Tuesday morning July 24, 2012
The marine forecast doesn’t look good. There is small craft warnings and 3 to 5 foot seas. The sunny blue sky to the East, that warmed my soul for morning coffee, is very quickly being overtaken by storm clouds that present themselves as a study in dramatic shades of gray. I need to carefully consider my decision to leave the safety of Provincetown Harbor for Wellfleet Harbor, a two hour trip. I think we should give it a try, reasoning that we can always turn back if the conditions prove to be too rough. I inform the marina of our intentions and we head off.
Not long after rounding Long Point we encounter high winds and waves large enough to wash over the foredeck.
“Gotta turn back Hon,” I say apologetically. I radio the marina.
“It’s much better to be safe. You can have the same mooring.” Was the reassuring reply.
After about an hour, the sky brightens and we consider another try for Wellfleet. On my phone I check the detailed marine forecast. Still 3 to 5 foot sees but with diminishing winds. Tomorrow and the next day will be 4 to 7 foot waves and high winds. It’s now or never.
” PTOWN MOORING, PTOWN MOORING. THIS IS MOTOR VESSEL GINGER LEE. I’M SEEING A SMALL WEATHER WINDOW HERE AND WILL GIVE IT ANOTHER TRY SHORTLY. I’LL KEEP YOU INFORMED. THANKS FOR EVERYTHING. GINGER LEE OUT.”
“COPY THAT GINGER LEE. SAFE PASSAGE. OVER AND OUT.”
Once again we round Long point. The seas are still running 3 to 5 five but they are no longer crashing over the bow. I favor our course strong to the west to ease the effect of the waves rolling in on our starboard bow, all the while working the rudders to keep the boat as level as possible. I’ve driven through worse, but conditions like this are never pleasant. After about an hour the sea is slightly calmer; occasionally throwing a five footer at us.
By the time we reach the Billingsgate Shoal, we are in two foot seas and the Sun is peeking through the clouds. The worst seems to be over!
We watch our depth fluctuate from 40 feet to sometimes 4 feet as we pass over this massive shoal and into the Wellfleet Harbor approach. My chart warns me that the channel and the aids to navigation are subject to frequent changes. Directly to port, Billingsgate Island, which is normally covered at high tide, is showing itself as we round nuns “6” and “8”. My chart is showing the next marker, R10, is directly to the North and slightly more than a mile away. It is fairly clear today but neither one of us can see it with binoculars.
“They must have moved it,” I say.Susan dons a PFD and walks out to the foredeck with our most powerful Nikon binoculars.
“I got it. North, northwest,” she says and points directly at it.
“I see it Hon.” I say and aim Ginger lee toward the nun. On my chart, the area between can “11” and can “15” seem to be the most critical. It’s a thin, dredged channel with 1 foot depths on either side.
Tuesday 12 noon Wellfleet Ma.
“Rick, take a look at this.” Susan says. The temperature gauge for the starboard engine is creeping steadily toward the 220 mark. I lean over the transom and see that no water is coming out of the exhaust.
“Let’s shut it down.” I say “We can cruise into the Harbor on one engine.” Fortunately, the Harbormaster is cruising by in an old Boston Whaler. We flag him down and he leads us to our directly to our mooring.
“It could be a bad impeller.” I say.
“Or a blocked intake.” Susan suggests
“It’s got to be one or the other. There’s not much else going on there.” On a Lehman 120 diesel engine, changing the impeller takes about three minutes and the only tool needed is a flat head screwdriver. The only problem is, I don’t have a spare. We check in with the Harbormaster and he suggests we try Wellfleet Marine Corp., a boatyard down the street. He points to a large old salt-box with weathered cedar shingles and the word “Lobsters” painted on the side in huge white letters.
The Welfleet Marine Corp. has a large presence here. We’re talkin’ fuel dock, boat rental, harbor launch, fish market, lobster pound, gift shop, and marine repair. It’s obviously a family owned business because all the guys look alike; they’re all large with full bushy beards and reddish curly hair. They even walk with a similar, arm hanging, loping stride. We dub them “The Bear Brothers.” The first one I encounter is manning the boat rental shed. He’s wearing a big straw farmers hat like one of the Berenstain Bears from the famous children’s book. I ask about the impeller and he also points to the lobster house.
“Year, make and model will help.” Is all he says.
“I can do better than that,” I say. “I have the part number!”
Behind the lobster house is a large barn with a big canvas tarp for a door. Used boat parts are everywhere, loosely arranged in great piles. Hundreds of old outboards with missing parts hang on saw horses. Aging runabouts, sailing dinghies, and prams line the perimeter, all in various stages of disrepair. Three large bears are working on a tri-hull skiff and completely ignore me as walk right up to them.
“The Harbormaster said you might be able to help me.” I say–no response for an uncomfortable twenty seconds–finally, the bear with the palest blue eyes I have ever seen on a human being, speaks.
“What ‘cha need?” he rumbled.
“impeller,” I say, proud of the fact that I manage to use fewer words than him. I hold up the packaging from the old impeller that I saved because it had the part number on it. Saying nothing more, he took the packaging, loped off to the barn, tied the canvas door open, and entered.
Inside the barn, as in the yard, parts are piled everywhere, but I have no doubt that this man knows exactly where everything is. It’s cool to watch him work, opening manual after manual, cross referencing part numbers, searching pigeon holes, going back to the manuals, searching more bins. After twenty minutes he has a brand new impeller in hand. He tells me I should save this packaging as well because it has a very important and more common Johnson part number cross referenced on it.
Never judge a book by its cover! I had the wrong idea about this man who turns out to be very nice and very well spoken. He asks what happened and I tell him about the overheating.
“What time was it?” he asks in a concerned tone.
“‘Bout noon” I say. He nods in understanding.
“Around here, we have this very sticky muck, we call it “Puppy Shit.” The oysters love it, but boats hate it. We have a 15 foot tide swing; you have be aware of the time because at low tide you could suck it in. Not only will it block your intake, it also acts as a lubricant, making the water pump useless.”
Across the parking lot, Susan is enjoying the shade of a large Elm. I wave her over.
“Honey! We got puppy shit!” I say as she approaches. The big man breaks into a hearty laugh and explains the phenomenon to her. He went on to tell us stories about it, boats being swallowed up by it, people getting stuck in it, dredging it by hand. Jeez! I like this guy! I wanna ask him over for a beer! We pay him his 28 bucks and thank him.
“Just glad I can help. C’mon back anytime.” He says.
Back at the wharf, the Berenstain bear with the straw hat asks me how I made out. I hold up the package with the new impeller.
“The blue-eyed guy came up with it” I beamed.
“Ya, he’s pretty good.” he says.
I count out five bucks for a couple bags of ice but he won’t take my money.
“Better see if your dinghy is floating. I don’t want to you to get back to your boat with two bags of water,” he says.
As it turns out, I had tied our dinghy “Salty” up on the wrong side of the dock, so it’s the only dinghy still floating, even the dock is sitting on mud. We stare up at 15 feet of blackened, slimy, barnacle encrusted sea wall and dock posts. Quite a tidal swing! For comparison, the tide swing in Wareham is usually only about 5 feet.
Back on board Ginger Lee our depth sounder reads one foot. Yikes! There is only one foot of water underneath the transducer that is mounted on the lowest part of the transom. Our propellers are in mud. Half the boats in the mooring field are sitting on the bottom. A large sailboat on the far end, is completely out of the water, its keel impaled into the muck.
In the engine compartment I check the impeller on Pollux, out port side engine. The darn thing looks almost new. Probably because it IS almost new! The rubber is still pliable, the metal hub is firmly attached. I have Susan turn over the engine while I watch the shaft and it rotates just fine.
“It’s looking good hon, we musta sucked in some of that muck, but I think I’ll wait ’till the tide comes up before starting the engine.”
Wednesday July 25, 2012, about noon
“Jeez! I think that kid’s in trouble!” I say looking out the starboard window. A young dude in an old 16 foot runabout is drifting by at a fairly good clip. The motor must have died because he is frantically trying to paddle against the strong current with what looks like a two by four. I stick two fingers in my mouth and whistle loudly.
“HEY! You need help?” I yell. He shakes his blond head vigorously in the affirmative.
“Be right there.” I say. I jump into our dinghy Salty, hit the electric starter and roar off to the rescue. The young man tosses me a line as I near.
“Where can I tow you,” I ask. He is very humble in his answer.
“Well, you can put me anywhere, but if you’re going near that blue fishing boat over there, it would be nice.”
“No problem son, blue fishing boat it is.” I say as I cleat off his line.
“Hey, do you like oysters?” he asks. Before I could answer–no, I’d rather eat sand– my oyster loving wife, who was within earshot, shouts a resounding “YES!” The young dude laughs. I laugh with him.
“Someone on your boat like ’em,” he says and hands me a net bag filled with three dozen live oysters.
Back on the boat, Susan whips up a spicy cocktail sauce and standing on the swim platform, deftly opens and devours every single one of them. She refers to this murderous rampage as “The Great Welfleet Oyster Massacre of 2012.”
Wellfleet Harbor is advertised as “One of the last and best examples of a small, New England fishing village.” I wholeheartedly agree. It’s all that and much more. At Macs, a restaurant right on the waterfront, we had the most delicious lunch of oysters on the half shell, fried scallops, and onion rings. In the quaint downtown area, we attended an old-fashioned farmers market, browsing through the local stands of bees-wax, pies, and fresh produce while a fiddler played 18th century seafaring tunes. We visited the most interesting museum at the Wellfleet Historical Society where you can actually touch most of the artifacts. We browsed gift shops and bought trinkets, a small cast iron whale for me, a string of fresh water pearls for her. At the town market, we found all the supplies we needed including a Wellfleet refrigerator magnet. The Harbormaster was helpful, friendly, and easy-going. The unavoidable Bear Brothers at Welfleet Marine Corp., may seem gruff at first, but will warm up to you after a while. We both agree this place is one of our favorites. We will back for sure.
Mooring rental: 2 nights @ $41/ night= $82.
Refrigerator magnet $2.99