We’re pining our existence again, somewhat envious of those who are now sailing south toward the sun, despite the pandemic. Sitting ashore, looking out at another new day, watching mist slowly burning off as the sun rises, we’re just not up to taking that risk. As the remaining leaves blow off from trees after spawning various shades of yellows and reds, we see dwindling numbers of sailboats moored, and their seasonal “fair weather “ owners make a last futile dinghy ride, unloading various gear. As our Earth tilts away we can’t see the sun as it rises now further to the south behind the trees, nor as it sets anymore. We’d been so endowed with premium front-row-center seats at every one of earth’s rotations for the prior sixteen months. Regardless, I often arise before the sun, staring out and sipping my coffee, thinking of subtler parts of our recent adventure.
What’s the deal now? What are you guys planning?
If you were to go back to my earlier posts in 2019 you’ll read that our plan was to make initial departure this year, 2020, not 2019. Yep, I’ll reiterate that we left an entire year earlier than originally planned. Essentially everything received so far is a bonus!
To traverse a large segment (6,330 nautical miles) of our planet in a small sailboat, crossing warm blue abysses, filling our precious time by immersing into local cultures, sampling unusual foods and stumbling upon fantastic places, surely was a bonus. Saba and Montserrat are places we had only dreamed of visiting, and then by our own sailboat! And so many stories to tell!
Now for the “real” yarn.
Korykory (our 8.9 Zodiac inflatable dinghy) was purchased along with a little 2hp Honda outboard early in the summer of 2017, for our first year cruising to Maine. We hadn’t ventured out much away from the mooring in Newburyport that first year, but managed to use the dinghy a few times. We hadn’t yet figured out the best means to climb aboard, nor jungle-swing back down onto Korykory. We tried a few weeks to board at the stern-mounted swim ladder, but eventually settled alongside, by grabbing the stanchions, stepping and climbing up and over the high freeboard. Experience would help us to figure out what really works best. We did appreciate that the small lightweight motor with its plastic propeller could be easily lifted aboard. With one hand I could drop the little motor down and attach onto a bulkhead inside the starboard lazarette. Conveniently out of the way, was safely stowed amongst the fenders and assorted flotsam when underway.
So off we cruised for the next two years – New England, Chesapeake Bay, Bermuda, and then arrived at the furthest most of the windward islands of the glorious Caribbean, Antigua. Studying other cruisers along the way, we noticed two primary distinctions in dinghy setups: 1. Larger RIBs with giant (15 hp+) outboard engines, typically hoisted via davits onto sterns, or 2. minimalist hard-chined rowing/sailing dinghies (or smaller roll-ups), with little to no outboard engine, hoisted and stowed onto the foredeck. Yes, there are many variations between, but we resided closer to the latter with our little Korykory. We weren’t envious of the prior, but both setups have pros and cons, as ours certainly had. For example, larger engines can overcome opposing current or further distances more easily, yet are more difficult to lift and stow. Sometimes Korykory could make us feel vulnerable if crossing a large channel near larger ships, as our little two horsepower Honda just couldn’t move us very quickly.
Aside from the low-powered slowness, at some point we began to have difficulties starting our little Honda outboard engine. Tolerable while safely docked or tied to Fayaway, but otherwise this nuisance grew into a more bothersome safety issue. I’d taken all the obvious precautions such as using clean, ethanol-free fuel, checking and gapping the spark plug, etc. I had been very patient and experimented with various levels of choke and throttle positioning to optimize and guarantee a quick start. Just when I thought I’d found the magic combination for dependable starting with one or two pulls… uh uh, it just wouldn’t start! While reciting expletives I’d end up using the flimsy auxiliary oars to paddle back to safety. We’d learned to get the motor started before untying the painter. Easier said than done.
A few harrowing moments are burned into memory. On one such occasion we’d been out exploring a gravel beach near Salt Plage, a restaurant at Whitehouse Bay, St Kitts. Wind was light earlier that morning so after visiting the gravelly area scouring for pretty shells we easily shoved off the coarse gravel, and putted over to another nearby sandy beach where another friend, Windgrove, who tends a small business renting kayaks and various similar gear to tourists, was watching us approach. After pulling Korykory up onto the sand and chatting a bit, he said a few words about the increasing wind and waves, and that we should bring the little boat to higher ground. He was happy to let us leave Korykory under his watch. When we returned from our walkabout, larger waves were breaking onto the sandy beach, pushed by twenty knots of wind. Windgrove eyed us with concern, as we dragged and pushed Korykory back into the drenching surf. As expected, the little motor wouldn’t start again. Ugh.
Neither a panic nor safety issue, but an immediate annoyance for sure. Worst case, I knew the waves would push us back to the beach. Realizing futility, and possibly capsize if we didn’t begin to take control, I readied the cheap-o oars, and began to pull us into the waves. Fayaway wasn’t anchored more than a hundred yards away, but the wind was making for more challenging conditions. I pulled a bit harder to make some headway and then… snap! An oarlock broke! As we began turning broadside to the surf, I swiftly handed one oar to Kelly and we began briskly paddling canoe-style! We needed to escape the surf but were having difficulty keeping a straight line. Evidently not making much progress, a man (moored nearby) saw us struggling, and hopped into his dinghy, easily started his motor, and soon approached us to offer a tow. This is how we met Buddy, a long-time live-aboard, a friend to many residents on St Kitts.
On another occasion we’d just beached our little boat to explore the Prickly Pears, an uninhabited sandy atoll north of Anguilla. A deeper swell had grown from the north, bending larger breaking waves into our cove, and kicking surf up while we walked barefoot on the warm, soft-sandy beach. Watching the waves grow while we strolled, my tranquility waned and anxiety grew while pondering the unavoidable challenge to drag Korykory through the surf. I knew this drill… drag-run alongside, jump in and hope not to get swamped. We’d performed this before with mixed results, often entertaining bystanders. By timing a getaway between larger waves, we’d each grab a side, run out knee-deep in the surf. With shorter legs, Kelly would reach her comfort depth and jump in first, as I pushed and scurried further. Then after one last big push from my waist depth, I’d hop aboard to start the engine. Simple huh?
Hiding my elevated concern, I downplayed the event, encouraging Kelly to yet again enjoy this familiar and fun activity, and thus we successfully arrived into the foaming water near the point of firing up the little Honda. Having only a few seconds before another wave would hit, I hopped aboard, quickly tilted the motor back into the water, pulled the choke, and gave a brisk yank on the starter rope. Nothing. Not even a cough. Quickly, again, I repeatedly pulled the cord! Adjust that choke a bit more! Play with the throttle. Seconds passed, as I tried all those previously, seemingly successful combinations that had worked before. We just about passed a safe window before we’d be hit with a large wave.
With adrenaline beginning to leak into my sun-cooked brain, I soon abandoned the motor, twisted and adjusted the flimsy oars into position and started pulling. And turned us to face into a three-foot breaker just in time to avoid it rolling us over. Phew! Kelly held tighter as we bounded over a couple more big ones, water pouring over the bow and then a few more frantic pulls of the oars, until safely out of danger. We reached a safe point to pause and catch my breath, as we knew that we still needed to travel a good distance – a route through a dangerous pass, to the other side of the island, to where Fayaway was moored. We needed to get that motor going! Now away from immediate danger, I again fiddled with the finicky motor. After a few more yanks, it slowly, almost mockingly putt-putted to life, and we slowly moved (at full-throttle) toward our intended direction out and around a shallow reefline, through a pass full of swirling eddies, finally reaching our home safely aboard. Oh what an adventure! Safely back at Fayaway we set sail for an easy glide back eastward to an anchorage at Road Bay for another round of sundowners, and contemplating the future of our Honda outboard engine. It was time for a better engine- one that would at least start more easily, as Buddy’s does, more times than not.
Catch the next part of this story in an upcoming post. In the meantime, think warm thoughts, enjoy what you have, and especially those in your bubble. Enjoy the best of your surroundings, and don’t fret about things you can’t help. If you’re fortunate to live in a free country, then please VOTE!
4 thoughts on “Outboard Yarn”
Great post Chris! I know how this story ends, but found it entertaining anyway!
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Yikes! Nothing like trying to launch through breaking waves!!
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love living vicariously through your adventures! stay safe-stay healthy!
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