Editor-in-Chief Dan Harding learns that even a small engine repair can leave you with a severely damaged ego.

House projects, work travel and a painfully damp spring conspired against me as I readied my boat for summer. With an orbital sander in one hand and a nasal cavity choked with sawdust, I felt my blood pressure rise with each boat that rumbled past and was launched. “That guy didn’t even wax his hull, why should he get to enjoy time on the water before me?” I pouted to myself. As the calendar flipped to June my patience for boat prep was running on E. We had the boat splashed and “prepared” for our trip to our summer port of Essex, Connecticut. I put prepared in quotes for good reason.

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Early on a Sunday morning we pulled out of the slip and slid atop the water that reflected morning light like a sheet of glass. Karen held our pup, Salty, in her arms; we even snapped a couple cell phone shots to capture the start of the season.

“Dan old boy, you did it again. Does it get any better than this?” While congratulating myself I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I listened closely to the steady rumble of my Yanmar diesel and what I heard next made my heart sink: Nothing. I ran to look behind the boat at what should have been a steady spray of exhaust and instead saw nothing. By the time I turned my head back I saw smoke begin billowing from the cabin. “[Expletive!]”

I dove to shut the engine off and ran below to diagnose the severity of our issue. Coolant poured from the overflow canister onto a searing hot engine. I bolted back topsides to drop the anchor only to realize yet another mistake I’d made. I had unshackled my anchor the day before while doing some touch up painting. I now had to scramble to reattach the anchor and drop it down. Time never goes faster than when you’re drifting out of the channel towards land.

Karen and Salty handled the situation calmly (in fact Salty seemed to relish the excitement) for which I’m thankful.

I would now, for the first time in my boating career, need to call for a tow. BoatUS, I’d learn too late, doesn’t service the northern part of the Connecticut River, so we needed to sit tight and wait for someone from our boatyard (only a mile away) to rouse from their slumber and pick us up. As fast as time flew earlier, now it seemed to crawl. Both the engine and I were desperately overheated.

After what felt like hours, help came in the form of a friendly yard worker named Scotty, a hulk of a man in brown work boots, a sleeveless black t-shirt and a Black & Mild cigar hanging from his lip.

Back at the dock crowds of people swarmed to catch a glimpse of this disgraced editor. Tomatoes were thrown, hushed whispers built to a roar. “Guy works for a magazine with motor in the name and he can’t even make it down river?” said no one but my imagination now running wild with embarrassment.

“I know how you felt, Dan,” said Capt. Pike as I recounted my early morning ordeal. “Especially because of what we do, we think everyone is always watching us. Truth is, people pretty much are only concerned with themselves.”

We swapped mishaps and mistakes made until I felt somewhat better about my breakdown. The culprit for my overheating engine was, of all things, a loose belt, something I was able to remedy quickly. My ego on the other hand, well, that repair would take a bit longer.

The most dangerous thing on the water isn’t huge seas, sudden storms, unmarked rocks or fires. No, the most dangerous thing I’m convinced is complacency. That’s what I was in this case, I was complacent. It was a mistake I’m determined not to make again. I gave my engine a thorough inspection, took the time to also go through my emergency equipment.

As I write this, my boat is secured back at our Essex mooring and we have a summer filled with boating weekends sprawled out before us. As I reflect on my recent mistakes made and lessons learned, I recall what Scotty told me after we were tied up back to the dock. “These things happen,” he said as he took a long drag of his cigar. “It’s times like this that make you appreciate the good times even more.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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