Have you ever noticed that there are some days that seem to stay with you forever? You can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin from a trip to the beach, or hear the laughter of friends and loved ones at a party, or smell the horse manure from a trip to a dude ranch. Something like that. Something makes certain days stick with you long term. Today is likely going to be one of those days. I will not likely soon forget driving past Point Wilson at slack tide (just like the guide books suggest) and thinking to myself, “Maybe I’m not such a newb after all” only to have the engine suddenly turn itself off.
Let’s just pause here for a moment, even though the story just started. Over the last several years, maaaannnyyyy people have been surprised to find out that there is an engine aboard Small World. To be fair, lots of things about living on a boat surprise people because it’s a bit outside the norm. So for those of you who have maybe wanted to ask, but didn’t want to feel silly, a very large diesel engine is a key component of this equation. In fact, many sailors call their engine “the most important sail.” There are a few – probably literally a handful – of cruising sailboats out there that do it without an engine, and to be honest I don’t know how the hell they manage. I think Craig might be ready to find out, but that’s just too damn bad. How else would we get in and out of the dock at a marina? Or drive around narrow passages without wind? Or keep the batteries charged enough for me to keep my phone and computer charged? Someone has to be the social media correspondent and I volunteer as tribute.
Okay. So. Now you know that the engine is important. I should also tell you that going across the Strait of Juan de Fuca can be a serious ordeal. It’s basically the ocean funneled into a… well into a strait. So there can be some actual swell to deal with and the currents are intense. There’s a picture of a power boat getting destroyed at Point Wilson because it tried to go across during the max flow of the current. In order to avoid the same fate, the alarm was set for a stupid early time this morning. Had to get up, weigh anchor, and head out to get to Point Wilson around 7:45am. We got there at 8am, and that’s when I had that little moment of positive affirmation. Should’ve known better.
There we were, dead in the water, starting to drift in circles, carried by the current. We set the jib because hey – we are a sailboat after all. But what little wind there was, was shifty AF. It was certainly not enough to overcome the effects of the current. Somehow, we heeled over just enough to tip over the coffee that was brewing for breakfast. It went all over the stove, into the burners, under the stove, all over the sole, and basically everywhere coffee is not supposed to be. Some did make it into my oatmeal which wasn’t awful.
Craig jumped into action and I stayed at the helm pretending like I had any control. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. Craig seemed to know and seemed to be frantic and it didn’t seem to be a great time to ask for an explanation. So I stood there. Watching us drift into the shipping channel. Searching the horizons for the cargo ships that could make the whole situation even more interesting. I ran through the scenario, wondering what they would say to us over the radio. “Sailing Vessel Small World. You are in the shipping lanes and you need to get the hell out of the way.” (Probably not exactly that, but that’s what they would want to say.) And since Craig was busy trying to fix shit, it would have to be me on the radio responding, even though I hate being on the radio. I’d probably reply with something like “Listen buddy! The engine won’t start, there isn’t any wind, and it’s too deep to anchor! You figure it out!” (Probably not exactly that, I would have used more curse words.) Luckily, no big ships showed up.
At one point, we did start to drift back towards shore and that’s when it was time to call for help. We called for a tow boat. Just like cars can get towed when they break down, boats can get towed, too. It’s a bit more complicated, but it’s a similar idea. Craig keeps trying to fix the situation while we wait. I finally find out that we drained a fuel tank (because the gauge lied to us and said there was plenty of fuel) and he has been trying to bleed the fuel lines to get rid of any air in the lines. Perkins engines like the one we have are notorious for being a pain in the ass for this process. They even mention it themselves in the manual.
After eating our very cold oatmeal and bagels, we see the tow boat approaching and Craig decides to give it one more shot. The engine started and Craig nearly wet his pants. I didn’t know what that meant for the rest of the day, I didn’t know whether or not to believe that it would keep running, I didn’t know if we should still get a tow or escort back to Port Townsend. After talking with the tow boat guys, we decided to still go to Roche Harbor. The tide had been pushing us in that general direction for the 90 minutes without engine power, so we didn’t lose any ground, and we had plenty of fuel left in the remaining tanks.
We made it to Roche Harbor safe and sound and the engine ran the entire time. It was not my favorite day on the water or on the boat. Moments like that are pretty scary and hectic and draining. I’m hoping that this means all the bad luck is out of the way now. *Knock on wood*