The situation over the crackling cellphone sounded grim: “I’m 4 miles offshore. There’s smoke. I think I’m taking on water. The seas are picking up, and I’ve got pneumonia, for God’s sake. Coyle, are you there?”
The line went dead, and I feared the worst.
Well, not really. My pal Andrew is a “marine adventurer.” He is an industry veteran who has been peddling the dream long enough to know that adventure at sea is best served ashore while jawboning at the bar. Still, he takes a minimalist’s approach to cruising. He’s something of a Thor Heyerdahl less the rags and papyrus, allowing himself the luxury of simple fiberglass construction and a single diesel engine.
“I was adrift in 500 feet of water. Sea Tow and BoatUS were circling like buzzards, but I found the problem,” Andrew said proudly. “The shaft seal was dry as a bone, and the stern tube was hot as a soldering iron. I got third-degree burns clearing the cooling line. Now, the bearings sound like a fife-and-drum corps. You’re a yacht designer, will they hold?”
“Are you making way or underway?” I asked.
“I believe a little bit of both,” Andrew replied.
“Head to shore immediately and make repairs,” I counseled.
“The hell with that,” he said. “I’m holding course. If she goes down, I’d rather she do so in deep water. I’m done with her.”
I asked if there was a life raft aboard, but had already anticipated the answer.
“I won’t need one,” he said. “I’ve got my tender.”
Andrew’s “tender” is a 12-foot paddleboard.
The line went dead, and I was worried.
This time, for real.
It seemed a miracle, but I received a text from Andrew the next day. Following a wordy tirade targeting those who had designed and built his boat, the complication of modern marine systems, and the challenges of anchoring in the dark, Andrew confirmed that he’d made it safely to his destination.
As expected, the drama picked up again once he raised the anchor. He was steaming north in the southbound lane when he called.
“Coyle, do you know what it means when a 700-foot tanker is closing on you and its bearing doesn’t change?”
“It’s time to turn,” I suggested.
“Right. I did, and the remains of the shaft bearings picked up the tempo, but my speed over ground slowed,” he said, explaining between coughing fits that a barnacle-slathered line had wound around the wheel.
The next bit of the story now seemed obvious, but I asked anyway.
“You’re alone at sea. Tell me you didn’t go over the side.”
“Coyle, I’m not a young man,” he said. “The doctor told me to stay in bed. It took four dives to hack it off with my knife.”
Good God! Once Andrew was safely ashore, I offered some advice: “As you are done with this boat, before she burns, sinks or is run down in traffic, why not invest in a boat a bit more suited to your lifestyle?”
“Are you kidding me?” Andrew insisted. “She’s all I need.”
I considered suggesting that he seek adventure in Heyerdahl’s book Kon-Tiki, but thought better of even mentioning the name. Andrew would just build a raft.