10/10/11 The Journey of the Laeta

October 10th, 2011
West Lafayette, IN

Wait? You might be thinking, Isn’t she supposed to be in some exotic Canadian port by now? And that is the crux of the tale I have to tell.

There is something to be said for grand plans and even grander failures, you never leave their experience empty handed, even if the hand is full only of bitter disappointment and learned lessons.

Yes, our grand project, our trip to Lake Erie via the St. Lawrence Seaway and Lake Ontario has been postponed indefinitely. Yes, we are back in Indiana after only three days, 32 hours of which was spent driving in the car. It’s not really as bad as it sounds.

We left West Lafayette at around 5 pm on Friday and arrived in Vermont on Saturday morning at 11 am, full of vigor and excitement….okay maybe not so much, but can you blame us after 16 hours of driving? Still, we went to work right away loading up the boat. It was immediately evident to me that we had a lot more stuff that was original to the boat than we needed. There are gold colored life jackets that I swear are 40 years old, about 7 huge sail bags, at least 3 sets of full heavy weather gear, spare parts for almost everything, dinnerware and silverware, battens and awnings and a disassembled bimini, and probably 6 fire extinguishers.

There were also some unexpected things missing. We couldn’t find the water holding tank intake for the longest time (it ended up being under the forward V-berth…we think) and we have, as yet, not been able to find the shore power outlet, which is a very unhappy thing. A shore power outlet allows you to hook up to a the city grid and get electricity without running the motor to charge the batteries. We have a very large shore power cable, but no shore power outlet, so far as we’ve seen. Very strange.

Anyway, we unloaded a lot of the big stuff, the bags of life jackets and sails and put them on the Van that we rented to get us out there. Did I mention that Jerry ended up deciding not to go on the first leg of the trip with us? He drove us out there, and was going to drive straight back, a very selfless act.

Then we loaded up the boat with all of our gear: about $150 worth of newly purchased food, bedding, clothing, pots and pans, propane stove, and our laptops so we would be able to work from the boat (the condition that allowed us to get so many days off of work on such short notice…and also we don’t have many vacation days saved up). We got all of it on there.

Then we started up the boat and drove it to the fuel dock. It motored fine, only required a few tries to get it started, which is understandable considering it is a 40-year-old motor which has been sitting idle for a season. Wolf was worried about docking, so I took over and had no problems. We filled her up, but discovered we only needed about a quarter of a tank to top her off. We also filled two 5-gallon gas cans that we planned to keep in the cockpit so we would be able to go farther without refueling.

Our other crew member, Chris Hartman climbed aboard, and around noon we bid Jerry good bye, and we started out.

It was glorious. Everything I hoped it would be. It was a bit windy and the lake was a bit rough, but I was only slightly seasick so I took some Dramamine and offered to drive the boat, which dispelled the discomfort and allowed me to enjoy the beautiful Vermont fall day. The temperature was in the high 70s, there was a slight following wind and nary a cloud in the sky. If we had had the sails up we would have been on a run. You could not ask for better weather.

Chris and Wolf continued to stow things below deck and I continued to enjoy the beautiful day (it’s good to be the captain). We were living the dream! We were actually motoring our boat to the Canadian border to…and then the engine sputtered. I imagined it, I must have. But then it happened again.

“Well, that doesn’t sound too good,” I said to Wolf.

“Take the throttle down a bit, maybe water is getting in the exhaust because you’re going to fast,” he suggested. I was only going 8 knots, but I tried it. We went on for a while longer.

Then the engine paused. “I’m really not comfortable with that sound,” I said. The engine gurgled and stopped. We rocked in silence on the waves. It was at that moment that I saw the dream slowly crumbling around our ears…or sinking you might say.

No, we weren’t sinking, but we were dead in the water. We got the engine going again – it’s really an easy process, make sure everything is set to neutral, turn a knob, and push a button – and managed to turn the boat around. It died again almost immediately.

I’m afraid we sort of panicked. Not extreme panic. We didn’t break out the life jackets or start screaming at each other. I told Wolf, very calmly, that he needed to call his dad, Jerry, who was on his way back to Indiana with our only mode of land transportation, to turn around and come back. Jerry agreed to head back to the marina.

And then we decided to call the marina. We reached them, but they said they had no towing vessel. Okay. Wolf very calmly turned our radio to the public channel and called, very politely (“This is Laeta, this is Laeta calling friendly vessels. Our motor has stopped and we request a tow, over.”), for any boats in the vicinity to give us a tow.

We waited. When you are rolling on two foot swells and you are worried because your engine is not working, ten minutes seems a lot longer than it actually is. We waited about that long. Then we decided to call the coast guard on the dreaded channel 16.

Wolf, a laugh of shame lacing his voice: “Coast Guard, Coast Guard this is Laeta, this is Laeta. Our engine has died and we request a tow, over.”

Thankfully, the Coast Guard responded over the radio fairly quickly. They asked us where we were, how many people were aboard, if everyone was okay, if we were in any immediate danger…and then they told us to call the marina and to broadcast a call for a tow to nearby boats. Okay.

Actually this probably was fortuitous and most likely decreased our shame in the long run. We did not get towed back to the marina by the Coast Guard or any other vessel. We managed to get the engine going again and limp back to the marina at 2 knots. For some reason anything 4 knots and up seemed to distress the engine and cause it to stop.

It took us an hour to get out and about three hours to get back. The marina had closed, the mechanic gone home for the night. We tied the Laeta up at the fuel dock, disembarked, and went with Jerry and the van to grab some burgers at Archies (a really great place, I might add. If you are ever in the Burlington area, look it up).

More to follow, on the tale of our Three Hour Tour…

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