What a Day!

Just when I thought I was on top of everything.

I haven’t been blogging much because quite frankly good news is so much less interesting that bad news. The weather’s been great. We’ve made some new friends. Ondine has been behaving herself. And generally the trip has started to settle down to more of what I thought it would be. Waking up in a beautiful location, doing a little swimming, a little sight seeing, doing some routine maintenance, and generally enjoying the slower pace of life. Indeed, we’ve been so on top of it that I’ve actually been planning improvements to Ondine.

And then today happened.

It all started with the anchor. We’ve got four anchors on board. I started out using the CQR, but it’s really a crappy anchor and it never held us well which meant I never got a good nights sleep. So I swapped it for the Bruce. The Bruce anchor ROCKS – it’s never let us down, we never drag, it’s wonderful. But: it doesn’t really fit on the bow of Ondine. So I decided to extend the anchor holder so that it fits a bit better and more importantly so that it doesn’t wear on the (very structurally important) cross beam.

I found a good guy to do the work here in St. Lucia: Lawrence, known as “Chinaman” locally. Chinaman works in the boat yard in Rodney Bay. We of course are at anchor out in the bay where the water is clear and the beautiful beach is right in front of us. Which means I had to bring Chinaman out to the boat on our dinghy. And as I’m on a bit of a schedule (I’m about to fly out to Vancouver click here for more details), and he was tied up today, he didn’t have much time. So he asked if we could pull up our  anchor so that he could zoom out, take a few measurements, zoom back, give me a quote and do the work while I’m in Canada. No problem. As I said, I’ve got a couple of other anchors, and some extra chain – admittedly the chain isn’t that long and it’s attached to rode (rope) but it’ll work for a short visit.

I should have known something was going to go wrong when Emma-Kate said, “James, you shouldn’t rush”. We only had 45 minutes to make the change and dinghy back in to pick up the Chinaman so I was feeling a little time pressure.


Anyway, we successfully pulled up the anchor and got the Chinaman. He took his measurements and I took him back. And then it was time to swap anchors again.

Now the Bruce is on a Windlass (automated pulley thing that means you don’t have to act like a he-man and pull up that heavy piece of metal all by your lonesome). The other anchor on the other hand is not. No problem. I’m up for it. I ask Emma-Kate to take the helm (from me) and I go forward to start a wee bit of exercise. It’s not that hard once Emma-Kate has pushed forward the twin throttles and taken the pressure off. But then suddenly she puts the engines in neutral and yells “JAMES!”. My heart stops. I know that tone. I rush back to see what has happened. I go back and Emma-Kate tells me that the boom suddenly moved violently and the engine alarm went off at the same time. Sure enough, the engine is stalled. I switch off the ignition and the alarm goes silent. Now how is the boom connected to the engine? It turns out that the boom and the engine are connected via a rope: it had been tied onto the boom for the kids to swing off and was hanging in the water, and then got wrapped on the propeller. I quickly strip and dive into the water with a knife and cut it free. Unfortunately the damage is done. It’s a big thick rope and the force of it wrapping around the prop has bent the propeller shaft.

@#$_!@#$ @$ @#$ )( @#$ @#$)( $ (I cannot write the expletives I yelled when I realized what had happened.)

The right way to fix this problem is to TAKE THE BOAT OUT OF THE WATER. But there’s nowhere near by that can handle Ondine – at 30ft wide, all the cranes are too narrow for her (24ft maximum in St. Lucia.)

I go back to the Chinaman and tell him he’s got a little more work to do. Together we decide that we can in fact get the shaft off the boat (so he can fix it) when it’s in the water. But the shaft goes through the hull of the boat, so when you take it out, there’s going to be a big hole in the boat. And even the least nautical of you know that you’re not supposed to have a hole in a boat. What it means is that when we take out the shaft, we have to QUICKLY plug the hole from both the inside and the outside. The Chinaman asks me if I have dive equipment. Well it just so happens that I do! But have I used it? Nope. Am I qualified? Nope. I have a dive compressor, two tanks, three BCDs, no weights, but plenty of masks, flippers, etc. So I went back to the boat, dragged the compressor on-deck and fired her up.

I’ve never filled dive tanks in my life and they TERRIFY me. Little bombs fueled by compressed air as far as I’m concerned. Also, the pressure gauge that tells you how much air you’ve put into the tank as you are filling it up doesn’t work. However, I have bought a new one. So the first step is to swap out the broken one for the new one.

OK. Check. Done that.

Now connect the compressor to the dive tank.

Check. Done that.

Now fire up the compressor.

Check. Done that.

BROOOOOM. THAT COMPRESSOR IS VERY VERY NOISY. Suddenly I’m feeling very self-conscious. It’s sunset. There are half a dozen boats all near us and I’ve fired up something that sounds like a monster sized chain saw to help them enjoy the evening.

SORRY! I shout, but it’s drowned out by the engine. I’ve got no choice anyway, I’ve got to get this done, so sheepishly I continue. And slowly, slowly, the gauge on the tank indicates more-and-more pressure. The question is: how much is enough? And will the tanks hold? They are not new tanks. I picked them up from a friend in Dominica. They have been tested but I’ve never used them.

Sweat appears on my forehead.

I seem to remember that the tanks take about 2,500 psi. Am I right? Our Internet connection is down so its not that easy to look it up. So I figure 2,000 psi is safe. And all seems to go smoothly. And then we’re there! I’ve filled up one tank. And it’s time to remove it from the compressor. But I can’t. I try to undo the fitting, and it won’t come undone. I attach a wrench to it, and slowly it turns and then suddenly there is a loud POP! I duck. What happened?!

Well it turns out that there’s a little pressure release valve on the fitting that I should have used to remove the pressure. But no one told me that. God alone knows what damage I could have done. I don’t think I lost anything in that POP. But I’m sure I could have hurt myself. But anyway. I’m OK. I clean up.

There’s a lot to clean up. The extra chain, the anchor, the dive compressor, tools, gasoline, and on-and-on.

Emma-Kate has made a lovely dinner. We sit down. I need a beer. They are cold and it tastes great.

And now I’m writing this blog post.

Tomorrow I’m going to make a hole in my boat at 7:30am…

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