You would think I would know better by now. When will I learn? I jinxed our trip just before leaving Key West. When Cindy and I were enjoying our last meal in Key West, an awesome burger at Fogarty’s on Durval Street, we thought this was going to be our last meal in the USA for a few years. This was not the case. During this scrumptious last supper, I made some comment about how pleased I was that everything on the boat was working properly. Well, you know, after a comment like that something was bound to break. And, it did.
While in Key West, we changed this year’s sailing plan a little bit. We are still heading to the British Virgin Islands this year but not quite as quickly. Last year we had a fabulous time in the Exuma Islands of the Bahamas. We both loved the isolated beaches we discovered as well as the awesome crystal clear waters. We decided we should hop over to the Bahamas, check in with customs and immigration at North Bimini Island and then hop down through the Exumas for a victory lap. Once in the lower part of the Bahamas, we thought we could look for a window to push on toward the BVIs. The weather in Key West changed and we saw a perfect weather window to do the overnight sail from Key West to Bimini.
We were motor-sailing (sailing with the motor running for added speed). A few hours into our trip somewhere off the coast of Key Largo, we noticed a vibration in the boat. The vibration was most notable when we put our heads down for a nap. A quick check of the engine room confirmed our diesel engine was vibrating more than normal. When an engine vibrates, stress is put on parts not designed to have strain. Things like engine mounts and bolts can break causing a complete mechanical failure and an expensive repair. We needed to make a decision. We were about to cross the Gulfstream and enter the Bahamas. This area of the Bahamas is sparsely populated with very few amenities needed to fix the boat. It didn’t take us long to realize this was not a good plan. We made the right choice. We decided to abandon the Bahamas and looked for a closer port in Florida. We decided Ft. Lauderdale would be our best choice, if we could make it there. If a boat part is manufactured, it can be purchased in Ft. Lauderdale. This is a boating Mecca of Florida. The downside to Ft. Lauderdale is the expense. The marinas are pricey. And, this is peak season so the rates are at their highest. However, it turned out we made a very wise choice to bite the bullet and spend the money. As if to confirm our decision the 24 volt alternator on the engine decided it didn’t want to play anymore and quit working. Perhaps this was the engine telling us that if we are going to fix some stuff, then fix this too.
Off the coast of Miami we were within cell phone range and I called my friend Paul. Paul is a retired tool and dye maker and engineer. He really knows his stuff when it comes to mechanical stuff. I explained to him where I thought the problem may lay and told him how I thought the repair was a little over my head. Paul and Karen live in Florida but on the other coast about 3 hours away from Ft. Lauderdale. He simply said for us to get settled somewhere and he would drive over to help. He knows me well enough to realize I do not ask for help unless it is truly needed. I don’t think he realized at the time he was about to spend the next five days in our engine room.
Cindy started to call marinas. She started at the cheaper ones. The lesser expensive ones were all booked up and full. No surprise. It is hard to book a marina when you are not sure how long the stay will last. We did not know how long it would take for the repair. We slowly moved up in price. Unfortunately, we hit the top tier marinas before she could find us a space to tie up. We got a spot at Bahia Mar Yachting Center. It just sounds expensive, doesn’t it? Our only hope at this point was to get there without breaking down or damaging our boat. We sailed as much as we could using the current of the Gulfstream to push us. We tried hard not to use the engine. We were sweating it a little bit as we motored under the 17th Street Bridge and up the Intracoastal Waterway. We made it to Bahia Mar Marina and got settled into a slip. We both sighed with relief and got a good night’s sleep. We made it. The following day Paul dropped everything and he and his wife, Karen drove to meet us.
Five Days Later…
It didn’t take long to find the problem. We certainly made the right decision to not continue to the Bahamas. There is no question that somewhere along the way we would have lost propulsion. This is never a good thing when in the middle of the ocean. Without getting into the technical stuff, there is a coupling between our engine transmission and our propeller drive. The key in the shaft of this unit failed and broke apart. This caused the engine and shaft to become misaligned and the engine was vibrating badly. Paul and I spent five full days taking things apart, finding the problem, getting parts (locally and overnight), making a couple of minor modifications for the new parts to fit, and then putting it all back together. We are now good as new.
When a blow like this is dealt, a person finds out who their true friends are. Paul dropped what he was doing, drove miles across the state, and spent five days with me getting dirty and sweaty. He and Karen stayed on the boat with us. At the end of it all he said, “That was fun. I enjoyed myself”. And, he really meant it. He loves to fix stuff. During the repair, Paul took time to teach me about the drive system. Today I feel really blessed to have such a great friend.