanger inside the engine? But until we figure it out and get the repair done, we will be at the dock. The rewards of boat ownership feel further away than ever.
I know that mechanical minds will have a lot of questions about the engine installation and what’s going on now. I’m writing this post because Mike needs to get away from this subject for awhile, even though he would be able to talk about this with more technical data. Ask your questions in the comments section, if you have any, and he’ll get back to you when his brain isn’t fried.
My current mantra is credited to my friend Cidnie: If it was easy, everyone would do it. Said in rosary fashion, tall rum-based drink in one hand, it actually helps quiet the voices in my head.
Now here are some soothing garden photos.