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Into the ditch

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Testing Electronics on Board a Classic Grand Banks, (continued)

Tommy McCoy

Into the ditch

We approached the wide mouth of the Caloosahatchee in Ft. Myers knowing a learning experience lay ahead. Of our crew, only Harding had ever transited a lock before, and we had three of them between Ft. Myers and our destination in Clewiston on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. In the channel and chatting on the flying bridge, looking at the charts for bridges we’d need to pass under or request be opened, we suddenly heard a ker-thunk, ker-thunk, ker-thunk. Tommy grabbed the wheel as he popped her out of gear.

“Whatever it is, it’s on both the prop and the rudder,” he said. “I can feel the wheel move as I put her in gear.” I dove on the running gear, unable to see more than 10 inches in front of my face in that tannin-stained river. By feel I discerned a piece of bent steel.

Tommy joined me in the water and felt around, and came up with a similar report. “It’s like a piece of rebar,” he said glumly, “with some mesh on it—it’s like a derelict fish trap.” We couldn’t free it.

One thing about a Grand Banks like Arawak, in those protected waters, and with that Vetus thruster, she can do just fine on the one engine, granted we weren’t pushing her single working Yanmar at all, and we made about 5  knots. Plan those turns, with the help of a trusty Simrad chartplotter with zoomed-in charts and AIS to help identify and reach out to oncoming traffic, and such an impediment as losing one engine is really no skin off her nose, except for the loss of a little speed.

In light of that, we ended up right at the Ortona Lock that evening just after dark (see what happened in “In These Dark Times”), and anchored out until the lockmaster returned in the morning. After going through the lock’s 8-foot elevator ride we got back underway, discussing with Tommy the fate of the starboard engine. A call to the Roland Martin Marine Center in Clewiston, Florida, secured some dock space. That would be our next stop and also would turn out to be our jumping-off point where we editors would leave Arawak. We called ahead to secure the services of a diver with metal-cutting tools to free the prop and return the boat to twin-screw status. No such luck.

“They don’t have a diver,” Tommy said when he got off the phone. “No one does around here.”

“Why?” I asked, not understanding.

“No one goes in the water because of wildlife … animals,” he said.

Gators. I laughed out loud as the whole dive into the Caloosahatchee in that murky water came into a renewed, sharpened focus (and I suspect that those conditions were not helping to improve the safety of the situation). This was a trip to remember. Lessons learned.

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