Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Life Without Engines

Well, here we are, still parked, engine-less,  in the Barra lagoon.  Only now we're also without a working dinghy and losing patience rapidly.  We've had enough of Barra. 

The latest blow was dealt last week as we were making plans to move the boat back to the marina and drop the rebuilt engine in.  I had spent the day before with our mechanic while he refitting new valve seals and wanted to be there when he fired it up for the first time.  Everything seemed to be running fine when I left and we planned to let it run all of the next day to check for leaks before reinstalling.  So, when I got a call in the morning to meet him I knew the outcome of the conversation would not be good. 

"We have to start all over again", were the first words I heard followed by my dazed and inarticulate response, "huh?!".  As he explained to me the details of the failed rebuild -- how the engine oil was flowing through the exhaust, how the piston rings had not seated, how he would tear it all apart again -- all I could focus on was the cold realization that our cruising season was quickly coming to an end right here in Barra and I needed to start making arrangements for the summer.

What else could possibly go wrong?  I asked myself in an uncontrollable moment of self-pity.  Well, the answer to that question would come the very next day.

Millie and I planned to go into town to run a few errands and do some provisioning.  The wind has been coming up over the past several days making the dinghy ride a very wet and uncomfortable one, especially with a small child on board.  Fortunately, Barra has a water taxi service and for a few pesos they will come out and pick us up.  So, with the wind beginning to blow I tied the dinghy to the stern and called for the taxi.

The wind blew pretty hard that particular day.  And, when the wind blows hard small boats tend to get into trouble -- even boats at anchor.  We've already seen a few boats drag here in the anchorage, and when I saw people on our deck as we returned in the water taxi that was my primary concern. 

My first thought was, "That can't be good", which, by the way, is the appropriate response anytime you see people on your boat when you're not there.  Judging by our position relative to the other boats I quickly ascertained that we hadn't moved.  So, good, we're not dragging.  But why are those guys on deck, and what's that thing hanging on the side of the boat?

Some lessons are learned the hard way, especially for first time cruisers.  And, as first time cruisers, we certainly seem to be receiving our share of hard lessons.  This particular lesson involved the proper method of securing an inflatable dinghy in a windy anchorage.  On a typical day I simply tie it loosely to the side, next to the gate where it's easy to get on and off.  When the wind comes up it tends to bounce around a lot so, like many other boats, I let it hang off the stern where it's more sheltered from the wind. 

There are two very important points to consider when doing this:  (1) there may be sharp metal objects on the stern of your boat and (2) inflatable dinghies are not as tough as you may think.  In light of these considerations it's best to leave a long painter on the dinghy.  In our case, point number 1, the sharp metal object, proved to be the Monitor wind vane, and point number 2 was quickly demonstrated when I neglected to leave enough slack in the painter.

So, after rubbing up against the wind vane one of the tubes on our dinghy sprung a leak and quickly deflated.  At which point the 80-lb outboard attached to it turned upside-down and drowned itself in the muddy lagoon.  Shortly afterward, two cruising neighbors, as they were rescuing another boat that was dragging nearby, noticed our dinghy hanging half-submerged off the stern.  Once they finished securing that boat they hopped on our deck, tied a halyard to our dink and began hoisting it up -- which explains the scene I witnessed as we approached in the water taxi.

A heartfelt "thank you" goes out to Pat on Cricket and Larry on Hemisphere Dancer for their assistance.  Not only did they help me get everything back on deck, but they also stuck around to show me how to resuscitate a flooded outboard. 

The good news is that, after a little effort, our little motor seems to be running great once again.  The inflatable, on the other hand, is questionable.  I found a six-inch gash in the tube which I've already patched.  I'll try to inflate it today to see if it still holds air. 

Right now I think I'll take a minute to remind myself, once again, that it's all part of the adventure...isn't it?
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