In the Water

“WENDY, I”M IN THE WATER” I yelled as the inflatable slides out from under me trying to get back on the boat.

This journey seems to have started a couple of days ago.  We were on Kaya having dinner

Sunset Cocos Banderos

Sunset Cocos Banderos

with some other cruisers in Cocos Banderos. We were first to arrive. Kaya is a 40′ Cantana Catamaran and I tied off our dinghy on one of the HUGE cleats on the stern. Ironically; most of the time I tie it with all three lines.

While in Kuna Yala (San Blas to the Spanish) islands we’ve put the inflatable together and been using it quite a bit. We have a 15hp  on it  and tool around fishing, site seeing and attending beach parties. When we tow the dinghy we actually have three lines attached; one line to each towing eye and then a larger line that runs through a bridle at the bow and connects to another line that splits and runs through the transom where they end in stopper knots thus we really tow the dinghy from the transom. Tonight for some weird reason I used only one of the three lines. The two lines that connect to the towing D rings are about 3/8″.

Huge Cleat

Huge Cleat

At Kaya I tied only the small 3/8″ line  off on the HUGE cleat and even thought to myself; humph, if for some reason she comes loose it will stop at the barrier reef that protects this anchorage.

We ate, we laughed, we drank, we laughed and as Charlie was cleaning some of the grease from the fresh conch they had fried up; he was back on the starboard hull,  turned slowly to us and said “I hate to alarm anyone but there are only two dinghies hanging back here.” We thought he was kidding but just to be sure everyone went to check. Sure enough one was missing, ours!  The small line on the large cleat with only one turn around and one locking hitch had slowly worked it’s way off.  Oh! Oh!  Charlie and Mark (Mark’s from Reach – I’ve not yet found out why they named their boat after dental floss when both of the owners are chemists) jumped in Mark’s dinghy, Blake from Slow Mocean and I jumped in Blake’s dink. It was pitch black.  No moon. With electric torches we raced out astern of Kaya towards the reef, Charlie and Mark in one and Blake and I in the other. Somehow Mark and Charlie made it around the small patch reef astern of Kaya while Blake and I bounced over. Blake’s dinghy is an AL floor dinghy and as long as we went slow and he picked up the engine we made it over the reef without any damage. I was shining the torch back and forth looking in the water for the depth and shining it along the surface hoping to spot our dinghy. Lightening was flashing in the distance as it’s now the rainy season.  We finally made it over the patch reef and were coming up on another still watching for the dinghy when a lightening flash occurred  and I scanned the horizon with the torch, while also trying  to watch  depth.  In Kuna Yala  reefs rise steeply from about 15′ meters to less then 1/2 a meter; shallow enough for an outboard to hit something.

I thought I saw our dinghy in one of the flashes of lightening and we were also watching Mark and Charlie.  No one figured the dinghy would have made it out the channel as an inflatable (no hard bottom) she would blow more to the light breeze then move to the current. I hoped anyway.  As Blake and I were still making way towards where we thought the lightening had silhouetted it,  Mark and Charlie started moving towards us. Two minutes later they whizzed by with, of all things, a dinghy in tow. And truth be told it was our dinghy!

After Blake and I bounced a few times on the patch reef again returning to Kaya we made  our way up the stern to a crowd rather pleased with itself. Thanks to Blake, Charlie, and Mark we now have our car back. But; we’ve had to give up some Karma to get it back. 🙂

That adventure settled,  I tied the dinghy up slightly better; well not really slightly, I tied it up so if Kaya went off the edge of the Earth the dinghy too would have no choice but to follow. We then settled back in with that adventure behind us, told some more tall tails; Charlie and I talked about night diving for Lobster but although he would go; me having had a few beers backed out.  Tonight we all added one more tale to the bank and eventually took our car (dinghy) back home (to our boat).

The following couple of days flew by, Reach and Kaya took off making their way to be hauled (Reach) and Kaya having a stay in a Marina for a bit of land adventure for Liz and Charlie sailing in Spain (Charlie is a professional sailor – and one hell of a lucky ass spear fisherman too 🙂 ) .

They were gone a couple of days and we had planned on hanging another week or so in Kuna Yala. Then we would headed to Shelter Bay Marina for our summer of boat projects and exploring a new area-mainland Panama. But as sailors love to say “plans are written in water”. About a day after Reach and Kaya left we were running our generator, pulling down the temp in the freezer and refrigerator, charging the batteries and running the water maker.

Near the end of the cycle (about 45 minutes into the job) W/ and I smelled something rather hot. Well, you can’t really smell “hot” but you can smell things that give off gas when they get to hot. We smelled something. I checked the idiot light and the engine wasn’t running hot, I went back into the engine room and looked things over and everything looked ok.  With the room closed up I thought maybe things were warming up enough to help some  of the cleaning products we often use to  outgas more. So I returned to whatever I was doing and then 5 minutes later the watermaker suddenly shuts down.  Who knows why? There is a high pressure cut off switch and a low pressure cut off  that both trip the same switch, but if either of them trip the switch  there is no light that comes on telling you which; high pressure or low pressure  tripped the light. So I dialed down the pressure and figured I would just restart the watermaker. With no pressure in the membrane I flipped the switch on and heard a grinding noise.  Immediately I shut the system  off and moved; as quickly as a guy 195 cm tall can, back to the engine room. There I now saw some sparks. “W/ SHUT IT DOWN” I yelled. She turned off the fuel all the way and the generator was still turning. Oh-Oh!   No fuel, engine still on, not a good sign.

The only thought flowing through my brain was that we now have  a runaway diesel.  To stop a “runaway diesel” the  book say’s to block the air intake and so I shoved a large towel into the small air intake. The engine  still ran. Oh! Oh!  not actually what I thought but this is a public venue.  I turned off the fuel to the generator. The throttle control was already shut down but just in case she was getting a little bit o’ fuel I closed off all possibilities of diesel entirely.  The generator still ran. She was running slowly, maybe 100 rpms but she seemed to not want to quit.  “W/ go turn off the key”.  I was running out of options. Shut everything possibly related to the generator down. W/ was hanging over my shoulder in the engine room as worried now as I was.  She turned the key off and the generator still ran!  Damn!  (Not what I really said but it will do).  What now? I could see that the engine was heating up  by the starter,  it was sizzling there  and there were small amounts of smoke (smelling bad) eking out of the same area.  But she’s still running. DAMN!  I thought to try the decompression lever. If a diesel has no air (I thought maybe it was getting some from the oil sump as well as sucking up some oil which is what a runaway diesel will do) and no fuel she can’t run.  Law of nature. Compressed air with fuel will blow up and thus we have  combustion in a diesel engine. So I open up the compression lever and she runs FASTER!  What the HELL!

My world is quickly turning upside down. The laws of physics just don’t  seem to work here.  Getting down to my last possible strategy; if this doesn’t work; I’m just not sure what I can do. More smoke is issuing from the central part of the engine immediately under or behind the starter.  I tell W/ to grab a towel. I’m thinking that if I can jam another towel between the fly wheel on the engine  idler arm and starter gear then I can effect a stop. I stuff the towel there and slow the rpms down from maybe 100 to 50! I”m making progress but there is more smoke beginning to fill the engine room. I ask for a large wrench so I can stuff the towel further into the small space (a hand or finger getting in the space would not be good out here – not that loosing a finger or hand would be good anywhere, just out hear most likely death wouldn’t be far behind) and effect a stop. Faster then light W/  (remember she’s petite and can move quicker than I on the boat) hands me a large crescent with a rubber handle. I’m stuffing and making some headway. My hands are beginning to lose small chunks of skin but the engine is now turning about 25 rpms and looks like I”m stealing the life from it.  I get the generator  to finally grind to a halt, breathe a sigh of relief and leave the engine room  to get some fresh air.  The generator starts up again!  What the HELL, is this engine possessed?  Again I reach and shove more towel in between the teeth and the armature that holds the starter and the idler on. Again she finally stops. I wait, I think she’s stopped I wait.  I exit the smoky engine room as quickly as possible and get some fresh air.  She didn’t start up again. Whew! The boat is a afloat, no fire (the absolute 2nd worse thing on a boat – the first worse thing is a hole below the water line), and I’m alive but with torn up hands.  I thought we were finished but we’re not.

Once the air cleared of the noxious fumes  and we could investigate further we discovered that the power to the boat was non existent.  No lights, no fan, no ships radio ( we did have a hand held VHF), and that means something else was going on. Since I knew the generator has some issues I first disconnected the positive and negative wires to it completely isolating it from the boat. Then I tried the ships power. No power. I checked at the panel, we weren’t getting power to the panel. I check the batteries –  they had power. Somewhere between the batteries and the panel I was losing power. I disconnect the Prosine 2 Inverter Charger from the system wondering if that was effecting the power. No change.  Eventually I discovered that somehow I had blown a 300 amp fuse that powers the ship. With the generator and  the POS Xantrex Prosine 2 Inverter (that worked) /Charger (that didn’t work) disconnected I replaced the fuse. Yep! had one aboard and if I didn’t have one aboard I would have stolen the fuse from the Prosine Inverter / Charger to replace the one blown.

This actually took me some time to trace it to the fuse as I’ve never seen a large fuse like that blown. Blown it looks more like an old  brown faded color  then new but the fuse  didn’t look all burned up. So with the fuse replaced we now had the fans, lights, and radio back. The radio I wasn’t too concerned about but I was about starting the main engine. Now we can start, power up the ships engine. There hasn’t been much wind lately and so if we had to make it out of Kuna Yala most likely we’d have to motor. By now we had decided that we would be leaving a week earlier then expected. To keep the Lobsters we’ve bought and the meat we brought frozen we needed to keep the freezer going. We don’t have near enough solar to do that and if we have to run the batteries  about 200 amps / day for the DC refrigeration with the 100 amp hour alternator on the main engine it would take about 3-4 hours of run time to keep everything going. Thus if we’re going to run the ships main engine we might as well be running it to Shelter Bay Marina near Colon where we are planning on our work summer to be.

One good thing about the Aquamarine Genset is the owner Dan is always willing to help. And one weird thing about Kuna Yala is that as remote as it is there, there are Digicel towers at various places-which means cell phones. We were within phone service so I called Dan and discussed the issue with him. He suggested to by pass the electrical panel for the pumps (fuel, and two cooling pumps) and then use a remote starter switch to start it up. He felt that somewhere in the switch I had fused a connection.  I did all that thinking it would be wonderful if I could get it to run this way. Not perfect, just ok but ok would be good.

After an hour or so of re-wiring I connected up the remote starter switch and the engine would crank; barely,  and the house lights would dim. That’s it, nada, no more. the engine didn’t start. I have tried to hand start  the generator before but never been able to.  So what to do. Move.  We committed ourselves to move the  following am.  We prepared the boat to move and by 8 am expected to be on our way.

That evening whilst W/ and I were enjoying the sunset and discussing our predicament I came to realize that I didn’t have a runaway diesel I had a runaway starter. Since I’ve put the conundrum on some of the sailing boards and found out that a runaway starter is not all that uncommon.  I’ve never had it or recognized hearing of it before. I will however remember it hence forth.

First stop Porvenir. In Panama we needed a Zarpe (permission to change cruising  areas) and we had to see the port captain in Porvenir to get our Zarpe for travel to  Colon (where Shelter Bay Marina is). If this can be said of a sail boat; we had a wonderful motor to Porvenir!  The water was glass like, we had our little awning from the dodger to the boom gallows up, and we ran the refrigeration so the food stayed frozen, and the refrigerator kept our essentials chilled.

Porvenir was a none event. W/ came ashore with me and we visited the museum, got our Zarpe, and ate at a Kuna restaurant while watching two local teams compete in Soccer; or as they call it down here, futball.

The following am we weren’t as blessed with the “motoring” weather as we would have liked. It had rained, squalled a little the night before and there was some weather mess  left over. We had a light breeze say 10 kits out of the NE  with some choppy seas and the wind was predicted  to die during the day. We were planning on coastal sailing (really coastal motoring) to keep our essentials frozen or cold and we expected it would be shy of 7 hours travel time no more then a couple of miles offshore. Towing both dinghy’s; the engine off and on the boat, we motored out and around the reef of Porvenir.

As the day wore on and the miles were slowly sliding under the keel we were comfortably on our way. The freezer and refrigeration we’re being chilled. W/ threw together a lobster salad for lunch and for the moment all was well with the world. We didn’t know what was happening politically in the US or Europe, or China and we fully understood that the world would continue on it’s course without our immediate intervention. Of course when things are looking good, almost too good considering that they could be good with a major system down, a Yang event must occur to keep life in balance.

W/ looked back and said, “The hard dingy is towing funny”. And indeed it was. Somehow in the benign day the dinghy had taken one wave that filled it 1/2 full of water.  Time to remove some water. “Not to worry; I’ll get it out”, I said. So I pulled the inflatable up to the transom, W/ held the painter for a moment and when I hopped aboard she let it go. I was now in the inflatable being towed behind our boat. The hard dinghy was so full of water I didn’t feel I could get aboard her without swamping her end and me getting wet. I wasn’t interested in going for a swim. For the next 15 minutes or so I bailed the hard dinghy.  I tried the small bailer we made out of an empty plastic container but I was using a teaspoon to put the ocean back and I came upon the idea to use the look bucket. It’s about a 5 gallon sized bucket that has a glass bottom in which we can put one end in the water and see clearly what is hidden beneath the surface. We use it for scouting dive spots.  But since it’s a bucket I can dip more then a quart of water out at a time and soon I had most of the ocean back where she belonged. I sponged up the rest and told W/ I was done. During this entire  process she had slowed the boat down from about 6 kts motor sailing to 3 kts sailing.  With the main ships engine in neutral it was time to get back on the boat.

Windvane turning block Assembly

Windvane turning block Assembly

I pulled the painter to the inflatable and hauled the inflatable and me up to Elysium while the boat was sailing, I then grabbed hold of our SS Windvane turning bracket to ascend the 5 feet back onto Elysium.  I got a good hold on the SS mount and stepped up on the side of the inflatable just as a small wave rolled through and slid the inflatable out from under me.  For one second I was sliding on butter and the next I was hanging over the deep blue Caribbean with only water under me. Now maybe when I was 20 I could have simply done a pullup and then a push up of my entire body weight; rolled over the transom and been on the boat. However; I’m no longer 20!  And being truly honest, I’m not sure I really could have completed that feat even when I was 20 and roughly 30 lbs lighter then I am now.

“W/ I’M IN THE WATER” I yelled. This is not a good thing although either I’m blind to any danger or too foolish to recognize it.  I fully trusted W/ and we were only about 2 miles from shore. Should she have decided to leave me at that moment I didn’t doubt I could swim ashore. The water was warm, the sun was out and the seas were calm.  But that wasn’t to be the case. She still loves me 🙂  she’d make sure I would get back on the boat.

I knew I wasn’t getting back on the boat from shear strength. So I let go the SS apparatus that holds the turning blocks for the windvane and slid down the painter to grab on to the inflatable. We were still going 3 kts and although that doesn’t sound like much (it’s akin to a really fast walk or really slow jog), a body being dragged through the water at 3 kts is trolling for sharks with a large morsel of food- that food was me. I tried to get in the dinghy from the bow and I was constantly being pulled under the dinghy by our break neck speed and my clothing (aka pants) were being doggedly tugged away by Neptune. After about 3 or more seconds of this I made the decision that I wasn’t going to climb into the dinghy from the bow.

There was a rope handrail running down both side and handles secured to the dinghy on both sides. I slid over to the side of the dinghy and figured I could wrap around the side like riding a horse and slide back up on top. Generally we get in the inflatable by hanging vertically in the water and by going under water and with fins kicking, launch ourselves out of the water like a rocket,  pulling for our life’s worth over the  side of the dinghy, rotating on the tube and finally wriggling aboard.  That’s with the dinghy stable and not moving.  There was NO WAY I could do the rocket launch with the boat going 3 knts and there was no way I could do the horse move where I’m one moment hanging on the side and the next back on top.  Another minute gone by.  I was going to have to work my way round to the stern of the inflatable and pull myself up the transom. Barring a quick exit from the deep blue there W/ would have to heave to (I never thought of that while in the water) or furl the head sail.  She had indicated later that she would have dropped the dinghy off and I could have gotten in it while it was not moving, she would then have come back and picked me up.  Luckily that day I hadn’t ticked her off a lot. Maybe a little, but not a lot. 🙂

So I’m  now round the stern of the boat and Neptune is doing his finest to remove my shorts. I’m spread eagle attempting to keep  them on as I pull my self up over the transom. Damn glad we’d removed the engine because if the engine  was still on the dinghy  this maneuver would have been a “don’t do this at home, save for professionals ” one. I’m now half on the dinghy with my legs spread apart and Neptune now has a hold of only 1/2 my legs and feet.  I slither aboard the rest of the way and take a breath. W/ too is relieved and I see a little PO’d. Swimming was not part of the plan for the day.

This time we discuss it  and I’m not going to attempt to board Elysium alone. We’re still sailing about 3 kits. She locks the wheel on coarse and that will keep the sail full and the boat going relatively straight for a couple of minutes, and she then comes back to the stern. I pull up the dinghy to the stern and she takes some of the painter and wraps it around the SS pushpit  effectively cleating in place for a minute or two. Now the dinghy can’t easily slide out from under me. I grab the SS turning unit on the back of the boat and grab the pushpit. Had I earlier had a hand on the push pit I felt I could have gotten aboard. Now I do, with the adrenaline in my system I’m again like a 20 year old and I clambor aboard to hugs and reprimands as W/ lets the dinghy slide back into place. We’re both aboard now and we power Elysium back up while I receive the rest of my tongue lashing, dry off, and put on some different cloths. Today Neptune didn’t get anything from me. He’ll patiently wait I’m sure.

About an hour out of Linton I choose to run our refrigeration system again so we’ll maybe get some time there to see friends Kiaya’Song and Peking.  Once the DC5000 fires up and is running for about 15 minutes I go and check to make sure all is ok. It’s not. The electrical refrigeration motor (DC5000 unit) is erratic, running faster then slower, then faster again. This is the same motor we had fixed in Trinidad. The fix lasted about 10 months with minimal use and cost what it would have to buy a new motor and have it installed. Fortunately,  I now have a new motor on board so when we get to Linton and anchor I’ve another project to begin. I’m not looking forward to that one, I don’t like “having” to do projects and would much prefer to do any project  on my schedule not the boats!  But the boat; like a living person, has it’s own agenda; at least one would think  that giving what’s happened the last few days.

Go Slow Sail Far Stay Long


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