May 1, 2021
The adventure began as we were returning to the ICW from our anchorage at “Cement Plant,” a spot, thankfully, more charming than its name! The channel was narrow and shallow, lined with lovely homes overlooking private piers. Suddenly I realized that we were headed toward one of those piers, despite my turning the wheel hard over to the opposite side. I’m chagrined to admit that we were glancing off the pier before I remembered that two engines gives us control through the gearshift. The glance was light—thankfully!—and subsequently we were able to find an appropriate spot to drop anchor and phone for assistance. Steve knew almost immediately what had happened: the joint piece which connects the rudder post to the hydraulic steering mechanism had finally rusted through. He had been watching it, cleaning it, lubricating it, and making a mental note to have someone look at it. But in the year away and our delight at readying to cruise again, that minor detail escaped the list of priorities. (Of course, I was no help, either, as I tease that when he learns to make shrimp and grits, I will learn to change the oil.) An hour and a half later, the welcome sight of the tiny-but-mighty red TowBoatUS appeared. A young Captain Avera threw us a bridle and off we went, chatting by radio to formulate the game plan. St. Augustine, nearly 35 miles north, by our research was the next port which had available dockage and a boat yard, but as we passed the town of Palm Coast, the captain asked if we wanted to stop there, St. Augustine being a 9-hour tow. We told him we had called, but the marina was full. A few minutes later he radioed back: Palm Coast had two double slips which we could come into. When we expressed surprise, he laughed, “You didn’t whine hard enough.”
To prepare for entering the marina, Red Pearl was put “on the hip,” pulling her against the towing vessel tight and snug with the cushion of big round fenders. It was here at close proximity that I saw that this tiny boat sported only two 130 hp motors. (Our slow boat has two 240s). Under power of the tow, we inched toward the marina. A boat with two woman absorbed in conversation “waked” us (rocked us unnecessarily with their failure to extend the courtesy of slowing down), and the captain left the helm just long enough to throw up his hands and yell after them. At the entrance of the marina, a second attempt was required to get into position, and I heard an engine restart, then again. By now, we definitely “were the show”—everyone within shouting distance had come to water’s edge to watch. The towboat cleared the bow pulpits of sailboats at the entrance with just inches to spare. With our longer and taller boat causing lack of visibility, Steve, instructed by the captain, advised him by radio when to start those blind turns. A piling which separated the double slip, required release of our connection to the tow before we were actually in the slip, and three knowledgeable dock hands hauled us in. It was not until we were secure that Capt. Avera told us that he had lost an engine and had ushered us into the marina with only 130hp. He departed with the encouraging reminder that this 5-mile tow would have cost $1100 but for our annual membership with TowBoatUS. Lucky for us!….?
By 5:15 on a Friday afternoon, we had discovered that ALL marine mechanics in the area are currently scheduling into July, and no one would touch this job, even for Loopers. And so, Steve located the part at a marine shop and we quickly Ubered to pick it up before closing, only to discover that it didn’t. quite. match. The part will be ordered Monday morning—fingers crossed it’s as easy to install as they say!
As we wait for said part, we’ve rented a car and will spend the week end on Jekyll Island, 2 hours north, which was on our list of stops. Funny— we thought the isinglass our most pressing issue. Whatever—this lemonade will be delicious!