An unexpected gremlin sneaks into our plans, but we still enjoy ourselves. (Four Photographs)
|Date:||Thursday August 2, 2001|
|Weather:||Fog and Mist|
|Destination:||Byng Inlet, Ontario|
|Distance:||65 miles by Small Craft Route|
The fair weather that we have been enjoying has momentarily left this morning, replaced by fog and mist. I am confident that once the sun comes up a bit higher and a little breeze blows in from the lake, the fog will clear and we'll have no problem navigating. We relax most of the morning, only finally getting underway about 11:00 a.m. First stop, as always, is for more gas. I add just enough expensive gasoline ($2.20-US/gallon) at the Sportsman Inn fuel dock to ensure that I can make it down to Britt tomorrow, where the fuel sells for 60-cents-US/gallon less.
Around eleven-thirty we depart for Collins Inlet in the fog. The lake is calm, and once we turn east at Red Rock Point we are enveloped in the mist. Our three boats run parallel courses abreast, this way we are more likely to spot the entrance buoys at the inlet. Larry is piloting with GPS assistance; I'm just running on a compass course. A couple of westbound sail boats materialize in the fog ahead--we must be on the right track as they surely just left Collins Inlet. As the knot-log ticks off the distance, the entrance buoy appears out of the mist right on schedule.
Inside the inlet, the fog lifts a bit and we can easily run up the still water. We enjoy the quick trip along the rugged shores, stopping about ten miles up at Mill Lake for a brief gam about 11:30 a.m.
Into the Mists
The gorge passage up Collins Inlet had just enough visibility to run at speed. We are approaching noon but still in mist. Classic Whaler hull design in evidence here. Technical note: compare the relative size of 19 and 25 foot hulls.
In a Fog
Cruising up the dead calm water of Collins Inlet in a lifting fog, our Whalers make a pretty picture. A few miles ahead things are about to turn sour.
While we are drifting together in Mill Lake, I notice that my starboard engine has died. I try restarting. No luck. The engine shows no sign of life. The darn thing was just running fine, and now it won't start. This is a problem. I had just changed the spark plugs in the other engine yesterday--they were getting pretty fouled--and I have noticed since how much easier that one starts. Maybe the plugs are finally too wet to fire in the starboard engine.
Drifting in the calm of Mill Lake, I quickly change the three plugs in the starboard engine. Still no sign of life. The thing refuses to start. Now we are in a dilemma. On a single engine the boat cannot get up on plane, which means a long, slow boat ride to where ever we decide to go.
"Let me see how fast I can go with just one engine," I holler to the other guys.
We discover that with just 70 HP available, we can get the boat up to displacement hull speed, about 6 MPH, and not much more. You can go faster, but it produces a terrible wake and causes the engine to sound like it is going to hemorrhage.
Our destination today, Britt, is about 40 miles to the southeast. We toss some numbers around, computing how long it will take us to get there. We've made many long passages in our sailboat at speeds like that. We have to decide what to do: continue on or return to Killarney
There are a number of factors in this decision. Killarney is only fifteen miles away, but if we cannot repair the engine and are forced to leave the boat there we will really be in a fix. Killarney is next to impossible to reach by road, an extra 200 miles of driving north from Britt. We'd have to rent a car, drive to Midland, come back with our truck and trailer, and then repeat the drive south again. It would be an awful end to what has been a delightful cruise.
Going to Britt is a better plan, I think, because there we could try to fix the engine, and if unsuccessful our trailer in Midland is a much shorter distance away.
I start up the port engine and set off down Collins Inlet at 6.5 MPH. We get about 100 yards away, when I realize, as boaters, we have changed. We do not feel at all at ease loping along at this speed, and the thought of eight hours of it seems intolerable. I turn around and announce we are going back. It is just past one o'clock.
Larry Goltz goes aboard MEMORY, and he and Jim take off at full speed for Kilarney, planning to find an outboard engine mechanic for us and to arrange for overnight docking for our three boats. Larry (LCG) sheppards us back on WHALE LURE.
Heading back at slow displacement speed on one engine, we got to enjoy the scenery of Collins Inlet for a third time. A little light leaking into the camera's film compartment adds some interesting but unnatural color to this view.
The weather clears as we head west again on Collins Inlet, the sun coming out bright and the day a beautiful clear blue. At least that is improving. It takes us about two hours to reach Killarney, and about 3:20 p.m. we are making the dock at Gateway Marina. Harbourmaster Fred has very kindly found us enough space to tie up for the night, although it requires that we lift our engines and glide over a one-foot shoal. He stands on the dock to catch our bow as we coast in.
We get the boat tied up along side the pier, taking up the spot where Fred normally keeps his rental boats--they're all out at the moment.
About 4 o'clock the mechanic arrives, a sharp young fellow who works for the auto shop a block or two up from the river. In a small town like Killarney, their mechanics also work on marine engines and outboards, too.
We get the cowlings off the engines and start looking for the problem. A spark tester confirms: no trace of spark on the starboard engine. There are two likely causes, either a bad ignition module or a bad stator coil. The mechanic proposes swapping ignition modules between the engines to test them.
"Let's put the suspect ignition module on the good engine, rather than the other way around," I say. That way we won't damage the good module by putting it in the bad engine. Working together, we remove the ignition modules from the two engines and attach the possibly bad one to the known good engine. I go to the helm to try to start it.
The port engine, equipped with the starboard engine's ignition module, fires right up and runs perfectly. This is both good and bad news. It means the problem is not the ignition module. That is good. But it leaves as the only other candidate for repair the stator coil. That is a problem.
The stator coil, if bad, cannot be replaced with the boat in the water. We'll have to haul it up the their shop--they have a special "universal" boat trailer--and they'll work on it there. Then there is the question of finding a replacement part. The nearest dealer is in Sudbury, about 150 miles away by car. If they don't have the part, it might take 3-5 days for it to be sent in. Things are not looking good.
The young mechanic, just out of school and first in his class at the 2-year vocational college where he majored in marine engines, is running down a mental list of some other possibilities, besides this ugly stator replacement option, when suddenly something he says about "bad neutral safety switch" gives me an idea.
I turn to look closely at the engine remote controls, and I see the problem instantly. I lean forward and replace the safety lanyard switch, which after several hundred miles of banging around in the boat had chosen that moment at Mill Lake to just slip out.
We install the ignition module from the port engine onto the starboard engine and give her a crank. She fires right up. Problem solved.
There is joy on CONTINUOUSWAVE! We can continue the cruise. There was nothing really wrong with the engine. It is running again, as reliable as ever. There are no expensive rides to Midland and back with the trailer, no leaving the boat behind and getting it in a month, no ugly repairs in the small town auto shop, none of that. We are back on vacation, the boat is running great, the weather is beautiful, and as a bonus, we are staying an extra night in Killarney, the nicest little town on Georgian Bay.
There is the little problem of paying the mechanic. The young fellow is a bit disarmed by the fact that he overlooked the most obvious solution to the problem, and allows that were it up to him, he wouldn't even charge me for the house call. However, he does work for another fellow who owns the shop, so we'll have to go see him to get the final figures on the cost of this "repair."
I hop in his pickup truck--which ironically runs rough as hell and bucks a bit as he releases the clutch--and we drive three blocks up the road away from the water to the shop. The owner dings me one hour of labor, which when reduced by the currency conversion comes in at less than $50. Considering all the other potential expenses this problem could have generated, $50 seems like a bargain to get it resolved. I hand over my VISA card. The bill settled, the kid drives me back to the boat. I give him a five buck tip for the taxi service--my mood is that good about this outcome!
Deprived of our daily 70 mile dose of boating, Larry insists we go out for a short cruise. It will also give me a chance to test the engines. At 5:30 p.m. we slip the lines, give our boat a big shove (to clear the giant rock shoal that almost protrudes from the water in the center of the marina's harbor), and head out for a circumnaviation of George Island.
The engines are running fine, just as they had been and perhaps a bit better with all the new spark plugs. I should have changed them before the trip, but it was one of those things on the list that did not get done. The big lake is delightfully calm tonight, and we enjoy our sunset cruise.
After our evening run I stop at the fuel dock to top off my tank. With the thirty miles out and back to Mill Lake and about ten more on this little jaunt, I am down to an indicated 1/4-TANK on the gauge. (Unfortunately I have omitted the knot-log reading, probably subconsciously not wanting to discover the true fuel economy) Watching the gauge rise, I learn the following characteristics of its calibration:
1/4-TANK to 1/2-TANK = 14.4 gallons 1/2-TANK to 5/8-TANK = 9 gallons 5/8-TANK to 3/4-TANK = 9 gallons
In all I add 122 liters at $0.899/liter, or $72.40-US for 32.5 gallons, at $2.22-US/gallon. That should be enough to get us down the lake tomorrow.
Back at Gateway Marina, Fred's fishing fleet is back, and he has re-arranged the docking assignments so now we can stay in some deeper slips with finger piers. His kindness is very appreciated. We put CONTINUOUSWAVE to bed for the night, and get ready for dinner.
The forward shelter on the 25-Outrage rigs quickly thanks to a great design by canvas maker Wm. J. Mills & Co. Here Larry Goltz tensions the drawstring that secures the frame to a small cleat on the gunwale.
We had such fun at the Killarney Mountain Lodge yesterday that it is the unanimous choice for dinner again tonight. We reprise our evening, having another excellent meal, and ending up in the Carousel Lounge for a couple of sets of songs. Several of the same crowd from last night are there again, including one particulary animated (and intoxicated) woman who proves quite entertaining.
"You know," I say to my fellow Boston Whaler mates, "if we had to end up spending an extra night in any town along the shore, this is the best place to spend it."
The nine-day narrative continues in Day Seven.
Copyright © 2001 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!
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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared September, 2001.