I'm Matt, a software engineer and boating enthusiast based in Washington State (but on the move). I started Hermit Cove Boats, offering cool skin and frame boat plans and kits. Check it out!
It was a long night, and we slept late. We awoke to a knock on the hull. Jay, the captain of Simplicity, was heading to Ucluelet and wondered if we wanted a ride? Well, yes! We hurried into our foul weather gear, put toothbrush and underwear into a dry bag, grabbed the starter motor and headed out. It was a rough ride. The storm had kicked up steep 6 foot breaking seas between the islands and Ucluelet. The boat and crew, including Jay’s wife Shi and 9 year old son Nick, handled the conditions beautifully. Nick was impressive, making plans, considering risk, and had eagle eyes for finding ships in the fog. Still, with such rough seas and rocks everywhere, we all spent a lot of time looking at the chartplotter. Ucluelet was a welcome port. Jay gave us a ride in the dinghy to the diesel mechanic and we dropped off our starter.
We looked for a place for the night. A fancy resort had a cancellation. We stayed at the He-Tin-Kis Lodge. What a change of pace! From the confines of our non-working boat to a modern luxury suite. It was dubbed an early birthday present for Kristin. We used a lot of hot water.
In town we found our friends from Wondertime. “You guys wouldn’t be headed to Effingham Bay anytime soon would you?“ ”Sure, we’ll head there!” We were in luck, helpful people all around, and by the next morning the mechanic had our starter motor for us. We grilled him: “So, why should it be fixed now, when so often in the past it seemed fixed but then failed again?”. The glib reply “The last guy did it wrong”. Well, ok. Here we go again, back out to the islands.
Wondertime dropped us off and invited us over for dinner. We put bread in the oven and I set about trying the repaired starter motor. Grr, click. Shit. Click. I tried advancing it, and again, Grr, Click. I tried energizing it while holding it down with my foot. It would spin freely but once it was placed under load it would seize up. We delivered the sad news to Wondertime, but had a lovely meal anyway. The next morning the whole crew of Wondertime came over to crawl over the boat while Michael and I beat the dead horse that was our starter motor. The engine turned freely. There was no water in the oil. The flywheel turned freely. My batteries were essentially at 100% charge. It had to be a bad starter motor. I called the mechanic in Ucluelet. It can’t be the starter motor, it looks too good. “Well, what is it then?“ Water in the engine? ”No”. Weak batteries? ”No”. Well, bring your boat in and I will check it out.
Now a tow costs a lot of money. This is true for several reasons. Often the boat needing a tow is stuck in bad weather; and the property, sometimes in the form of a megayacht, is on the line. An expensive business to insure… But also, the person needing a tow has money and no where else to turn. So you can charge them whatever you want. We didn’t want a tow.
We have a sailboat right? Let’s just sail to Ucluelet. The dominant wind pattern in the area is heavy NW winds in the afternoon, followed by calm nights. Ucluelet was NW of us, with countless reefs and islands between us. It would be a challenge. Ever helpful, Michael of Wondertime lashed his dinghy to the side of our boat and towed us into clear water. We set out between Verbeke reef and a nameless island and into the open ocean. Over 5 miles out we tacked back towards Ucluelet. We were safe in clear water but now our course was back towards the rocks. It was taking longer than we expected. Our boat doesn’t point into the wind worth a damn. We would end up shy of our goal and amongst rocks when the wind died. We had 2 choices: sail south for the U.S., or return to Effingham Bay while we still had wind. We opted for the latter.
Our return trip took us back between that island and Verbeke reef. It was blowing 25 knots all afternoon and the waves were bigger than when we left. When they passed under our boat they would block the view of the islands ahead. They crashed over reefs, submerging them in foam. We crossed a pod of Grey Whales feeding offshore. It was our first view of Greys on the trip, with their barnacled faces. No time to play now, we’ve got to get to safety. Soon we were past the rocks and reefs and headed for Effingham Bay. Behind us the most vibrant sunset I have ever seen was playing out. It might have been an incredible day sail, but for us it felt like a struggle for survival. Its hard to enjoy a struggle like that, no matter how beautiful. The wind finally failed us a few hundred yards from the bay. Our heroes from Wondertime answered our hail and came out to tow us that last bit. Michael said not to worry, Lin and Larry Pardey get towed in all the time. Sure, but I bet they can sail to windward a hell of a lot better than we can.
Sailing was a crazy idea, and the next best one was to order a new starter motor and get it to our boat from Ucluelet somehow. I called the mechanic and asked him to order a new motor. He didn’t think that was the problem. I didn’t care. I can always use a spare. We were nervous. The calendar was running out. Would we be able to get to San Francisco after all? Was a dreary Puget Sound winter in our future?
The mechanic didn’t get back to me. I called him. Twice. By the next day he said he couldn’t find a replacement. I had already done a search on the Kindle (thank god for 3G service in Effingham Bay!). Try it yourself. Lets say you have a Lucas 26163F starter motor for a Westerbeke 4-107 and need it replaced. Yeah, it took me all of 10 seconds to find one. I asked the mechanic if I could have a motor shipped to his address. Ok, but I don’t think your starter is your problem. Fine. Bye.
It would be 4 days before the starter arrived. We pulled the Klepper out of the stern lazerette and assembled it. Stuck kayaking the Broken Group? Another marvelous predicament.