Friday, September 21, 2012

Self Rescue Elaborated

Whitehall, NY
43 33.27 N 073 24.13 W 

Update: We sent the fuel injection pump off to an injection shop in Latham, NY.  They said 4-5 working days turnaround.

I promised to elaborate more on our little problem out on the lake when the engine failed.

The first thing we did was to anchor so that we did not drift onto the shores.

Next, I tried to diagnose the problem.  Plenty of fuel in the tanks.  

The engine seemed hot (although the temperature meter said 150 degrees, plenty cool).  I checked the oil and water -- OK.  I took the cover off the raw water pump to inspect the impeller -- OK.

I loosened the bleed screw on the fuel filer and cranked the engine.  Yes we had fuel.

My only other guess was contaminated fuel, or even gasoline in the fuel tanks, but there would be nothing I could do about that. I gave up on the engine.  With a storm coming we had to get off the lake.  I told Libby that we would tow her to Whitehall.

Next problem.  The dinghy was in its usual place on chocks up on deck.  It weighs about 150 pounds and we normally use the mast and halyard as a crane to raise and lower it.  With the mast down we had to do it the hard way.  I normally can't lift 150 pounds and Libby has a hard time with 50 pounds.  To make things worse, there was little clearance with the lowered mast just inches above the dinghy.    Well, in a pinch you do the impossible.  The two of us managed to move it out from under the mast.  Then, using a surge of reserve strength I don't normally have I heaved it over the side in one big motion.   It hit the water sideways and filled with water, nearly sinking.  No problem, Libby climbed down with a bucket and bailed it.

Next we mounted the outboard motor.  I grabbed a life jacket, a bottle of water, our gasoline jug, a 100 foot towing line, and my cell phone, and set out to tow.

When towing a boat bigger than you, it is important to use the longest possible towing line.  Otherwise, you'll soon learn that you can not steer or control direction.  Also, the tow line attaches to the bow of the dinghy, not the stern.  Libby was in charge of steering and navigation.  These things I knew from experience.

Our cell phones lost all signal in that remote area so they could not be used for communication except sporadically.  I could have taken the hand-held VHF radio, but the fixed VHF radio can not be used with the mast down.

Things went fine for the first 2 hours.  The Yamaha outboard motor holds 2-3 quarts of gas in its internal tank.  It ran out of fuel about once per 45 minutes.  I would scramble to refill the tank as Tarwathie, coasting on inertia, would catch up and pass me.  

On the third try, I was slow.  Tarwathie drifted sideways and went aground in the mud.  There was nothing Libby could do to prevent it.   We ran aground.  The dinghy and outboard engine pull was too feeble to get us off.  To remedy that, we had to kedge.

Just the day before, I had dismounted, and disassembled Bessie, our 80 pound Luke anchor and stowed it in the lazarette.  Ditto for Bonnie, our 25 pound Danforth anchor.  This kedging job required Bonnie, so I had to dig her out, remount her on the rode, then drop her in the dinghy with 50' of chain and 50' of rope rode.  Then I played out the rode at a 90 degree angle to Tarwathie and dropped her.  Back on board, we used the windlass to haul in the rode.  It was hard to to because the wooded frame we use to hold the front of the mast when lowered was in the way.  Fortunately, we only had to do that for 30 seconds before it pulled us off the mud and we were afloat again.

The rest of the towing job went OK.  I described it in a previous post.

By the way, in the brief periods when we did get cell phone or VHF signals, we could have called Towboat US for a free tow.   We are Gold members.  But I knew that the closest place was 40 miles away and it was already late in the afternoon.  They would surely have said, "We'll come tomorrow," and a storm was approaching.  We would also have lost at least an hour negotiating as the sun was sinking in the West.  My command decision was to focus on self-rescue. 

Modesty aside, our boating experience was the main factor in the success of our self-rescue.  Libby performed expertly at her share of the tasks.  Having the right equipment on board was also necessary.  We were also aided, by a bit of adrenaline boosted strength, and good familiarity with the local waters.
Sorry, no pictures of us towing.  That would have made a great shot but we had no time for photography.


  1. Dick

    Sounds like a great application of seamanship all around. Can you mount a high gain (powerboat style) antenna on your stern pulpit? It would help you communicate when the mast is down either on purpose or tragically after a dismasting.

    No I have not done this myself but often though it a good idea.

  2. The tow line on the bow of the dinghy -- how does that work? Seems like the tow line would sweep the dingy and hit your body/head and the motor.

  3. Dick, get a suction cup mount emergency VHF antenna. It's a good thing to have on board for situations like this or in case you're dismasted. In any event though, good job!


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