We love buddy boating. Not only is it safer to travel in groups, but it is really nice to forge relationships with other cruisers as we travel along the same general path. That said, when we were ready to leave Deshaies, Guadeloupe, our friends Kool Kat and Slow Waltz were not ready to leave and we carried on solo. As we raised anchor, Dave had troubles shifting the starboard engine into forward or even neutral from reverse. We have folding props, so once we turn off the engines, we shift into reverse to fold the props. This keeps the props from turning and causing a vibration and throbbing noise. He was able to get us squared away by ramming the gear shifter with the palm of his hand. Normally we try not to force anything, but we had this problem before and Dave’s dad solved it by ramming it into neutral. It didn’t totally resolve it, but at least we were out of reverse and it kept working until now. The wind was on the nose, as usual, if we pointed to Dominica. So we decided to cut through Iles des Saintes. We still couldn’t sail! We motorsailed with the main sail only. Suddenly, we heard a KATHUNK! and some grinding type of noise and Dave lost BOTH engines!
They got instantly hot and he shut them off. Dave’s fast thinking was to unfurl the jib and heave-to to stay off the lee shore. We were caught between the islands in a relatively narrow channel. In other words, really bad timing to lose control of the boat. Dave’s plan worked perfectly and we held our position in middle of the channel. He ran down to the engine rooms, while unfastened the lifelines to take a look overboard. And then I saw it: a buoy ball was submerged near our props on the port side. We hit a fishing pot line. But to lose both engines, it had to be a line or a net strung across two buoys. Dave didn’t see them, so chance are they are old and forgotten and no longer floating at the surface for whatever reason. I called out to Dave that we were going to have to dive on the props. He donned his fins and mask and jumped right in. He checked for a line or net first and found the props clear, so it had already come off. Then he checked the condition of the props to make sure there was no damage. All good, so he came back onboard. He started the engines, but the port engine had no water flowing through. He had removed the strainer to check it, so suspected that water had not yet started flowing back through it, which sometimes happens when air is let in. So he reopened the strainer and poured water into it. I tried the engine again and, sure enough, in a few seconds water started flowing back through. Both engines cooled as they ran and we were good to go! Awesome! Tragedy averted.
Portsmouth Dominica has “boat boys” that are now organized in an association called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services). A member of PAYS comes out to greet you as you approach the anchorage and assists you with tying up to a mooring ball. I use the term mooring ball loosely. We had a mooring jug. Since I don’t care for the term boat boys, I’ll refer to them as yacht assistants or by name. They give assistance by organizing/guiding tours, doing laundry, selling fruits and vegetables, taking you to clear in, answering questions, etc. Anything you need, you just ask the yacht assistant. Our yacht assistant was Alexis. Poor Alexis kept asking Dave to go forward a little bit, but Dave was stuck in reverse again. I tried to explain the issue with the shifter, but Alexis had his hands full trying to get our lines through the mooring lead while our boat was going the wrong way. We eventually got tied up but arrived too late to clear in, so he just gave us the low down on tours and events. We scheduled to have him pick up our laundry and he said he knew a mechanic that he would send over the next morning. We were tired from all our excitement on the trip over and just stayed aboard for the night. The next morning the mechanic showed up bright and early (pictured at top of page). He was super nice and all smiles. He looked at our shifter and didn’t see a problem at the helm, so he asked to look below in the engine room.
He climbed right into the engine compartment beneath the starboard berth. I offered to remove the cover to give him more room, but he declined and said it would take too long. Haha, he just climbed right in behind the engine! He found salt encrusted around the cable and chiseled it off. The salt was restricting the movement. That was all it was, now the gear shifter works smoothly, better than ever. I wish I could remember his name. We recommend him if anyone needs a mechanic in Portsmouth.
With the repair done, we dinghied over to the customs dock and asked the security guard which way to go. Just down the street, to the building with the flag, through the fence, around the back, past someone’s storage or garage, we found the entrance to customs and immigration.
It didn’t look like a very official location, but as soon as we entered we knew we were in the right place. We filled out the paperwork and paid our fees in US dollars since we had no EC (Eastern Caribbean) dollars. For the first time, someone cared that we had a cat on board and just verified that it was staying on the boat. Dogs are harder to travel with because they need to go on land and many island countries either ban dogs or have multiple requirements to go through. We heard some countries ban certain breeds and will shoot them on site! Fortunately, cats are easy.
We were overjoyed to see Wildcat (aka the big blue barge), a 57’ Lagoon, anchored nearby. We really enjoyed meeting George in Sint Maarten, but they left much earlier than we did. Wildcat introduced us to Banyan, who was anchored right next to us (in Dominica), and invited us over for happy hour. Despite the not so happy looks on our faces, we hit it off as a group and they invited us to go on a tour of the Indian River and a driving tour of southern Dominica with them and Martin, their yacht assistant. Awesome!