The orange light was lit. Crap. I wasn’t sure what a lit orange light meant, really, but I knew it wasn’t good. Crap, crap, crap! Rick abruptly stood up. Shit! “What’s wrong?” I asked a little too loudly.
“One of the engine’s is overheating.” Holy, mother of… He throttled back; then shut it off.
I stood up dumping the dog onto the floor. His look went from curiosity to alarm as I shrilly asked, “Why did it overheat?” The dog started hopping from one foot to the other, mimicking my anxiety.
“I don’t know until I can go down and look. We can run on one engine.”
“That’s not good.” I continued.
“Must need fluids.”
I persisted. “But you checked all the fluids before we left.”
And so began the four-day trial of our latest journey.
Once the engine had time to cool, Rick broached the subject of my taking the wheel while he checked out the engine. Now, I’ve made it perfectly clear I was not at all comfortable with driving the beast. Heck, just starting the engines leads to a nervous bathroom bout, so I sure and shit didn’t want to take the wheel. I, however, knew nothing about engines except how to check the oil, which I was pretty sure was useless knowledge here.
We reached a straightaway with no boats in sight. Before I could protest, Rick reminded me I just needed to keep it between the channel markers. We were merely creeping along, but I felt like we were flying. I barely touched the wheel. I guess I was subconsciously thinking if I don’t touch it I’m not culpable when a tragedy occurs. Through my sniffles and prayers, I diligently watched behind me for crazed sports fishermen that might try to swamp us as they streamed by. I checked ahead of us for fishing skiffs I might run over. If anything moved but us, I would scream holy-hell until Rick ran up to see what was going on.
Luckily, he quickly added fluid and came back to the helm. He pulled me into a bear hug and told me I did great. I cried giant tears of relief. (I’m such a baby.) He could find no leak, but we had lost all the fluid. We discussed turning back but decided to forge ahead. We traveled the rest of the day on one engine, starting the other only to dock.
That night, we landed at a marina we had used the last time we took a boat (sailboat) that direction. It hadn’t fared well in the 10+ years since we’d been there, but we at least had electricity and water and Banjo could go potty on grass. He had yet to allow himself the luxury of going on the “poop deck” we’d created for him at the bow of the boat. Instead he stubbornly waited hours until we could walk him. This meant we couldn’t yet anchor out.
Our last piddle walk was around 10:00. As we sauntered down the dock, cockroaches scuttled around us and I scooped Banjo up to keep him safe. Upon returning to the boat, Rick had to kill one that had reached the deck. As he kicked it to its watery grave, he wondered how it got up there since we had to climb four steps to reach the deck. I was sure it just scurried up the lines leading to the dock. Rick used bug spray on each of the lines and I added peppermint oil to cotton and placed it around the doors as a deterrent. Okay, I had no cotton balls. In reality, I used cotton swabs. It looked silly, but I hoped it was just as effective.
I was exhausted that night, but slept little. Each time I closed my eyes I pictured the scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean” when the dead pirates climb up ropes to the ship to rein their holy terror. Only, instead of the pirates, it was cockroaches. As of this writing, I have not seen any more, so I think we lucked out.
We left at first light and had a pretty non-descript day. That night’s marina was pleasant and even had a loaner car so we could get more antifreeze and a few fresh veggies. There were no bugs.
The next night, we landed at a marina that was basically one long pier behind a gas station. They had beautiful grass all around the place, but it was all marked “No Dogs.” I had to walk Banjo through the gas station to a tiny plot that bumped up to the road and coax him to “go” while semis roared by.
At first light, we headed out again. Right before pushing off, I took our garbage to the dumpster at the end of the dock. It was quite dark and I, of course, fell as I slipped down an incline I couldn’t see. I banged up my knee. The good news is that it was the opposite knee from my other falls, so now I have a matched set.
Again, we used the ailing engine when necessary and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, it did overheat and we needed to add fluid again. This time, Rick gave me the choice of adding fluid or steering. I chose to add the fluid. How difficult could that be? I’d never done it; not even on a car, but come on. Rick explained it was the port engine. He told me where to find the antifreeze and the water jug. He suggested I use a funnel and where to find that. He also said the space was too tight to pour directly from the jugs. I would need to use a jar he had down there. He said the radiator was right by the jar and the cap was on top. I need to push down, unscrew, and unscrew again to get the cap off. I was ready.
I went down, hoisted open the hatch and locked it in place. It took me two tries to determine the best way to get down into the area where the engines were located. I couldn’t crawl on my knees with the injury from earlier in the day, so I sort of scooted on my butt in a modified crab walk. I saw the jar and headed to it. There was a cap of sorts, but it looked more like a dipstick than an actual cap. I tried turning it but didn’t get very far. I crawled out and returned to the aft deck to describe what I was seeing. I’d rather be cautious than accidentally add antifreeze to the oil. Rick confirmed I was in the wrong spot. He was getting a little agitated as he again described what it looked like, what the surroundings looked like, and asked if I had seen the jar. I confirmed the jar was where I had been. He suggested it must have slid and told me that, yes, I had been looking at the dipstick.
I tried again, but this time, I took a photo of what I thought was now the correct spot. Rick confirmed my photo and I got to work. Man! It was a sauna down there. I sat between the two engines and had to twist my body in a weird way to complete the task. In the end, I felt triumphant; I only dribbled a little water outside the hole where I was aiming and I only burned myself on the working engine once. I told Rick I much preferred doing that to driving. Not sure how he felt about that.
The ride was rugged all day. Partway through, Rick pointed out three large boats headed towards us. We had several Navy vessels going full boar earlier in the day streak by. We guessed these might be the same. I grabbed the binoculars. They were just jerky rich dudes who didn’t think they needed to slow down when passing another boat. “Hang on! Grab the dog!” Rick shouted as he grabbed the radio mic shouting, “Slow down!” as the first raced by kicking up a 4 or 5-foot wake. We recovered just as the second repeated its predecessor’s actions. The third quickly followed. Banjo stuck like glue to me for the rest of the day. I didn’t really blame him.
I was glad when we stopped for the night. It had been overcast and cold and I was looking forward to a warm shower because my body ached from the engine work (yes, I am out of shape; what’s it to you?) My night routine now includes emptying the “pee” container on the composting toilet prior to showering for the night. It can hold a couple days’ worth but I empty it every night so I don’t forget. (I forgot once and lord help me, it was awful. You don’t wanna know.) There is some question about the legality of dumping pee overboard, so our compromise is to empty it into the other toilet, which goes into a holding tank for pump out. We found no odor if we use the holding tank for fluid only, so this allows us to be sure we aren’t violating any environmental laws while still being able to use the composting toilet for the solids.
I bring all this up, because that night I was exhausted when I started my nightly routine. I removed the liquids container from the toilet, carrying it in one hand while holding a paper towel in the other to be mindful of drips as I drained the container. I stepped up three steps into the main cabin, walked through it and down the two steps into the galley. I cross to the doorway leading to the forward head and stepped down. How did I lose my footing? Got me, but I did. Missed a step or tripped over my own two feet. In my head, I remember thinking, “I’m going down again. Save the pee! For the love of God, save the pee!”
I fell. HARD! I remember stretching my arms out to place the container onto the bathroom floor so it would be easier to clean if it spilled. Kinda of like how a football player stretches to get the ball over the line. Thinking of it in this way makes me feel sort of like a hero, in a way.
In focusing on the bottle, I paid little attention to my body. My toes bent awkwardly and I smashed my knee (above that morning’s injury) and wrists. Rick came running to see what happened. I was so done with the day that I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. He tried to help me up and I told him I couldn’t get up. He asked if I was okay and when I didn’t answer, he said he needed to know if he should call an ambulance. That snapped me out of it enough to get to my feet and hobble to a chair. Amazingly, there was zero drippage from the pee bottle. I HAD saved the pee! So, in the end, I suppose I triumphed on the day. An early night and ibuprofen led to a good night sleep.
Our final day, we had to navigate an abundance of bridges, but only three of which needed to be raised for us, with a few more that were only closed when trains came through. Two of the three opened on the hour and half hour and one only opened on the hour. We set out timing the first on the hour, second on the half hour to wind up at the third when it opened only on the hour.
We arrived at the first bridge late and had to wait for the next opening. That was throwing off our chances to make the others as quickly as we’d hoped. Then a stroke of luck as the second one opened on demand, so we breezed through it. We thought our luck was changing. Alas, luck is cruel. When we arrived at the third one we found a few obstacles. We were too early by a long shot. I called to see if perchance they might open on demand. They didn’t so we had to “hold” in place until opening. With only one engine, that was tough. Rick wrestled with it continuously for at least 40 minutes. While we waited, I reflected on the call. He referred to it as a lock, rather than a bridge. Huh. I mentioned it to Rick. He looked at the charts again. No lock shown. Huh.
A crackle came on the radio, followed by an announcement that southbound traffic would be sent through the lock at ten to the hour. Once all southbound traffic had cleared the bridge, northbound traffic could enter. Tie up may be on either side and extra-long rope was required. We hadn’t set up for a lock, so I raced out to get lines on both sides of the boat and tie on additional fenders. Rick called the lock to ask a few questions and we waited.
A bridge further north had mechanical trouble earlier in the day, so the southbound traffic was tremendous. A dozen or so boats of all sizes swarmed around us on both sides as they exited. We finally had the ability to move into the lock along with one other small boat. The lock tender was a nice old southern dude who gave Banjo a treat when he saw he had his life jacket on. We literally lowered only a foot in the lock and were on our way.
However, the wait for entrance, the wait for the southbound boats to move, and the wait for the lock led us to be about an hour later than planned. That only got worse as the day went on. Our next obstacle was a railroad bridge that remained open unless there was a train. Well, they were waiting on a train when we arrived. Again, Rick did the waiting game on one engine. The binoculars got us close enough to the signs to read that they closed the bridge up to 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after the train comes through. We were hoping this was the 10 minutes after. It was almost 5:00. We were worried no one would be at the marina to catch our lines. I pondered how I would get out and down to the low dock with the boat in motion, given my inability to walk or take stairs without tripping. Rick suggested calling the marina to let them know we were running late and try to convince them to stay for us. I was told that while they closed at 5:00, the folks in the repair shop were there until 6:00 and they would catch our lines. Whew!
Chatter on the radio confirmed our worst fears. We were waiting in the 10 minutes prior to the train coming through. It was already closed when we approached, so it shouldn’t be long, we thought as the 20-minute mark slowly crossed us. After 30 minutes, Rick called the bridge. “Just waiting on a train and then it will open,” came the reply. After 45 minutes, one of the other boats hanging out with us asked the bridge height and asked approval to drop their overhead gear and scuttle under the bridge. We tried to raise the marina on the radio to tell them we’d be after six, but received no answer. After an hour, we finally saw the train. It was going at a fair clip. Then it slowed down. We couldn’t see the end and worried it would stop on the bridge.
“There’s the end!” Rick exclaimed as the caboose tugged across the bridge. Yay! Then we waited some more. We heard a boater call for a time of opening. The bridge tender explained he was not on site; opening the bridge remotely. He had to wait for the all clear from the railroad prior to the bridge opening. It was after six when we finally puttered under the bridge. The sun was starting to set and I worried about the predicted weather change that had high winds and waves in the forecast.
Our final bridge was high enough we did not need it raised. We thought we were home free. However, it turned out we did need an “opening” of sorts. As we approached, we saw the nose of a huge tanker peeking under the bridge. It was guided by three tugs and moving very slowly. We could not fit past him even if it had been safe to do so. So, we waited some more while he lumbered through like a black bear wandering through the woods in search of berries.
Eventually we skirted past the ship and headed toward our destination for the next six months: Portsmouth, VA. Being so late, we had no assistance. But as we inched closer, we noticed a foursome on a sailboat next to our slip having wine on their deck. I hollered for assistance and the two fellows came ‘round to grab our lines. They were lifesavers!
That was five days ago. Five days to reflect and rest. Five days to call a repair service. Five days to give my injuries a rest. Whew!