Friday, November 19, 2010

Down the ICW without an engine

We are in Beaufort, NC for the night. Tomorrow, the ocean!

Back in the days when we still had a car, Erik was usually the driver. This was doubly so in bad weather. This was less about me and driving (I can take it or leave it) than about Erik and driving (he loves it). Once again, the signs were there, had I only been looking.

Years ago, we went to a party north of Burlington in a snowstorm. The weather was bad enough when we set out, but by the time we hit the country road, we couldn’t see a thing. The plow hadn’t been through yet, it felt like about 0.1 Kelvin outside, and the snow was whipping around our car. I sat in the passenger seat, feeling grim, and hoping we would hit whatever we were going to hit in that lovely slow-motion that snow can give you. Gently bumping a tree or sliding into the ditch looked like our best options.

Then I heard a whoop beside me. “This is great!” said Erik, eyes shining. I looked at him sideways. Great. He was having the time of his life, and I was considering the ignominy of perishing inside a yellow Volvo. We reached our destination without incident, but I knew I wouldn’t want to be the one driving under those conditions.

Sputter, sputter, pteh, ptuh. Silence.

“Take the wheel!”

And that is how I found myself “steering” the boat down a tiny canal in the ICW, engine dead, trying to avoid the two-foot shoals along our port side. Erik was bleeding the engine and cursing the air that had killed it. Did I have useful control of the boat? I did not. Did I want to be the one to run our home aground? I very much did not. And yet, there I was. It wasn’t as though I knew how to bleed the engine. So I white-knuckled it until Erik emerged again. And since one time wasn’t fun enough, we did it three times.

Then, peace. After a lovely afternoon of watching Stylish do magic tricks with paper mermaids, Erik smelled something. (I didn’t, but I think we’ve established that Erik’s senses are more dog-like than human.) All I could smell was the lingering remains of the oatmeal I’d burned at breakfast (tip: don’t use the thin interior portion of a double-boiler alone on a hot propane stove. We have yet to get all of the black out of the pot.)

Soon after, Stylish, turned on a light in the salon. It exploded. And I mean, the bulb flew apart at speed, scattering glass through two pots of Duplo and around the room.

What was the issue? Well. The alternator was over-delivering power to the 32 V batteries, which started to boil. When Stylish turned on the light, it was over-powered, and so it exploded. Erik disconnected the batteries (Amy again at the helm). This left the alternator with nowhere to send its power, so it instead loudly melted its belts. And oh, the stink. With Erik back at the wheel, we made a quick about-face and fought the dying light to head to Oriental, NC. I had the delightful job of opening the engine room every few minutes to check if the alternator was on fire yet.

And that is how we ended up in Oriental for a week. We lucked into a wonderful place called Deaton Yacht Service. Aside from the great people, we were berthed right beside the Travelift, so the girls and I got to watch boats getting hauled from and returned to the water several times a day. Also, they had a fancy popcorn machine in the office. The girls made shameful use of this perk.

As for the alternator, the copper melted. The alternator man said he’d never seen such a thing. I believe this means the incident was unavoidable (read: in no way my fault, which is all that matters). A mystery.

We seem to be in good shape again, and as I write, we are preparing to head out into open water. Yes, the Atlantic beckons. We are going to make a 36-hour push to Charleston, SC. Let’s see if my stunningly awesome night vision can keep us in one piece during my watches.

For those of you who are worried about The Ocean, let me remind you of something. There is a lot less to hit in the ocean. The ICW taught me what a plus that can be. The weather looks good, so some seasickness aside, we should be a-ok. (You can all watch the drama on the tracker, which, according to my dad, is enthralling.)

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