It was in fact, not much of a mistake. Or maybe not a mistake at all. Really just a moment of inattention while trying something new that, compounded with a lot of other small things, snowballed; and then it all just seemed to gather more and more way as time progressed. I guess that’s how you learn things; I certainly have.
How it Happened
We crossed the Strait of Georgia in winds that varied from 10-20 knots motorsailing because we wanted to charge up the batteries. As we pulled into Nanaimo Harbour the winds were still blowing 15 and we circled around to find a nice spot to drop anchor. Since the sails were up and the wind steady I decided to practice anchoring under sail. Every time we come here there seems to be more and more boats on private moorings appearing and a quite a few that seem to be permanently anchored. It makes harder on us transients. I chose a spot behind a small sailboat that looked like it was on a rope rode, killed our forward momentum as we turned into the wind and signalled Leslie to go ahead and drop the anchor.
And this is when I made the critical decision. Every single other time I have anchored a boat — every, single, time — at this point I have put the engine into gear in reverse and backed away as the rode ran out over the anchor roller. But the wind was up and I, fatefully, had decided to let the wind blow us down and try and set the anchor without using the engine. And it worked. The wind slowly swung us beam to the wind as we drifted downwind and then the anchor caught, swung us around by the bow and we were set.
Now the details become important. Because the wind and waves were up while we were crossing the Strait I had let the dinghy painter out to almost its full extent (around 25 ft) — which was a lot more than I usually do. And since when anchoring I didn’t motor in reverse like I usually do, the dinghy wasn’t pulled alongside and out of the way. And since the propellor wasn’t turning and we were drifting so slowly, the painter (the floating line that attaches the dinghy to the boat) gathered alongside the leeward side near the stern and (apparently) under it.
All good so far, but then I decided that I would set the anchor a bit more with the engine since the anchorage was crowded, the winds were up, and I wanted a good night’s sleep…hah. I put the boat in reverse and started to increase the revs. “Whuzzz…Bang!” And then silence. The engine had died…stalled, as it wound the painter around the propellor shaft, tried to suck the dinghy under the boat and then gave up trying.
I pushed down on my incipient panic, confirmed with Leslie we actually had a set anchor and took a deep breathe and examined the situation. We were in a pretty good spot although I was wary of another small boat off our stern that seemed to be on a rope rode. And there was another, bigger sailboat about 100 feet off our stern—plenty of room. First off we grabbed a spare line and cut the dinghy free from its bow down position nearly under the stern— ironically I had spent part of the crossing sharpening the blade on my multi-tool because I wasn’t sure it had been sharp enough to cut a line quickly in an emergency situation. Well I proved it was now. Dinghy secured, I tried tugging on the remainder of the painter but it wasn’t going anywhere.
I decided to give Ian at NYCSS a call for some advice. He suggested that perhaps we could unwind the rope by hand if one person twisted the shaft below while another tugged on the line from behind the boat. Back in the aft cabin I noticed the after engine cover had vibrated loose and I set it aside, then tried to twist the propellor shaft just above the stuffing box. But it wasn’t going anywhere. Another call to Ian got me the name and number of a local diver (Menno from Aquarius Marine) and the offer of a mask if I wanted to try and cut it free myself. I called Menno.
I left a message on his machine and started the engine up to make sure all was well. It seemed to be but did sound a bit different. Then I went below to clean up. But for some reason the back engine cover wouldn’t fit back on. That’s when I noticed the exhaust elbow was an inch or so further back than usual and apparently that’s why the panel wouldn’t go back on. F@ck. Really. I had managed to avoid swearing until that point but really…my motor had moved? F@ck.
I pulled up the front engine cover and checked the motor mounts. Now I have never really looked at my motor mounts before so I had no idea what they were supposed to look like but nothing seemed snapped or broken— although the heavy black rubber pads certainly seemed distorted into odd shapes. So I called Ian again. We determined that the line, winding around the shaft had wound around the space between the prop and the bearing and then started pulling the shaft out until the engine stalled. Since I hadn’t really started to rev the engine everything should — should — be fine but were were going to have to haul her out to be sure. And since the winds were still blowing, we were better off waiting until the next day to try towing her down the narrow channel to Stones.
We lowered the outboard onto the dinghy just in case and a few minutes later Menno called back and offered to come out anyway and try and cut the line, but I decided to just wait. When Leslie popped her head up and let me know that high tide the next day was at 6 am and that it was a new moon so that meant the low tide at noon would likely mean the lift at Stones was inaccessible for most of the day, I almost reconsidered Menno’s offer. We decided a beer was in order and hit the Dinghy Dock Pub for some comfort food and alcohol. Ian called while we were there and said the schedule for the boat lift was indeed stacked up and we would have to wait and try and get Never for Ever lifted around 4:30 in the afternoon as the tide came back in. So we went back to the boat, had a quiet evening and went to bed with the winds dying and all seemingly calm.
All in all I was pretty calm. Usually stuff that I lose control over freaks me out a bit but so far I had been handling the stress with unusually (for me) little anxiety. So we drifted off to sleep pretty easily, rolling gently.
I was out of bed with barely muted “Ah F@ck…” and up the companionway moments later. It was just after midnight and a lovely Bayfield 36 (the bigger boat that used to be 100 feet behind us) was almost alongside with its long, elegant bowsprit having just banged into our not-so-elegant bow pulpit. It was dead calm and the Bayfield’s rope ride was completely slack. I had no idea if it’s anchor had broken loose or it was just too long and was crossed with ours. I grabbed it’s rail and held on, considering my options.
For some reason Leslie had not woken up and the despite the noise, my walking around on her deck and shining my light in the ports of the Bayfield, no one had emerged. So there I stood, boat in hand pondering just how ridiculous this was. Eventually Leslie emerged sleepily wondering why I was missing and grabbed me a line. I tied off the Bayfield to our midship cleat and popped in a few fenders. Then I gave Nanaimo Harbour Authority a call on the VHF and failing that, phoned their land line. No luck, despite the fact that a few years ago, they were responsible for my very first rude awakening aboard when they had banged the anchor on their patrol boat on our in the middle of the night scaring the hell out of me. I guess they don’t work nights in the early season?
The machine at the Harbour Authority did have a 1-800 emergency number and/or a star-16 cell number. Given that I had no ability to maneuver and that casting off a potentially loose boat in a crowded harbour in the middle of the night seemed contra-indicated, I figure this constituted a bit of an emergency. Turns out that star-16 is the Coast Guard emergency line… oh. I didn’t know that. Embarrassed, I babbled an apology and explanation to the nice operator — really, I hadn’t thought this was Coast Guard level quite yet — and she took all my particulars and details and said she would see if she could contact someone, promising to call me back.
By this time Leslie and I had mostly decided that just properly rafting up the two boats for the night was the best solution and I had just started to get the lines and fenders out when a head finally emerged from the companionway of the Bayfield. Seems the young fellow was a sound sleeper. A very sound sleeper. He seemed to grasp the situation pretty readily and was instantly apologetic. I didn’t think it was any of his fault, although when I found out that he had 200 feet of rope rode out in a busy anchorage that was 25’ deep at most, I did scratch my head a bit. Even then it really wasn’t his fault—after all, I had laid my anchor line over his, not vice versa.
We fiddled and pulled and eventually came to the conclusion that the rafting plan was the best thing for now and we could deal with the rest in the morning. So I grabbed my cell, noticed a missed call (I had the stupid Do Not Disturb mode on…bugger) and called the Coast Guard back to inform them that the Bayfield was not in fact unmanned and let them know our solution. I guess they must get all sorts of calls like this because it didn’t seem to phase them and they even thanked me. Then we finished tying up the two boats and retreated to our respective berths.
The next morning started early. Our new companion was up at 6 am to cast off and we started hauling rode (he had no windlass). Our chain was lying across his but we managed to lift it off with a boathook and he was free. We cast him off and he moved over to the edge of the anchorage to reanchor.
Then we relaxed for a few hours before heading into town to run some errands. On the way back we checked out low tide at Newcastle Island. It’s a new moon low tide, only .3 feet (that’s the Canadian low, low water), and almost no water between Protection Island and Newcastle: freaky.
Around 3pm, I rigged up a bridle and Ian and crew came out from Stones (Nanaimo Yacht Charters) in their chase boat and we got ready to go. We hauled the chain rode by hand (we being mostly them, but I did help near the end) and we were off. Ten minutes later we were entering the marina and Ian skillfully and gently towed us along the dock by the boat lift.
After a short wait Never for Ever was airborne and my little mistake was on display for all to see. They put her up on stands because now it was end-of-day Friday and likely now no one would look at her until Monday. We did cut through the line though, and the propellor shaft shot back 2 inches. There was a lot of tension created by that wound line — it acted almost like an impromptu gear puller.
Well unfortunately, while the engine did settle back—mostly, the motor mounts are hatched. All four will need to be replaced as well as the shaft saver — the coupler that attaches the transmission to the propellor shaft. As far as we can tell everything else is good but we won’t know for sure until we get her back in the water—probably not until Tuesday.
I didn’t ask how much this was going to cost, because frankly I don’t want to know right now and and Ian was trying to console me with the fact the motor mounts were likely going to have to be replaced in the next year or so anyway. I will keep telling myself that.
As for me, Leslie got on a plane to Toronto for five days and I will get to learn what living on the hard is like. So far I can’t say I am enjoying it all that much. But…c’est la vie or at least, that’s boat life… I’ve repaired the dinghy painter, filled a few holes in the fiberglass, scraped and sanded down some teak to revarnish, and taken the anchor and rode down to hopefully replace the chain… I guess I will keep busy until we are back in the water.