Engine problems on the high seas don’t make for a fun trip

Published 8:09 am Friday, February 25, 2011

This week, I want to share lessons in boating for those thinking about running off shore this summer. My lessons will come from an experience of my own.

A friend of mine has a 32-foot, catamaran-type fishing boat. It is equipped with duel outboards, 200 gallons of gas, a fly bridge with radar, GPS, communication radio, autopilot and a wet compass. Downstairs, everything is still available and there is a second wet compass.

He had just finished upgrading his engines to twin, four-stroke Yamaha 250s and wanted to take it on a short trip to run in the engines. We were going to run 20 miles out of Oregon Inlet at the Outer Banks to an area for tile fish and maybe a grouper or two.

Since it was going to be a short trip, I thought it would be good to take my 16-year-old twins, Robert and David. They were around 13 at the time.

We loaded up the cooler with about a six-hour supply of sodas, water and a full day’s supply of adult beverages. The run out to the fishing grounds was uneventful.

The first sign of a problem was that our electric reels started giving us issues. We overcame this by having my boys crank on hand reels, and we kept on fishing.

It was getting a little more difficult to start our engines, but there were other boats in the area so pulling on the hand cranks would have to see us through.

After the GPS/fish finder started to indicate a problem, we decided to figure this thing out. Hey, we have an electrical problem, and it might be better to start back in, right?

OK, the motors are now running after a pull or two; let’s store the gear and get to navigating while we still have that GPS. We do still have a GPS, right? Well, maybe not, but we have the wet compass, and as long as we take a 270 heading, we will eventually be able to see the Inlet bridge. Weather is starting to move in so let’s get going.

Boy, it’s getting kind of rough; we should be seeing the 102 tower soon. Two hours later — is that the 102 tower? Yea, OK, we are making headway in these four-foot seas, but at a much slower pace than usual.

Everyone else, at this point is downstairs inside the cabin, and I am getting soaked piloting a boat by wet compass only; our radio no longer works. There are no other boats to be seen, and we are headed at 270 degrees. Is it possible to miss the entire Continental United States from 20 miles out? Two more hours go by; I’m not familiar with the tower we are now seeing. OK, it’s the 102 tower again.

What does that compass downstairs say? It is 10 to 15 degrees different than the one upstairs, but which one is right? How you boys doing? Other than being out of drinks, they’re not doing too badly.

Let’s follow the downstairs compass for a while, OK? Sounds like a plan. The seas have now grown to 6 feet and the wind is pushing us north, but how far north? Four hours later, our gas gauges are getting really low. I guess if we had to, we could survive off raw fish and beer for a few days.

Hey, I see a lighthouse, but which one? Corolla is a two-hour run from Oregon Inlet, then another 45 minutes to home. Sure hope we have enough gas, but at least we know where we are. We’ll stick fairly close to shore since no one else has any idea that we are out in this mess.

To cut this off, we made it back. The next day it took 199 gallons of gas to top off the boat. A few days later, a problem was found in the charging circuitry of the new motors. Regardless of our mistakes, God must have been looking out for the twins.

Let me give you a list of things not to do off shore:

• Don’t take kids on a shakedown run.

• Don’t ignore the first, second, or third little problem when they begin to pop up.

• Don’t leave other boats when you know you have a problem.

Here is a list of things you might want to consider:

• Take along a backup supply of water; take as much as you can.

• Have your wet compass checked for calibration. A small error can be a great distance when you are 20 or 30 miles off shore. Take a handheld GPS if you can afford one.

Well, hope you found humor in my story, and I sincerely hope you learned something from my mistakes. If you did, they were well worth sharing.

Until next week, stay safe and enjoy these great outdoors while the weather continues to warm.

BOB RUDZIK is a Newsoms resident. He can be reached at outdoors@tidewaternews.com.