The wind was ripping down the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 30 plus knots, like it usually does in the late afternoon. Susanna and I had Bluewater parked at the fuel dock in the small boat harbor waiting for a few fishing boats to leave the guest dock for Ketchikan, Alaska, thus making space for us. We had spent the last two days making our way down the 80 miles from Cape Flattery. As we sat patiently at the fuel dock, thankful that we had talked to the Alaska bound fishermen, discovering that they were leaving within the hour, making it possible for us to park in a spot more than 100 feet long rather than the 38 foot spot amongst the fishing boats. The 53 foot motor yacht Infinity came blasting into the marina. Considering the wind blowing from the west and tight nature of the marina, I thought they where going a bit fast and seemed to be a bit out of control, I commented to Susanna “That must be a local to come in so fast, he must know exactly where he is going.” Just then a nearly frantic voice called from Infinity “Are you going to park there?!?!” I replied “No, we are just waiting for Windwalker” pointing at the fishing boats “and friends to leave.”
As Infinity started to be blown dangerously close to pilings past the fuel dock and the adjacent boats, the voice called out “we need to park there, we only have one engine!”
In an instant I understood completely. With only one engine, it was very difficult for Infinity to stop. Applying reverse with only one engine functioning would not stop the boat, only change the direction the bow was pointed while at the same time throwing the boat in to a sideways spin, kind of like doing a doughnut in your car. All this was compounded by the fact that Infinitywas being pushed by the 30 knot wind in the exact direction the captain did not want to go.
Infinity’s only option was to use the bow thruster and the working engine to turn the boat around 180 degrees, in her own length, pointing the bow into the wind and using the engine and the wind in opposition to bring the boat to a stop. All the while, the timing for this required the boat being lined up and aside the 60 feet of fuel dock space that we currently occupied! The distance between the fuel dock and the guest dock was approximately 70 feet, leaving Infinity a margin of less than 10 feet fore and aft. At their current speed Infinity had less than 60 seconds to turn around before the wind smashed her into the first piling and set of boats. Then Infinity would have even less time to land on the fuel dock using the wind and the working engine or risk overshooting the fuel dock and having to start all over.
We needed to move immediately! Compounding our position was the fact that Bluewater has a hard time backing up due to the angled exit if the prop, the boat has a tendency to back to starboard (right) rather than in a strait line. We had parked with the fuel dock on the port (left) side of the boat to take advantage of this fact to turn around in the tight marina and point our bow in the prevailing wind. If you drew a curved line starting at us and followed the natural path that Bluewater would take in reverse in less than three boat lengths (about 100 feet) you would find the red and black sea plane that had landed outside the marina and taxied in and parked while we waited on the fuel dock before Infinity’s arrival. If you drew a strait line out of Bluewater’s stern you would see the 200 plus feet of clear water. I had to drive the boat, in reverse, upwind in 30 knots of blow, in a strait line, and I had to do it now!
We jumped aboard, Susanna bringing the bow line, I the stern line and started the engine. I put Bluewater in reverse and immediately she started to back up , the stern angling to starboard. I eased my weight on the rudder and increased the engine revs, the turn in the stern straitened out and we started backing up strait. Part as a result of the counter pressure from my thigh on the rudder and partly from the streamlining effect of the wind blowing from right behind us. We cleared the float plane with a good 50 foot margin and as soon as we could we could we turned to leave the marina. Our little engine had saved the day (again).
Soon enough the fishing boats left and we parked with out incident at the very tip of the guest dock. Once again I silently thanked the man who taught me to drive in tight spots and how to think about it. I must have been listening, because I could hear him in my head telling me how much pressure, how many RPMs – thanks Joseph.
We listened to the wind shrieking in the rigging and learned that the Bluewater’s rigging starts to sing at 25 knots. We walked into town, met a jogger who told us about a great Mexican restaurant. After dinner we went back to the boat, showered and slept.
We had come to Port Angeles for internet access and to do some work. A few days later, after a great breakfast at the local hangout we returned to find Bluewater’s dock lines a total mess, usually we leave the extra tails in a decorative coil on the dock, they where in piles. Our nearest neighbor came to tell me an interesting tale.
It seems that a very large tugboat trying to leave the deepest recesses of the marina was having a very hard time getting turned around and out of the marina in the strong winds. The few crews that where around watched nervously as the tug boat came dangerously close to each boat on the guest dock and lead by the crew of Infinity they had untied us in anticipation of the tug nearly smashing into us! Port Angeles was turning out to be a very exciting place.
I went down the dock to thank everyone for watching out for our boat, then to Infinity to thank the crew for being so quick on the draw. I discovered the crew had all but departed, leaving one man, the engineer, behind.
That is how I met Ronald Hamish MacDonald, or as he jokingly said, Ronald MacDonald, saying “McDonald” instead of MacDonald, “But my friends call me Ron.”
Ron is fully responsible for us spending to much time in Port Angeles. I say that with the biggest grin on my face possible. Ron was the engineer for the motor vessel Infinity that was having fuel troubles and was supposed to be headed down the coast to Dana Point, California.
What to say about Ronald Hamish MacDonald? That through his tutelage I am more confidant about marinating our little Duetz Diesel? That he helped us to save hundreds of dollars in repairs that the boat needed through his expertise and willingness to share his knowledge, tools and can do attitude? That his generosity eclipses that of the great saints or should I just let it all boil down to the fact that Ron is one of the most genuine people I have ever met.
We spent the first few days toiling away at the computer while Ron worked on Infinity’s fuel system. At night we would hang out in the amazing luxury of the motor yacht. All I have to say that I have lived in apartments that where smaller than the owners cabin! We watched movies and ate Ron Wraps, a tantalizing mix of tomato, avocado, melted cheese, crushed Doritos and Ron’s special sauce, which I have acquired the recipe for and you will have to pry from my cold dead hands!. it is a closely guarded secret.
Each night we would declare that we where leaving the next day for the San Juan islands, then low and behold, the next morning we would wake to fog or a gale warning. One day Ron offered to polish our fuel with the filters he had built to filter the fuel on Infinity. Another day he talked to the folks at the ship yard that had been hired to help with the fuel problem on Infinity and got them to weld our broken engine mount.
The engine mount.
Sounds simple, to weld a small piece of steel, the problem was that to weld it we would have to pull the engine out. I have only ever pulled one engine out of a vehicle and that was 15 years ago with the help of yet another infinitely capable mechanic. Ron took one look at our engine and said, no problem, that will take a few hours and we can have them weld it up by lunch! You know what, he was right. We started in the morning, disconnected the engine from the prop shaft, the exhaust, everything, attached the lift rings to a set of block and tackle off the boom and lifted it right up! Then we pulled out the mount, took it down to the guys who quickly repaired it, then we all put it all back together before quitting time!!!
For those who are inclined to do such things to their engine, this must seem so simple, but to those who are not exactly mechanically inclined it was amazing to see, more amazing to be a major part of the repair. I am now totally confidant about completely removing the engine this winter to grind and paint the areas under the engine and battery bank. Thanks Ron!
We finally departed for the San Juan Islands a few days later, the wind was blowing it’s typical 25-30 knots, it was with a sadness that is the sailors lament, to leave the company of good friends for the horizon and the unknown. Our destination was just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan islands, the only problem was that we over slept and missed the tide that would help us. But that’s another story.
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