Captain’s Log: When Engine Trouble Strikes

Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel under the pen name, Elizabeth Rose. Chris is known as “Jason” in the I Heart stories.

1:30 p.m.

Captain’s Log. We’re somewhere off the Lost Coast in Northern California when the engine sputters and drops dead. Jason hurls a few curse words then starts meddling with the engine. I know better than to mention my premonition of this scenario and, having worked through every outcome in my head, I remain calm. We’re on a sailboat, I think. All we need is wind and we’re fine. Thankfully, there’s constant wind blowing south so we hoist the mainsail and cruise five to six knots (six to seven miles an hour) down the coast. Sailing is so peaceful. The sound of water rushing past the hull is all you hear. Also, the boat is more stable with sails up, less rocking. Wonder why we haven’t done this sooner? It’s nice out, warm enough to shed our foul weather gear. I sit in the cockpit and let my eyes outline the mountains down the coast. Mountain ridges fall into the sea and look like giant elephants’ feet at the edge of an infinite puddle.

2:11 p.m.

Jason continues to freak out about the engine. I’m still calm partly because he is using all the energy one boat can hold. We sail towards Shelter Cover, about ten miles away, to anchor overnight and fix the engine.

3:37 p.m.

Whales are breaching! Three-sixty degree turns in mid-air! We’re amazed and terrified at the same time, not knowing whether to take pictures or make noise underwater. Though very rare, ships have sunk due to whales landing on deck and since we are sailing, we lack engine noise to alert the whales we are coming. Jason asks for the fog horn and camera. We use both.

5:20 p.m.

Now it’s sketchy. We’re losing daylight and the wind has all but dimmed to a whisper. We are a mile outside Shelter Cove and rocks are not far off the port side. Thoughts of a collision run through our minds and we silently pray for wind.

6:23 p.m.

The wind has officially died and the current is slowly drifting us towards the rocks. Didn’t predict this would happen. Thankfully, a good Samaritan named Scott radios and asks if we need help. He radios from land and says he will launch his boat and tow us to a safe area. We thank him profusely and drop anchor to hold steady.

7: 30 p.m.

The swell is throwing us around pretty good. Jason makes a bridle for the tow line. Scott radios to say he can’t find us and as hard as we try, we can’t see him.

8:11 p.m.

Jason and I see is a very dull green running light coming toward us. Turns out, it’s the only working light on Scott’s boat. Jason begins pulling one-hundred fifty feet of anchor chain – By hand – to prepare us for a tow. I hear him whimper a little from stress and muscle strain.

8:30 p.m.

Jason tosses the tow line to Scott and we get underway. We hear Scott on the radio talking to someone on land. Apparently, Scott’s friend is using the headlights and flashers of her truck to help guide him in the right direction. I slightly wig but am thankful we are finally moving.

8:45 p.m.

Scott pulls us to a dark park of the cove and yells, “Ok. This should be good.” Jason drops anchor and Scott tosses over the tow line. As coil the line, I vaguely see waves crashing about twenty feet away. At the same time, Jason and I realize why. “Scott!,” Jason yells. “Rocks, just off starboard!” I hear Scott in the distance mutter, “Oh, shit.”

8:46 p.m.

Jason pulls the anchor and I toss Scott the tow line. We move about one hundred feet to a safer spot, no rocks in sight. We drop anchor, collect the tow line, and thank Scott profusely for his help.

9:10 p.m.

We change clothes, brush our teeth, and fall into bed. The swell is rough and lumpy, rocking the boat all night. We wake up every thirty minutes to check if we are dragging anchor. Shelter Cove officially does not live up to its name.

6:10 a.m. the next day

Exhausted, we roll out of bed. Jason goes back to work and this time bleeds air out of the fuel line. The engine fires right up.

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