For the first time in our five years aboard Escape Velocity one of our engines failed us. Oh sure, we’ve had moments when we knew one of them wasn’t operating properly and needed attention, but when Jack went into reverse to pick up the pole mooring yesterday and the whole boat shook, we knew we had a serious problem. I ran down below and took a look. The engine was thumping up and down violently. “Shut it down!” I yelled. I’m not a diesel mechanic but I’d heard plenty of tales over beers at the cruisers bars and my first thought was that we broke an engine mount. Funny, because every time Jack checks or changes the oil, changes the impellers or does any other routine maintenance I always ask if the engine mounts look ok. “They’re fine,” he assures me.
“It’s the propeller,” Jack said when I came back to the cockpit. There were stray lines dangling from the pole moorings and he thought maybe we got a wrap, but I’d been watching carefully and didn’t see one anywhere near the props. I told him how the engine looked, flopping up and down like it was loose. “Engine mount,” I insisted.
Whatever it was, we needed help. I already had the number for a recommended mechanic because we want to address a couple of lingering problems with the other engine but we couldn’t wait until after our Brisbane sojourn to call. I explained what happened and described the behavior and the mechanic promised to come to where we were the next day. He passed the phone to his wife for details on our location and to get preliminary billing info, and we ended up chatting for 20 minutes about Australia and Brisbane and ended up somehow on Vegemite, the tar-like yeast spread that most Aussies grow up on, like Americans grow up on peanut butter.
“Yuck,” I said, and she bristled. Oops. We don’t want to insult the mechanic’s wife before the engine’s fixed. I softened my take on gummy black goo and asked how best to enjoy it. Toast is the usual answer, but she also recommended avocado. Well hell, who doesn’t like avo toast but why sully it with Vegemite? I promised to try it again and really, when in Rome and all that.
The next day we saw that we were anchored behind a boat named Blackwattle and it made us feel almost at home, since we’d spent so much quality time in Blackwattle Bay in Sydney. As advertised, though, the current runs swift in Brisbane and we also had strong winds. Escape Velocity rode perpetually over the anchor. Every six hours boats swung in unpredictable ways and twice a day we came dangerously close to a small green steel boat. With limited maneuverability we tried threading the needle between getting far enough away from Mr. Green and staying well enough out of the channel where the ferries zipped by many times an hour. We aimed to line up between Blackwattle and a channel marker and after several tries managed a pretty good compromise. Still, we didn’t feel confident leaving the boat.
The mechanic — Bruce, what else? — came by late in the morning and checked out the engine, having Jack throw it into gear, forward, then reverse, then forward. Propeller, he said. Maybe a line wrapped around it, or bent, or something. He looked over the side at the murky river. “You’ll need a diver,” he said. “Unless you want to go for a swim.”
Jack followed Bruce’s gaze to the yucky water. Diver it is, and Bruce left a message for the diver he works with. He took a preliminary look at the other engine and quickly diagnosed one of the two problems we’re having — intermittent charging — and gave us a plan for figuring out the other — persistent smoking on high load. Then he told us to call when the diver figured out the prop issue and we’d schedule the work.
The diver called and told us he’s booked all week but promised to come up river on Saturday morning. It’s Tuesday.
So here we are in the middle of a beautiful city on a boat that’s well stuck to the bottom but among other boats all swinging wildly at every tidal change. All we can do is stay aboard and monitor the swings through a whole day to be sure we won’t make contact or get dislodged. Oh how we wish we could pick up a pole mooring and feel safe! But it’s completely impossible with one tiny engine way off to the side. Ashore there are cafés and gelato and shops and parks and museums. But they will have to wait. For now we’ll watch the climbers and rapellers on Kangaroo Point and wave to the passing ferries and cross our fingers that our propeller is ok.