Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did!

December 4, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Don't Do What I Did

If you suddenly experience a mechanical problem on your boat, don’t panic. It could cost you big time. I know — it happened to me early in my sailing career.

This was the first cruise for me and my wife, Meg, in our catboat. We spent the night anchored near a popular tourist attraction, just north of a stone jetty. In the morning, we planned to motor a half-mile away to a public dock to pick up friends.

Morning arrived, so I cranked up the engine and put the boat in reverse, backing away from the nearby sea wall.  Then I shifted the engine to forward, but the engine obviously had a mind of its own — the cat kept moving backward. I was frantic that we would hit the sea wall. I was also mortified that gathering tourists would see what an incompetent skipper I was.

I cut the engine while Meg fended off the wall with the boat hook. I then raced to the bow and dropped the hook. I didn’t have a clue about what had gone wrong, but I knew we weren’t going to make it to the nearest marina on our own. So I called a commercial tow service (I was too new at this sailing game to know about having a go-to tow service contract). The cost would be $100.00 to deposit us at a nearby marina. What choice did we have?

By this point, our friends had arrived at the public landing and they were witness to our inability to manage the boat. Highly embarrassed to be towed in front of both friends and strangers, I managed to shout where we were heading.

My friends met us at the tow destination. One friend, Alan, is an engineer by training — he has the kind of analytical mind that breaks down problems into small pieces.  He jumped aboard the cat and opened up the engine housing. Within just one minute of scrutiny he announced that “The bolt holding the choke cable to the reversing lever on the engine had sheared off.”

As nothing had happened fast that day, the marina was closing by the time of Alan’s pronouncement. Unable to leave, I had to fork over more money to pay for a night’s mooring. The next morning I shelled out just 50 cents for a new bolt.

Looking back, what did I learn from this little scenario? As our boat was in no danger of sinking or grounding, I should have prudently taken a deep breath and dropped the anchor. Instead of reacting inside a cloud of panic (and imagined humiliation) I should have taken the time to assess and pinpoint the problem. In this case, the trouble was somewhere between the throttle and the engine, so it’s likely that I would have found the problem in time by tracing the route of the cable to the engine.

Panic distorts your senses and prevents clear thinking.  Owner’s manuals have mechanical and electrical troubleshooting sections and I should have read mine after doing a thorough visual examination of the working parts of my vessel.

To finish my story, I trudged back to the boat in a foul mood, having spent so much money before making this final paltry purchase. Then my nose inhaled the most divine smell wafting out of the cabin. Meg had cooked me a perfect French omelet, and it was wonderful to be a boat owner again!

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit http://cgaux.org/ to join the Auxiliary or for class information.

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