Moby Dick Marina, Fairhaven Massachusetts.
It’s early morning; the sun is gorgeous; the wind is calm; the seas are flat. As part of a long-standing good-luck tradition, I place a quarter between the feet of the gull statue that guards the docks, then head down the gangway to our boat, Ginger Lee. The XO is already rolling up the isinglass curtains in preparation of our annual cruise to our home port in Wareham.
It’s not just the first cruise of the season, this is the shakedown cruise, where we find out if anything is wrong with any of the boat’s systems. Obviously, there is nothing major going on, she’s still floating, but there are a few relatively minor problems. First of all, our new aft deck rug, which we had custom cut and bound, is the wrong size. A quick check of the receipt reveals that it’s the rug company’s fault and thankfully not ours. Okay, so we’ll just return it for the correct size. Next, the depth sounder wont turn on. Bummer. I open the access panel to the gauge cluster and discover a corroded connection which I quickly fix. Not unusual on a boat. Undeterred, I fire up the engines one at a time. Huh, that’s odd. The starboard engine alarm is blaring but all the gauges are normal. After awhile it quiets down and then shuts off. I know that alarm is connected to the oil pressure sender. I make a note to replace it or check the wiring. On to the next problem.
The voltage gauges are only reading 12.5 volts. They should be showing somewhere around 14 volts with the engines running. I may have to replace one or both alternators, or maybe the connections are a little funky. Not really a big deal right now, because unlike gasoline engines, diesel engines don’t have an ignition system and therefore need no electricity to keep them running. They only need power to start them. Once started, they’ll run until they run out of fuel, break, or are shut off. We’re still good to go. Next problem please.
The port engine water temperature gauge is fluctuating between normal and zero. I recall recently messing around with the sender connections while adjusting the fan belt. I make yet another note to tighten them up. Finally we’re off.
The XO remains on the deck to stow the fenders and dock lines. I see she’s very concerned about the shallow water. Apparently the bottom is quite visible. My depth sounder reads 2.6 feet. So yeah, I confirm the shallow water sighting. I slow down and hug the docks and soon we have 4 feet of water under us. Typical low tide hijinks at Moby Dick. Never a dull moment!
I call the New Bedford bridge to ask when they will open and quickly discover our main radio isn’t working. I switch to the secondary radio and get an immediate response. Good thing I’m big on redundant systems! My to-do list is growing.
We slip past the bridge and enter a fairly busy New Bedford Harbor. Fishing boats, both private and commercial are underway on this nice day. Ferries and rowing club longboats are everywhere as well, all heading towards the narrow opening of the Hurricane Barrier.
Once clear of the harbor traffic, we set a course for home, more or less hugging the coastline. I’ve never seen seas so flat in this area, and as any boater knows, the wave height is everything. The XO knocks on wood at our good fortune. I follow suit.
On the marine radio, we listen intently to a boater calling for help. He’s lost steerage in the turbulent Woods Hole Cut, not far from our position.
“Not a great place to lose rudder,” I comment.
“I don’t like The Woods Hole Cut,” the XO says.
“Nobody likes The Woods Hole Cut,” I say, nodding my head in respect.
The Coast guard answers his plea almost immediately.
“Vessel calling Coast Guard. What is the nature of your distress? Over.”
“I think we hit a rock. I have no rudder,” the Captain answers in a surprisingly calm manner.
“Vessel in distress. How many people on board? Are there any children on board? Name and description of your boat. Over.”
“Four adults. 40 foot power boat. Black and white hull,” the same calm voice replies.
“Please have everyone put on their life jackets. Over.”
Suddenly, the Tow Boat US joins the conversation. These guys are one of the two organizations who make a living out of rescuing boaters. The other is SeaTow. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy job, but one that deserves recognition. The former is quickly on scene and assisting, demonstrating the most important purpose of the marine band radio, which is: everyone within range can hear you. Everyone can potentially save your ass! But in this area, 9 times out of 10, if you’re a boater who needs help, Tow Boat U.S. makes the save. For a mere 150 bucks a year, they will tow your disabled boat anywhere. It’s like AAA on the water, except they will help you even if you’re not a member. It won’t be free, but they will help you.
We take a left at Bird Island Light and cruise into familiar waters. It may as well be the Caribbean, because right now, there is nothing more beautiful than our home port of Swifts Neck, Wareham, Massachusetts.