Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dead in the Water

This morning around 11:30, a county radio shop worker, V, came down to install a phone for the boat. Nice to see him, he's a quiet, methodical guy, very nice. About 5 minutes after he comes, I get a car, so we load up and head to the west side of the river. Drop off the car, and a few minutes later, 3 pedestrians walk down the hill and onto the boat. This is pretty common. Some people want to see the boat but don't like being on the water. Some people are too cheap to want to pay the $3 to ride. No big deal.

They walked on board and were looking around a bit, when I noticed that we'd slipped off the ramp a bit. It's not all that uncommon, especially with the wind gusts we've been having. When that happens, you just put the boat in gear and power back up the ramp. The friction of the boat against the concrete is enough to stick us pretty well. Well, I pushed the throttles forward...and nothing happened. Ok...sometimes they flip the breaker and V was working on electrical stuff. Flipped the breakers to reset...nothing. ummmmm. We're now about 20-30 feet off shore. The current is extremely fast right there, and the boat was just stuck, sitting in the current, which was pushing against the side of the boat.

First things first, I called the boss. V is an electrician, so they talked, and V had checked everything there was to check, nothing worked. So here goes nothing, and I have to put the work boat in the water and see if we can get to shore that way. The work boat is a small outboard motor boat that's attached to the side of the ferry and lifted out of the water. We've got a device that lowers it into the water. So I grab the gas tank, hook that up, lower the boat, grab my life vest (always!) and hop in. I don't disconnect the work boat from the ferry, since I know that in theory, you can use the motor from the outboard to slowly creep the ferry to shore. It's set up to work that way, and I know they've done it on the WL ferry.

Well, it didn't work. Later, talking with the boss, I learned that if you're stuck right where I was, in the current, you're just out of luck. The outboard just isn't strong enough. I didn't know that at the time, and V and I were coming up with an alternate plan of attack. Just in case, he went and checked the power, which had come back on. Hooray! I take the boat back to the shore we'd just come from. I call the boss, let him know. He was relieved, since he said the power company had lost power from the ferry all the way out to the town of Gates (40 miles away), and that it might have taken until 2 pm to get it fixed.

So, everything's hunky dory, right? The pedestrians stay on board, intending to just go for a ride (a choice they would later regret). A car, a mini, comes on board. We head over to the east bank. And the boat dies again, in the middle of the river. I crack up. Nervous insanity laughter of doom.

Ok, well I know that we're out of the current, there should be no problem getting the work boat to get us to the east bank. We're closer to that shore, the water moves slower over here. So I get the outboard going again, and it's working! I can see the boat moving. Not fast, but it's totally getting us there. Until, that is, the outboard dies. Now, the extent of my knowledge about outboard motors comes from the tiny bits of training I got before I got my license. I don't have a boat, I'm never in a boat. This is all new to me. And I knew from day one, that I didn't feel very comfortable handling the outboard. And it showed. V and I (he's not a boat person either) worked and tried everything we could. We thought it was vapor lock. We thought we'd flooded the engine. After about a half hour of dead in the middle of the river, V discovers that I had clipped the gas tank to the hose wrong, and there was a leak. The motor had shut down from air in the line.

Finally working now, we actually get to shore! We tie up the boat, and spend the next 20 minutes lowering first the gate, then the apron, manually. Took wrenches. If the car on board had been a big pickup, they could have just gotten off. But there was about an 18 inch gap between the apron and the ramp, and the car was a mini. Those things have like 2 inches of clearance.

V checked the power, and we had half power. One line worked, he said. I don't know what that means, but it wasn't good enough. So we were still stuck.

So we got the car off. But we still had 3 pedestrians!! And they were on the wrong side of the river. V and I climb up to the electrical boxes on the tower ("climb" meaning a flight of stairs, I didn't go to the top of the 50' tower!), and he thinks that one of the breakers had blown, but he doesn't know which without a volt meter. A half hour later, Ed shows up with a volt meter. We'd thrown a breaker at the tower, and then a fuse in the electrical panel on the boat. All told, power wasn't restored until almost 2.

The poor pedestrians. They were an elderly couple and their adult daughter. The daughter was a knitter, and loved my pile of projects, knitted things and socks on my feet. We talked yarn for a bit. The dad used to build custom motorcycles and wanted to jump in the work boat to help us, but were as clueless as we were. The poor mom! She probably will never go on a boat again in her whole life. She was utterly terrified. I felt so bad for her. When the boat was in motion, she grabbed onto anything she could and hung on for dear life. I almost thought she was going to kiss the ground when we got her to the proper side. Really though, they were wonderful sports about it all. The daughter was up visiting from Phoenix and they were intending to go to the coast today.

So that's my tale. I learned a ton. I'm way more comfortable with the work boat. I think primarily, I learned that I tend to flail about a bit in emergencies, and I just move too fast. I was doing all the right stuff, but I was just moving too fast. If I'd slowed down, I would have noticed that I hooked the gas can up wrong. Stuff like that. V said at one point, "You've got all the knowledge. I just needed to slow you down enough to extract it." He's a good guy.

I'm up and running now. No further problems. The boss did suggest that for the remainder of the day, whenever I don't have cars, park the boat on the east side. That side is more convenient for the county (it's our side of the river), plus it's where my own car is parked. Good point. I'm parked there now.

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