The Columbus Flycatcher and the Miami Mauler…

…or the sequel to Lord of the Flies.

This morning we departed early from Belhaven as many boats were on the move.

Yes dear friends we were officially at war. The biting Yellow Flies or Deer Flies began their unprovoked attack early on. When we left Oriental we had 4 common houseflies as stowaways. They were irritating but no real danger to life or limb. I quickly dispatched all 4 and gave them an Osama burial at sea with little ceremony.

But a short while later when we entered a cut closer to land the Yellow Peril descended upon us in force. I tell you an invasion of Dacoits and Thugees would have been more welcome (see “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu”).

Once again I sprang forth and began trying to decimate their ranks. This was easier said than done because you do not get that big as a fly without being smart. Finally I nailed one. Now you probably think I am exaggerating about the size of these things so here is a photo exhibit 

Not very big you say. Well you would change your mind if you knew that was a one pound block of cheese beside him!

I immediately declared myself to be the Columbus Flycatcher alluding to my hometown of Columbus. Now do I sound like I am from Ohio?

Later Jan took over the job and earned the title Miami Mauler when she killed 3 in a row! You may wonder if you are a new reader just why we get so excited over mere flies. But if you are a regular you know the story if my violent reaction to a Yellow Fly bite in the Okeefenokee Swamp and on Cumberland Island. One does not want to be in need of a doctor out where we were yesterday. We stay well sprayed on the “flybridge”. How appropriately named. I wonder if that is where the term originated.

We traveled through a long cut called Goose Creek though we saw no geese. As we were about to enter the area I spotted a barge and tow coming and radioed for instructions since he had very little room at the exit. A sailboat was just in front of us. The tow asked if we would take it slow on approach and move to our port as far as we could get which was not very far. I offered to just hold outside until he cleared but then noticed two huge fast cruisers were coming up behind and forcing me to move forward or be hit. So committed we were as friend Yoda would say.

As the two of us eased over these idiots in their fast boats thought this was an invitation to pass and here they came blasting right between us and the tow. This was not good as we could get shoved not only out of the channel but into a field of crab pots. I grabbed the radio and announced we were in shallow water and I was moving over toward the tow thus putting the squeeze and the brakes on the fast boats. These were both brand new 70 to 80 footers being delivered by captains to the new owners. How do we know that you say? Well, owners generally do not act like this. Only people delivering boats for a fixed fee with someone else’s credit car for fuel drive like this. But they also know that it can cost them if they scratch one up so they got smart and slowed considerably but still kept coming and squeezed through. I could see the tow operator’s face glaring out the window at them.

Then they took off running as we continued to cruise. Miles later we came up on them as they had to slow to idle speed for a shrimp boat operation in the middle of nowhere under a bridge. But soon they were gone again and thankfully so. I did not even notice the name of the company that owned the docks. We would become better acquainted with this company later in the day.

Our plan was to come out the other side of the cut and cross the infamous Pamlico River and Sound on plane all the way to Belhaven. We got to the jumping off point around noon and up we went. Jan said she smelled something burning and so did I. Not just burning but frying. As I looked down at the temperature gauge the port engine high temp alarm went off and the engine either shut down or I hit the key first.

Jan took over as we maintained headway on one engine at slow speed and I dashed toward the engine room pausing only to stuff in my ear plugs. Down into the overheated confines to assess damage. Right away I saw the coolant recovery tank on the port side was boiling over through the vent and antifreeze was dripping down into the bilge. Well, we knew it was overheated, now why was it doing so. No way to tell while pitching in this chop so I put a bucket under the coolant reservoir and went back up and advised the Admiral of our situation and we discussed options.

We were barely out of the Goose Creek so the best option was to turn around and ease over to shallow water and drop an anchor. Then we would start the generator to maintain all power and I would begin trying to figure out what went wrong and effect repairs while Jan stood watch on anchor, wind and monitor the radio for other traffic.

I went ahead and set the AC on ice cold because in order to get to the port engine water pump and impeller I had to pull a wall panel in the guest stateroom and when I did all the engine heat would come flooding inside the boat so I wanted an icebox effect.

After turning off the seacock to the port engine I crawled across the bed and through the opening to the outside of the engine. God bless Bayliner designers for this setup. I can lay or sit on the outside of both engines and work. Most people have to wedge in and hang upside down and work by feel alone.

Anyway, I pulled the cover off the impeller housing and took a peek. The good news was that it was the impeller and not some more complicated operation like tearing down a heat exchanger. The rubber vanes were not torn like usually happens; they were shredded! The worst I have ever seen. Remember the grounding on a sandbar in the Medway River? This is what coarse sand running past a rubber impeller will do. It was fortuitous in a way because torn veins can go into smaller holes and clog them up causing overheating even with a new impeller in place, whereas a ground up impeller is likely to pass right on through. One of our grandsons knows what I am talking about here.

The bad news was that when I pulled it out, which is no mean feat, the key was gone except for a sliver about 3/4 of an inch long and the diameter of a 1/8th inch drill bit. Never saw anything like it. It is in the picture above just to the right and below the impeller. As Dr. Leon said before surgery about my blockage in the old widowmaker, “I don’t know how you were even walking around.” And I do not know how this thing had been cooling an engine for weeks. By the way, a key is a piece of square metal rod of varying size and length. The spinning pump shaft has half a keyway cut in it and the inside of the impeller has a matching keyway. Line them up and slide in the key and the impeller will now turn with the shaft. But how that sliver was locking the two together period I do not know. Problem was I had no spare key stock. I mean who but anally fixated people would carry such a thing? They last forever usually.

So now it was decision time. Do we keep going across big water with one prop freewheeling and chance overheating the transmission and losing the other engine to a similar problem or backtrack and try to find help? Remember the shrimp boat operation we passed 7 miles back? I went to the iPad which has Navionics installed and scanned the chart on Goose Creek for any icon representing that company. There it was right by the bridge so I tapped it and a name and number popped up, R. E. Mayo Seafood Company. I called and Dina answered the phone and upon hearing my trouble turned me over to Mark. All I wanted was someone who might be willing for a fee to drive me somewhere to get a key or material to make one. Mark said he had key stock of all sizes and to come on. I could tie up behind a shrimper. Hallelujah! Can I get an amen.

Up anchor and one hour later we were there. Docking was tricky on one engine to parallel park but the Admiral was up to the task even in a swift current. I had told her she would only have one shot. Nothing like pressure to bring out the best.

For $2 I bought enough key stock to make six keys at least. I felt bad taking up their time and Mark had mentioned they sold seafood. So we bought a hacksaw, T-shirt and a bag of flash frozen scallops. They had fresh but we needed to keep them several days. I already had a hacksaw but had used it earlier to cut something it was not in good shape so I figured why not get a better one. These good people had saved our bacon and I consider them angels on earth.

Back to the boat where I cut off a new key and filed the ends to a smooth taper. Within an hour we had installed the new impeller and dockside tested it. We were off again to Belhaven but now it is after four and we are 32 miles from Belhaven and have no idea where we are going. This called for throwing money, or in this case fuel, at the problem. Up on plane and 25mph all the way. Engines ran great. I was more concerned about the starboard one as that impeller could not be in good shape either. Jan wanted to know why I did not check it at the dock? Good question. Because I was not going to go tearing into my one for sure running engine when my repaired one might still fail when one of those missing rubber vanes clogs up a passageway in the engine. In other words if it ain’t broke…

They had the neatest outhouses we had ever seen.

All went well and upon arriving at Belhaven we headed to where we thought there were free city docks. There is a reason they are free. No power, no water and no water(depth) if you catch my drift.

A phone call raised Belhaven Waterway Marina. They were still there after five. I asked where were they located and the lady said turn hard to starboard and come on in. We just happened to be sitting in front of them. How convenient. I plan to write a separate blog about the restroom shrine at this marina. It was fascinating and a story of love and war and sacrifice unto itself. I ought to send it to the Readers Digest if they are still in business.

We rinsed the boat of all the salt and I went to work on checking the other engine while Jan went to work on supper. It was 9 pm by the time I saw a shower. Do you know that the starboard engine impeller was shredded too? How that engine ran 2500 rpm’s and never overheated I do not know. Someone is looking out for us for sure.