Boating conditions off Newport can be a nasty mix. Rolling ocean swells, an opposing current, mixed with 25-knot gusts, can create a challenging chop. Nevermind the reefs hiding under the surface like a school of sharks the size of Jaws waiting for you to get too close.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, we traveled by boat from Newport, RI to my parents’ house in Mattapoisett. Talking with my dad, coming ashore, motoring to his slip in his dinghy, he told me about the engine problems he’d been having and how he and his boatyard guy came up with a fix.
After a long weekend of social distance quohoging, visiting with family, and eating too much, we hit the bait shop to gear up for a slow, fishing, ride back to Newport. (add fishing to the list of things we’re all doing during this virus as the shelves were cleaned out!).
Cruising in our Grady 306, we cut the engines back and drifted beyond the Sakonnet River catching about a half dozen fluke and sea bass that couldn’t resist our squid gently bouncing along the hard-sand ocean floor. With one sea bass on ice, we called it a day. Powered back up, cruising at 30 knots, we were riding the following sea like a surfer.
Now, before you get to the Newport reefs, there are manmade traps you need to avoid, literally. Fish traps, each the size of a football field, litter the area, marked by buoys and connected by thick line just below the surface. Navigating them successfully can be as tense as a Tom Brady two-minute drive.
Boom! “What was that?” I asked.
“Hit a trap line, engines are out,” Owen said.
All of a sudden, we were no longer surfing.
We were drifting ashore towards the rocky coast. The engines were dead. Nothing. We checked the props. They were fine. But we kept drifting.
We quickly dropped anchor in about 60 feet of water, marked a mansion on the shore to make sure we were holding. Then, we went through every step we could think of to get the engines started. We couldn’t get them to turn over.
I called our tow service to request assistance and was told it would be at least an hour. I didn’t think we’d be able to hold anchor that long so my next call was going to be to the Coast Guard.
Staring at the controls, wracking my brain, I thought about the trick my dad told me where he’d put the engine in forward, unlock the throttle, put it back in neutral (just like a car it won’t start in gear), allowing him to rev the engine at ignition. Then, I just looked at Owen and said, “the engines are in gear.” Pulling the throttles to neutral, turning the keys, we were back in the game. It all happened that fast.
I still can’t believe how lucky we got. It could have been a lot worse. It makes me wince thinking about it. Your mind is racing like an engine, and then you’re back in the game. But that’s boating. That’s life. That baked sea bass with chipotle mayonnaise and an ice-cold Corona was probably the best I’ve ever tasted.
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E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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