Earlier this week, Pam and I laid out a plan to do something yesterday that neither of us has tried in three years.
What we planned to do was motor from our marina to a spot across the Choptank River where our chart said so. This is a chart abbreviation indicating a soft “seabed,” as publisher NOAA has officially so designated, or a soft “bottom,” as most sailors and cruisers would say around the family dinner table.
While trying to educate myself with respect to the types of seabed materials one typically finds wherever charts say so, I typed in the Google search term “so soft bottom,” and quickly found myself looking at a line of women’s underwear. I guess I should have known better, since this was just after I tried to search on another chart term, “sy sticky bottom,” and found myself confronted with one particular thing that apparently afflicts the wrong end of rabbits and many, many other things considerably less suitable than that for discussion around the family dinner table.
This is why Pam does the research in our household.
Anyway, earlier this week, Pam and I laid out a plan to do something yesterday yadda yadda yadda. What we had planned to do was to motor from our marina to a spot across the river, throw down an anchor and watch Meander not move.
Why Practice Anchoring?
Anchoring is an essential skill for cruisers because it enables them to park in anchorages instead of marinas, which, in turn, helps them save money. And who doesn’t like money?
But more importantly, the ability to anchor also gives cruisers more options for dodging storms that catch them on the open water. Many anchorages provide shelter from at least some storms. And one that can do so even from the howling winds and four-story waves of a hurricane, is called, appropriately enough, a “hurricane hole.”
In contrast, almost any marina operating under the conditions offered by a hurricane would be called “millions of dollars in boat insurance claims waiting to happen.”
That kind of anchorage, had we been able to get to one, would have been our first choice to ride out the hazards Joaquin could have placed on our doorstep last week. But once there, we would have had to be able to, uh, anchor. And we haven’t accumulated anything like enough experience with that skill to take that chance. So we stayed in our marina instead, and got lucky.
Better the devil you know, you know?
Anyway, earlier this week, Pam and I yadda yadda yadda, motor from marina, spot across river, throw down anchor, watch Meander not move.
We never got out of the marina.
Why We Didn’t Practice Anchoring
Because when Pam turned the ignition key as we had turned it a dozen times before, we got the usual audible oil pressure alarm that indicates “power on,” a sound that is prerequisite to pressing the engine’s start button to crank it into life. But when she pressed the start button as we had pressed it a dozen times before, she got. . . nothing.
Pam then checked every lever and switch that routinely plays a part in this heretofore routine engine starting operation. And after trying again, and failing again, and trying once more, and failing once more, Pam finally gave up and handed the ignition key to me.
And when I turned it as we had turned it a dozen times plus three before, I indeed got a different result.
For me, not even the audible oil pressure alarm would come on.
Change of Plans
Earlier this week, Pam and I yadda yadda yadda. But what we actually ended up doing yesterday was to create, through a carefully considered strategy of desperate improvisation, our first-ever diesel engine troubleshooting plan.
Operating under my personal conviction that the engine’s complete lack of interest in starting had electrical roots, and armed with several sources of arcane information written by one half dozen diesel experts and accumulated by us over our several years’ ascent to this latest challenge in our cruising life, we decided to trace Meander’s electrical systems:
- From the engine battery, of which there is one.
- From the house batteries, of which there are two.
- To the engine control panel, of which there is one.
- Through the boat’s intervening wires, cables, and switches, of which there is some seemingly endless number, a number which, while in all probability finite, would nonetheless still require me to employ exponential notation to pack it onto the space offered by a page of standard office letterhead.
And so I spent much of yesterday afternoon suspended through Meander’s companionway, half-upside-down, with my head in her engine compartment.
After using a multimeter to verify that all three of the batteries in the adjacent locker to port were carrying a full charge, I got down to it. I traced visible conductors with my eyes. I traced blind ones with my fingertips, feeling my way along and hoping not to find anything shocking. I pushed and pulled on lone wires and on wires in bundles, trying to see where they ran to. I determined where this cable that disappears up into this dark crevice on this side of the boat reappears behind some completely unrelated tangle of stuff on that side of the boat. And I pulled out the multimeter again–twice–to verify that the wires I knew should be carrying the juice to the engine control panel were, to all appearances, doing no such thing.
And at the end of the day, I had enough hard data to arrive at the following working conclusions.
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Change of Plans, Revisited
Late last night, Pam and I laid out a plan to abandon our first-ever troubleshooting plan on our boat’s diesel engine and instead call a qualified marine mechanic in the morning. After all, one can spend either time or money; and when the first option is clearly getting one nowhere, the second becomes necessary and inevitable.
And once we’re up and running again, we’re going to motor out of this marina to a point across the river and throw down an anchor. Because I have a feeling we’re going to have to spend an awful lot of time hereafter in anchorages to be able to pay for what’s about to happen next.