26 February 2010

up the river without a paddle

It started simply enough. We were going to test the new engine and see if the boat would float. It was an older boat purchased for the simple pleasures of fishing and sunsets then to reap the reward of rebuilding and restoring at the end of the season.

Of course you've already guessed the end of the story lest you'd never be reading this at the moment, though less confidence was had in the thick of it.

We launched the boat into the water at the city dock as easily as one could without a rope and were delighted it didn't sink to the bottom. "It floats!" we chided each other.

holding the boat to the dock, we turned the key, but the engine didn't turn. The battery was not charged enough. Not to be discouraged, we swapped the battery with our car and it fired right up.

If you've already thought about it, yes, this did make for a rather tricky departure from the dock as both the boat and the car needed a battery then..

Out into the bay we motored, the engine while not completely trouble free provided reasonable speeds and acceleration. We ventured to the gulf to witness a most amazing sunset and toured through the mangrove maze endless with thickets, small islands, and passage ways.

We had only a tourist map of the mangrove but loved the old signs faded and overgrown with thicket announcing our unknown location. We recognized easily the tall buildings on Marco Island as we grew close.

It was getting late though and the light was fading fast.

We sped into a large bay only to circle a small island covered with many birds likely roosting for the night before we decided to turn home.

As the boat was steered a little too close to the shore, I became concerned for the shallow water and fading light. Sure enough, the muffled struggle of our propeller hitting the bottom was heard then verified by the churning of mud to the surface. Turning back to the middle of the bay offered no relief as even gunning the engine provided no progress in moving forward more than an three inches. We were in water less then three feet deep the tide going out likely upon our entrance to this bay.

We had no paddles on board and darkness was closing in. It was even more chilly since the sun had disappeared, my bathing suit never exposed but hiding under jeans, a sweater, and a light down jacket since our start. Philippe jumped in the water and pushed the boat at least 1/8 of a mile until it was just deep enough to clear the propeller.

It wasn't until after Philippe jumped back into the boat that I remembered reading about crocodiles in southwest Florida.. and became especially grateful that my offers of helping to push the boat were refused.

Thinking the worst was over, we picked our way back through the mangrove finding our way through memorized turns and trees avoiding running into the many channel markers. Closer to civilization however, we saw smoke coming out from under the engine cover!

Luckily it was just steam, the engine gauge showing too hot for our liking.

We stopped the boat every few hundred yards to let it cool, the yardage getting shorter and shorter with each jaunt, the engine growing hotter faster which each turn.

Conserving our battery while letting the engine cool and trying to avoid the current from pushing us onto a rocky shore, into a channel marker, or grounding us in shallow water, made our stalls a little stressful. Of course, at least I wasn't the one trying to fix the engine in this darkness and cold.

Two screws.

Two loose screws were the culprit of our overheating engine allowing water to stream at will outside of the engine. I'm simply amazed that these were discovered.

Clearly I was boating with a genius; albeit two smarty pants without a GPS, map, floodlight, paddles, blanket, radio, rope, nor tide charts!

Adventures don't always come to the most prepared!