This is a short story about things going wrong.
Last month in this same newsletter, I wrote about how I received my first sailboat for the price of $1, given to me by some random strangers who I’ve still never met. I was 18 when that happened, and the boat’s name was Curlew III. Owning a boat just like her had been a dream of mine for a long time, but when it actually came true I was, admittedly, pretty terrified. There’s something very different between just having a dream, and then actually having that dream come true. All of a sudden I found myself with a wooden boat and very little clue what to do with it. I was 18, in university, with no money and no real knowledge about boats. And as you might imagine, $1 wooden sailboats aren’t typically found in turn-key condition.
Curlew III was in surprisingly good shape considering, but she was not without some problems. The biggest problem for me was the engine. It was a 10hp, one cylinder Sabb diesel, a bright orange Norwegian lifeboat engine that had to be started with a hand crank. The flywheel was reminiscent of something from Indiana Jones. When it chugged to life it did so with a great sputtering and coughing effort before beginning to comfortably tick along, vibrating everything off the shelves as it went.
The big problem with the engine is that it was cooled with salt water, which circulated all around the cast iron cylinder head and block. After many years at the dock, perhaps without being properly drained, the inside of these passages were rusted. Every time I started the engine, some rust flakes would get loose, quickly blocking the water from circulating and putting the engine at risk of overheating. In this state, it was pretty much unusable.
My Dad said he’d help. Together we took the whole thing apart. For several weeks, I spent my evenings after school chipping away copious amounts of rust from inside the cylinder block. My Dad took the cylinder head to a place in Vancouver to be refurbished. I put a coat of anti-rust paint inside the cylinder block. Everything seemed to be in good order. We reassembled the whole thing, and it started up perfectly. We ran it at the dock for half an hour, putting it through its paces, shifting gears and accelerating, the boat straining against her dock lines. Everything worked perfectly.
With great excitement, we decided to go for a celebratory lap around the harbour. My Dad and I had been working on this engine for some time at this point. In my eyes, it was the one great obstacle to overcome before I could really start adventuring on my new boat. Now that it was fixed, I felt euphoric. The dream was coming truer. Everything was falling into place. The summer wind shifted lazily around us, sending a few small ripples across the water. We cast off the dock lines.
Curlew III eased gracefully away from the dock. I pushed forward the throttle. The apparent wind increased, and my smile stretched from ear to ear. For the first time since I owned her, she had left the dock under her own power. My Dad was equally as happy. The calm evening light cast the striking Squamish landscape into a fairy-tale like haze. Could this be any more perfect?
Then, all of a sudden, silence.
No more vibrating, ticking, rumbling sounds from down below. The engine had stopped.
“Did you do that?” My Dad asked.
He rushed below. We tried to restart it, but nothing. Not a puff, not a grumble, not a single sound. Lifeless.
I watched nervously as the incoming tide rocked us gently towards a rocky cliff face.
I was scared.
My first boat, my dream boat, the culmination of years of dreaming and weeks of work and my (admittedly meagre) life savings –– Curlew III was now calmly drifting towards some rocks, which were already alarmingly close, and the engine had given up completely.
Fortunately, we hadn’t made it far from the harbour. I called my friend on the dock with a speedboat. “Jeremy, can you get here quickly?” He did. Within minutes, he threw us a line and maneuvered us safely back into our spot. My heart still pounding, I tied Curlew III back up to the dock, grateful that it had ended well.
Next, we just had to figure out what had happened with the engine… but that’s another story.
Maya lives in Europe on a 28ft sailboat with her husband Aladino. Their goal is to sail around the world as slowly as possible. They publish weekly videos of their adventures on their YouTube channel, “Sailing Magic Carpet.”