Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

November 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Don't Do What I Did

In December of 1998, I had accepted delivery of Shear Pleasure in Staten Island.  The dealer provided a captain to escort me home; I shrugged aside my ego and accepted.

I planned for us to leave Staten Island and navigate Fire Island Inlet at slack water to avoid a rough inlet. We left Staten Island with a 15 knot easterly wind and two to three foot breaking waves.  No sweat for Shear Pleasure — I was living the dream!

As we passed Jones Inlet I noticed flashing lights heading toward us off my port stern. It was the Coast Guard ordering us to bring the engines down to idle so we could be boarded (I guess we raised some suspicion as to what we were doing out there in December).  They wanted to do a complete search of the boat. Their dirty, oily boots made me sweat, so I pulled out my bill of sale and Power Squadron ID, saying that I would be mincemeat if I brought the boat home dirty.  They relented, letting me retrieve the safety items they requested, and we headed off with a clean report.

By this time the window of slack water in the inlet was gone, and we had long six to eight foot rollers that were not breaking. At 3600 rpm we easily rolled over one and right on the back of another, and I was really happy with my new purchase.  Then, without warning, both engines idled down to 900 rpm, rendering my new vessel a surfboard at the mercy of the waves.

All I could think of was the lessons I learned in Power Squadrons, such as avoiding broaching and pitch-poling. Life jackets on, I stood at the controls and the captain went below to check on the problem. Suddenly the engines roared back to life, and the captain calmly informed me that one of the mufflers had a hole, so the bilges filled with fumes, starving the engines of oxygen.  I asked, “A hole in a fiberglass muffler?”  He said it happens at times.  I really wasn’t too convinced but I was happy to be running again.

After making the turn into the bay, there was no steering response when I tried to turn around a buoy.  The captain went below again, returning with a funny expression. He called the dealer, turning his back to me as he talked, so I figured I would head below to see for myself. As I tried to put the engines in neutral, the port one was locked in forward and would not come out of gear.  As the captain was off the phone, I told him to stand by while I investigated.

When I opened the engine hatch, I drew back in shock.  Everything that could burn or melt on the left side of the port engine was gone!  The muffler had melted into a ball of fiberglass goo, all the steering and control cables were gone, hot oil was spewing into the bilge, and the battery charger and all the wiring was melted.  All that remained of the four-inch exhaust hose was the wire and flames were shooting out of the exhaust elbow!  (To this day, I can’t believe we didn’t end up in a fireball.)

I fled to the bridge, where a conversation took place that is not fit for print. Clearly shaken, the captain said the dealer instructed him to bring the boat to the nearest marina, but I responded that my boat was going home!

Why didn’t I call for a tow?  When things go seriously wrong, reactions are unpredictable.  It was getting dark and all I could think of was getting the boat home, but the rest of the trip was a nightmare. The steering had failed with the rudder straight, but with only one engine, the boat always yawed to port. So I had to stop frequently, reverse, and get the bow again heading in the right direction.

Needless to say, I was quite upset about all the damage when we finally got home and I learned that the harrowing experience was caused because the previous owner was remiss in changing the $2.00 zinc on the transmission and oil cooler.  It dissolved and coated the raw water passages, blocking many of them. If I didn’t opt for the escort home, I would have been responsible for everything, but as it unfolded, the dealer sent a mechanic who worked almost all winter making repairs — he did a great job.   As for my Captain, I think he wound up delivering dinghies.

By Joseph Barrato

PC Joseph Barrato is the AP Safety Officer for Great South Bay Power Squadron.

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