While Maya is our home on the water, our dinghy would be akin to the family car. One rarely considers what a luxury it is to have a readily available mode of transportation until its unavailable. While at anchor, without our dinghy we would be stranded onboard Maya, unable to get to shore.
Sometimes its just a short 50 yard jaunt from Maya over to a nearby beach. Depending on where we are anchored, it could also be a several mile hike. We like to anchor as close to the shore as possible, however because of the water depths its sometimes not possible. The dinghy gives us the flexibility to move about wherever we happened to be parked.
We found ourselves at a beautiful spot near Staniel Cay called Big Majors. In my mind, this is the epitome of what cruising the in the Exumas is all about. Pristine beaches, clear blue waters and expansive views all around. Staniel Cay is a popular spot for boaters as well. It is a small community that boasts a grocery, marina and wonderful restaurant and bar. We were able to access the internet, catch up on ESPN and have a beer, all at the bar. It was really heaven on earth.
The only downside to Staniel Cay is that the anchorage at Big Major is about three miles away. That meant that each time we wanted to go from Maya to the small town, we had about a 15 minute dinghy ride. On top of that, the course to the marina where we tie up is exposed to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. That is no problem when the water is calm, but on a rough day (and we had a lot of those) it is no fun.
One morning after a two day maelstrom of thunderstorms, I found myself with a bad case of cabin fever. We had been couped up on the boat for a long time and I needed to get off. I decided to take the dinghy into the marina at Staniel Cay to get on the internet and catch up on our emails. Because of the copious amount of rain we had experienced, there was about 5 inches of water in the dingy. It really rained hard! It took only a few minutes to bail out the water and I was on my way. The winds were a little stiff causing the waves to really bounce me around. I had to slow way down in order to keep the dinghy and me from getting beat up. But, I was determined to get ashore and I eventually made it in.
I spent a couple of hours on the web, checking weather and generally just milling around. I really like these very small villages. Life really slows down to a more manageable pace. Soon though, I figured that Kim was wondering where I was and being that it was nearing happy hour, I decided to head back to Maya.
I got into the dinghy and started to make my way across the three mile stretch between the marina and our 'mother ship'. I was about a mile offshore from the marina when suddenly the dinghy motor just quit. I mean it just died. No running rough, no coughs and spurts. It just got real quiet, real quick.
Generally when an engine is running and then suddenly dies, its a fuel issue. Once you get them started, engines like to run and run... and they will unless there is a problem with the gas. So, my first course of action was to check the fuel. The tank was over half full so I knew I hadn't run out. I checked the fuel line to make sure there were no kinks or leaks and there were none. I was running out of ideas. I took the cover off the engine to ensure that no fuel lines were leaking or that perhaps the fuel filter was clogged, but all looked okay. Hmmmm.
So I sat down for a minute to contemplate my options. As I looked towards the shore, I noticed that the wind and current had taken me farther away from land. In the short amount of time I was working on the fuel problem, I had probably drifted another half mile away from where I wanted to be. Not good. So, I did what I probably should have done from the beginning and dropped the anchor. No sense it getting farther away, right? Well, the water I was in at that moment was about 20 feet deep and my anchor line is about 15 feet long. That wasn't going to work. I decided that maybe if I kept trying to start the engine, it might catch and I could limp back to shore.
So for the next 15 minutes, I pulled on the start cord like there was no tomorrow. (and I was beginning to think that there may not be). It wouldn't start. Meanwhile I was still drifting away from land. Now normally we carry some flares and a handheld radio when we are on the dinghy, just for emergencies like this. However, because of the several days of storms we had just experienced, I had taken them inside Maya to keep them dry. I forgot to put them back on the dinghy before I launched that day. Duh!
The only thing I could find that could be of some help was Kim's plastic rain poncho. We keep those on the dinghy in case we run into a rain shower or the waters are so choppy that the water sprays up into the boat. Luckily hers is bright red. So, I stood up in the dinghy and started waving her red poncho hoping to catch someone's attention before I floated further out to sea.
As it turns out, a fellow boater had been sitting on his back deck enjoying his afternoon tea when he noticed my signal. He jumped in his dinghy and headed out in my direction. I explained my situation to him and he was glad to help. He tried to get my engine started by after a few minutes of pulling on the start cord, he gave up too. We decided to tow the dinghy back to the marina. We got the two boats tied together and readied ourselves for the short trip in. However, when he went to start his engine, it wouldn't start either! What was going on here? Bermuda triangle?
Another alert boater also happened to be watching this all unfold and got into his dinghy to see what was up. He arrived on the scene and we told him not to shut down his motor! Anyway, to make a long story short, he towed us both into shore where we could at least sort this out on dry land. I borrowed the radio at the bar to let Kim know what was going on. She contacted Stephen aboard Tides In (one of our Bahama Bums sister ships) and he brought his dinghy into the marina to help me out. We both knew it had to be some kind of fuel issue but we didn't know what. He towed me all the way back to Maya where we could at least take our time and get the thing fixed.
The rest of our flotilla (about seven boats in all) had been monitoring the radio since I had made the call to Kim to explain the situation. As it turns out, we had a lot of small engine experts to draw upon to get the thing running again. We towed the dinghy over to the beach where we all could work on it. Within 30 minutes, the diagnosis was clear. There was water in the fuel.
What we think happened was that during the previous days rains, water had leaked in and around some of the rubber seals on the fuel tank. Eventually it got picked up by the fuel line intake and sucked into the engine. Anyway, we dismantled the fuel system and dried everything out. We changed the plugs and hooked up a new fuel tank and it started up on the first pull. Woohoo! Back in action.
Thank goodness for the help of perfect strangers and the crews on our traveling companion's boats. Without them, I might be still floating, somewhere near Cuba, most likely. After a long and trying day, we needed a break. I went back and got Kim and we headed to the beach for some R & R. We didn't go far though. I wanted to be close enough where I could swim back.... if I had to.