Thursday, January 18, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did!

February 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

In 1978, I owned a 1971 24’ Revelcraft with a 318 Chrysler salt-water-cooled inboard engine.   This was a very comfortable boat, capable of taking me and my fiancée on extended-day adventures away from the mooring in Oyster Bay.

One beautiful day, we decided to take the boat across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut. That may not sound like an adventure to you, but in 1978, technology on boats of our size was quite basic — navigation was done with a compass, conditions were noted with a depth finder, and communications were sent via VHF radio. So when we noted that the Sound was calm and the visibility so clear that Connecticut was visible from the mouth of Oyster Bay Harbor, we boldly headed out of Oyster Bay Harbor. We were not alone; many other boaters were taking advantage of this picture-perfect day, too.

Across the Sound from Oyster Bay are Old Greenwich, Cos Cob, and Stamford.  I chose to head towards Stamford Harbor, cruising at around 20 knots. It didn’t take us long to get to our destination, so we had lots of time to explore West Branch, East Branch, and Westcott Cove.  We then went west to Greenwich Harbor, staying until about 3:00 pm.  Mindful of our 6:00 dinner plans, I turned north to head back to Oyster Bay.

About 15 minutes into our trip home, I noticed that the engine was overheating.  I shut it off, and since we were far enough into the Sound, decided to let the boat drift while I took a quick look at the engine.  I asked my fiancée to keep a look-out as I opened the engine hatch to see what was going on.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that the engine belt was missing (its remnants were in the bilge).  I knew what I had to do, confident that I could fix the problem with the spare parts I had on board and a full set of tools.

The engine and bilge were quite hot, so I needed to let things cool down a bit before tackling the problem. As the depth finder indicated there was 54 feet of water below us, and our anchor line stretched 150 feet, I knew I could stay right here and tackle the problem. I lowered the anchor arm’s length by arm’s length until I released the appropriate amount, tied it to the cleat, and let the boat continue to drift until the anchor caught.

Once we were secure, I took out my tools, retrieved a spare belt from storage, and began replacing the broken belt.  Having used up a bit of time anchoring and assembling my gear, I thought the engine would have cooled down more than it turned out that it did. It was still very uncomfortable in the bilge! After a bit more waiting, I draped a blanket over the engine area I’d come into contact with and managed to avoid being burnt.

Once I started, the entire job took me only 20 minutes to complete, although it seemed like much longer.  I was amazed at how easily the bolt loosened and the pump bracket moved, allowing me to place the new belt on.  My crow bar made it simple to get the right tension on the belt before tightening the bolt.  Once the repair was complete, I started the engine.  Hooray, it was no longer running hot! Contentedly, I raised the anchor and we headed back towards Oyster Bay.

While not every problem can be fixed at sea, it’s important to be handy enough to address common snafus. Keep spare parts on board along with the tools to perform the work and you’ll find that many problems pose minimal disruptions to your boating days.  Of course, many recreational boaters aren’t mechanics, and don’t have the expertise to resolve large or complicated issues. That’s when you’ll need communication devices to summon help.  Go old-school and test your VHF radio before leaving the dock, since cell service may be spotty where you wind up boating.  And while you’re at it, make sure your boat’s anchor is the proper type and that you have sufficient line for the maximum depth at all the places you’ll take your boat.

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