We Lost Our Outboard… Overboard

February 17, 2017 0 comments

20,000 leagues

We lost our dinghy engine to the Big Ol’ Blue.  Our little 2.5HP Yamaha is now sleeping with the fishes or whatever creatures lurk in 20,000 leagues somewhere between Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico. Actually, it fell to the one of the deepest underwater canyons in the world, the “Puerto Rican Trench”, 25,000′ below!

To be frank, we’re pretty embarrassed by it.  I mean, who the heck loses an engine overboard? Only total idiots, right? In all honesty, Dave didn’t even want me to post this because he thought it would just make us look even more clueless than we are. However, sometimes crappy things happen and that’s just life.  There’s no point in sugar coating our journey for anyone reading this because our lives are not sugar coated.

Fortunately for our egoes, we’re not alone.  We’ve told our story to other cruisers and surprisingly they’ve all had their own tragic tale of losing something terribly expensive overboard or causing damage to their boat inadvertently. It almost seems like it’s some kind of right of passage.

“Have you lost thousands of dollars in some way, shape or form? Congratulations! You’re officially a cruiser!”

Screwed by screws

If you’re wondering how such a debacle could happen, it’s simple.  Human error and corroded hardware.

Before we left for our passage, we needed to tighten the outboard engine onto the stern railing – standard protocol when preparing for a trip. Normally, Dave is in charge of this since he has a stronger grip than me. However, on this occasion, I was put in charge. Big mistake.

I tightened the screws down as hard as I could, but in fact I did not (and couldn’t tell) because they were getting increasingly hard to tighten due to corrosion. Dave never went back to double check that the outboard was securely fastened to the stern rail. So unbeknownst to us, we sailed off into the sunset figuring we were all set, everything secure above and below deck.

We Lost Our Outboard... Overboard

Our setup with the outboard clamped down on the aft railing.

All the noises

Fast forward 24 hours. We had been bucking into rough, crossed seas for the first day of our trip.  It was uncomfortable to say the least.  Dave was seasick, Darby was in hiding down below and I was strapped to the helm, hand steering and steadfast (thanks to Dramamine).

I suppose I had become numb to the bashing of the boat and all of the other sounds happening around me.  After a period of time at the helm, you start to get into a rhythm with the motion of the your vessel. Feeling it rise and fall, dip and heel.

You become accustomed to the sounds around you: the thud of the hull as it busts through a wave; the hiss of spraying water; wind in your ears; the flap of a sail when it lufts if you fall off course; the creak of the boom as you heel over in a stiff breeze.  After so long, you become immune to the noise around you. Kind of like having a fan on in the background.  Only when it’s turned off do you realize it was on to begin with.

In addition to all of that (and to make matters worse for me), I had my headphones in. It’s something we always do when we have long passages. It’s easy to lose concentration or feel tired (especially in the middle of the night) so listening to music or a podcast helps. It was roughly 2am and I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Lore.  If you’re into supernatural phenomenon, history or scary stories you’d love it.  Anyway, this is when it happened.

The big drop

Dave was in the cockpit with me, asleep because it was too nauseating to be in the cabin.  He started to move, waking up a bit. All of a sudden his eyes got wide, he sat straight up and yelled, “Ahhhhhh!!!!” He scared the bejeezus out of me to say the least. I thought I had hit something or something was going to hit us. I was completely oblivious that the motor had slipped right off the railing behind me.

That’s when the yelling started. “OMG, OMG, OMG!!! DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? WE LOST THE OUTBOARD!”

I still had my headphones in, stared at him with a dumb look on my face (I’m sure) and shouted back, “What?!”  I turned around to see what he was pointing at and the motor was gone. If Dave wasn’t there to witness the tragedy in real time, I’d never have even known it had been lost.

Feeling like a failure

It was all down hill from there of course. Dave really let me have it, and he had every right to.  I was literally two feet away from the engine when it went over.  I should’ve been able to hear it coming off of the railing. I should’ve been able to turn around and at least grab at it before it went over.  Being at the helm, I’m the one responsible for keeping an eye on everything. Listening, keeping watch, being alert. That’s my job.

I couldn’t hear any tell tale signs of something being wrong.  The outboard engine was probably making some kind of clanging or banging sound as it was slowing loosening off of the railing as we were bashing into waves, but it just blended right in to all of the other noise that was happening around me.  It was pitch dark out so I was scanning the horizon around me looking for other vessels, any beacon of light nearby. I was checking the radar, our chart and compass. I thought I was in the zone, doing a great job as first mate. Not quite.

On the upside

So now here we are, without a dinghy engine in a different country. Luckily for us, Puerto Rico is a pretty good place to figure something like this out. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we come up with a fast solution to finding a new engine. You can bet that we’ll be extra diligent in the future when buttoning everything up for a passage. At least we’ll always be reminded of what can happen if we don’t.  It’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, but if we learn from them it’s not all in vain, right?

Other than bruised egos and an obvious lack of equipment, we’re just fine.  Nothing a little research and alcohol can’t cure.

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