Conversation Part 3: Picking up the Parts

On Monday morning, the day the Canadian people celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday, shortly after 6 am, Jennifer helped me climb into the dinghy. I’d left the two five gallon cans of gasoline in the dinghy and added the remaining two-cycle oil and a mostly empty five-quart container of crankcase oil.

As navigator, Jennifer had planned and entered a route for me to follow to Klemtu in her green Nexus tablet. It is 21 nautical Miles from Quigley Cove through protected water of varying widths and degrees of protection to Klemtu.

The wind had been completely calm each morning, generally building during the day to sometimes as much as 30 knots by late afternoon.

The contingency plan was to stay in Klemtu if the weather kicked up.

Nordic Spirit had motored past us shortly after I returned to Caro Babbo, the deck crew waving to us as they passed by. Our bright, bright yellow dinghy makes us recognizable.

As requested, we’d called the Coast Guard on 82A, told them that I’d be leaving and when I expected to arrive in Klemtu.

Across the weekend we’d heard the Coast Guard repeatedly asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of a 28-foot Bayliner traveling from Ocean Falls to Shearwater with a man named Richard aboard.

The man I spoke with at the Coast Guard asked me to check back in with them when I arrived in Klemtu.

The engine started on the first pull, Jennifer cast me off and I motored at a not-too-fast speed out the leftmost entrance.

Yachette had come barreling through this entrance at close to six knots as we watched her on AIS. We were undecided to be amazed at their skill or at their foolishness.

On Friday morning as they raised anchor, they moved at three knots or so with the anchor dangling below the water line, the man I’d met staring fixedly at the windlass on the deck as anchor rode was hauled aboard and stored below.

Neither of us said anything as we watched Yachette circle towards us. At three knots (that’s a mile every twenty minutes) there is plenty of time to think but no time to do anything. I had a few thoughts:

  • Is this how it’s going to end?
  • How long do we wait before jumping off the boat?
  • If he does hit us, I wonder how much better a boat we could end up with?

Well before there was any real danger a cartoon character woman’s screeching voice said over the PA, ‘‘I’m going to run into the sailboat.’’

The man wore a headset, which I presume spoke directly to the woman, and shouted loud enough for us to hear: ‘‘That’s because you’re still in forward, put it into reverse.’’ Yachette stopped instantly.

Unlike Its dramatic entrance, Yachette slowed before passing through exit that I was taking. I did think ‘‘brave people.’’ Even in my dinghy I was looking over the sides at the rocks below.

Monday was a very gray day. The sun would never shine, nor would it rain. I was dressed in full foulies, which had pretty much been our standard uniform for the trip, with my life jacket overtop my windbreaker.

On the initial trip to meet Joe, the engine quit immediately after I left the cove and would only stay running until I started to accelerated: Low fuel.

I didn’t top the fuel before leaving. The remaining fuel lasted twenty minutes before I poured all that remained in the one-gallon tank into the engine’s tank.

The water was relatively quiet and well protected from the larger strait to the west. After I emptied the one gallon tank, I mixed up a new one-gallon batch of 50:1 fuel to oil mix.

This emptied the small three-ounce container of two-cycle oil I had.

I mixed fuel each time I empty the small tank that so there would be mixed and ready fuel each time I ran out.

After a few more minutes I was exposed to the larger strait while I made a left turn into Meyer’s Passage.

On the way down from the anchorage I’d played with the throttle and found that the highest speed I could get was 5.3 knots with the bow so high in the air I needed to look one side or the other.

The dinghy rows excellently, leaks moderately and does not plane. Planing is skipping along the top of the water. It requires a hull that is flat across the bottom at the stern. Planing is not an option, so 5.3 knots is the speed I travel at.

At the entrance Meyer’s Passage a fishing boat was emptying and resetting prawn traps. We waved at each other.

The next time the engine ran out of fuel, I would fill its tank full and learn that a tank lasts about 40 minutes.

Our last sailboat was the 26-foot Thunderbird. A boat designed and heavily raced in the Seattle area. Hard chined, with a fin keel, the boat weighs 4000 lbs dry and draws 4’9”, the same as Caro Babbo.

We found that our 9.9 hp two-cycle gave us 7 miles to the gallon. Our 8000-lb dry Maxi 95, Caro Babbo, gives us ten miles to the gallon using our 28 hp three cylinder Yanmar diesel.

The 3 hp Mercury on our 120 lb dry weight dinghy with me and ten gallons of fuel gave ten miles to the gallon. The same as the Maxi.

The water was the same color gray as the sky. Jennifer’s Nexus tablet was in waterproof transparent sleeve. I followed the course Jennifer laid out for three and a half hours before turning right down the home stretch to Klemtu.

We had travelled in Caro Babbo through these same waters a few days earlier. This time a marker that floated marking a hidden rock lay on the dry bottom next the completely exposed rock.

For Long Island Sound sailors, like Jennifer and me, staring up at a once-submerged rock is giggle inducing. The difference between three-foot Long Island and twenty-foot west coast tides is graphic.

Making the right turn brought me very close to the shore with tiny one-tree islands and a little further out whirl pools that spun Caro Babbo off course.

In the distance down the passage, was the BC ferry dock, a government constructed purpose-built structure with a four-lane road and a pick up truck in the middle of that road.

A powerboat with a family sped towards me about two miles north of Klemtu, then slowed to trawling speed to spare me their wake. Something we had become accustomed to in this part of the world when sailing Caro Babbo.

As they passed, we waved, everyone, Dad as skipper, mom, the kids and littlest girl.

I tied up to the fuel dock. I didn’t know if anyone would be there because of the holiday. I walked up the gangway and in the office met two men from the local clan. I think I said, hello. Maybe not.

The man on the left said ‘‘You the one the coast guard called about?’’

I said, ‘‘Maybe.’’

‘‘They want you to call them. Why don’t you have a VHF? You’re supposed to.’’

I told them we had one on the boat, but not for the dinghy.

Could I use his VHF?

It was dead. He asked his friend, to lend me his, which he did.

I called the Coast Guard, told them I was safe and sound and asked them to call Jennifer to tell her I was okay.

Weeks later when we saw Linda and Ian aboard Coast Pilot, we learned that the VHF radio is an open party line. Calls between people are open, as are calls for errant children and spouses staying too long with friends.

I asked to buy some gasoline to top off the Jerry can. The man who did all the talking got up and walked towards the gangway. His friend also got up and said his goodbyes.

I asked the man his name, ‘‘Alan.’’

Alan walked down the gangway, reset the fuel meter and pointed to the nozzle on the dock. The same fish boat was here as last time, but the processing plant was quiet: No large loud vacuum hose, no upwelling of fish blood next to the dock.

I took ten litres or so of gasoline. I told Alan I needed a quart of two cycle oil. He nodded okay. I asked him ‘‘how much.’’

‘‘You got cash?’’

‘‘Yep,’’ I nodded.

‘‘Twenty bucks.’’

I handed him a twenty and he walked up the gangway.

On the ride over I had run out of two-cycle oil and had used crankcase oil in the gallon mixture. Less than half a gallon of the mixture was left, but I didn’t know how dependent the engine was on whatever was in the two-cycle oil. The two cycle oil I had brought was bright blue. The new stuff was green.

I poured the remaining premixed mixture into the five-gallon container. I computed this deleted the fifty-to-one to close to 500-to-1. I’d mix a new one-gallon batch once I got the quart from Alan.

In the office, Alan was moving cases looking for two-cycle oil, found a quart and handed it to me. I wondered and still wonder whether any of my twenty found its way into his employer’s books.

Next to the dock is a clan supermarket and café. The café is run by an Asian man: stick to the chinese food. I spoke with the young woman behind the counter about the heart with a semicolon tattoo on her hand and battling suicide.

I then made a culinary error: the desire for poutine had captured me when I saw it on the menu.

Poutine is cheese curd covered in brown gravy and served over French fries.

This poutine was the white and orange shredded cheddar mix that Kraft makes served over French fries with the brown gravy that cheap Chinese restaurants use.

Alan, who seemed to be keeping an eye on me, came by to speak about the food and ask questions. At the time and in reflection I had and have the feeling I was speaking with a First Nations incarnation of the 60s’ TV show Green Acres’ Mr. Haney.

Alan and I spoke for a few more moments about where I would meet the floatplane bringing my package.

The TV was on and loud to be heard over the large ventilation fan placed in front of it.

Alan’s cronies were seated in a group near the counter. Alan had been sitting with them eating ice cream before he walked over to speak with me. I had been doing internet stuff with my head down.

He walked out, I worked a bit more, then gathered my stuff and walked next door to the grocery store.

Last time we were here, Jennifer spied one-pound packages of dried dates that we could use for making date-nut loaf for less money than we’d pay anywhere we’d seen. I bought a few more, then walked back to the dinghy, mixed oil and gasoline in the one gallon can, adjusted the engine angle to lower the bow and motored over to where the floatplane would land; only it wasn’t a float plane that landed, it was a flying boat.

In 1986, Robyn and I had wandered around some sheds near a general aviation airport somewhere in ‘‘north county’’ San Diego. In it, in pieces, was a flying boat.

A flying boat differs from a floatplane in that it lands on its fuselage.

As I approached the dock I asked the man there, if I could dock the dinghy. He said yes with the polite incredulity as if I had asked if I could breath the local air. But then I’m a stranger in these parts.

I docked and having time to kill called my dad.

It had been a week or so and we spoke about our trip, the broken part and his projects. While we were speaking the plane approached from in front of me towards my left.

I described the plane as it swung around behind me and landed before me from my right to left.

The flying boat had a high wing and two radial engines.

My dad expressed his embarrassment, saying he wasn’t certain if it was a Grumman Goose or another Grumman plane. After a moment, he said he was pretty sure it was a Goose.

The plane had floats that swung down from the underside of the wings and visible wheels recessed into the sides of the fuselage. As it taxied (?) to the dock, it extended the left side wheel and retracted the left side float.

The plane heeled to its right side angling the left wing high into the air. The pilot sidled the plane against the dock.

‘‘Would you like to speak to the pilot?’’ I asked my dad, who said yes.

When the pilot cut the engines I walked over to the window and asked if I could speak with him after he unloaded.

The passenger disembarked, freight was unloaded and the pilot handed me my package.

I told him my name, he introduced himself as Ryan, which was written on his left uniform pocket.

I asked him about the plane. It was a Grumman Goose. ‘‘A late one,’’ Ryan said, ‘‘built in ’44.’’

It took a little while to process this. I somehow wanted to move ’44 into the 21st century, but it’s only ’16. This is a 72-year old airplane.

I said my dad was building a model of a Grumman F3F. Ryan said he was building a model of the Grumman Goose, quarter scale. He was working from the maintenance plans and was frankly looking for someone to take over the project from him.

Would he like to speak with my dad? Yes, he would.

I dialed and handed the phone to Ryan. He and my dad spoke for ten minutes or so with Ryan offering to fly my dad to Port Hardy, if my dad got anywhere that Ryan’s airline flew.

For me it was pretty magical; I hoped it was for my dad. On a chance conversation he speaks with a pilot of a Grumman Goose and will have an opportunity to sit in the co-pilot seat inflight. Ryan offered to put my dad up with his family in Port Hardy.

Dad is saying he doesn’t want to travel anymore, but I would love it if he would. Timed properly, we and Caro Babbo could meet him there.

After I and one of the ground crew tore open the box and confirmed these were the right parts, I met the only other European besides Ryan I was to meet that day. He lived in a floating house on the dock I tied up to. He was hired every summer to work with the Kitasoo Watchmen.

Did he have a VHF radio I could use to call the Coast Guard?

After looking under couches and in cabinets, he concluded he couldn’t find his, but suggested I ask Charlie, who was just coming in from fishing and had four three foot long fish lying in the bottom of his boat.

I asked Charlie what kind of fish they were. He said, ‘‘Spring.’’ I didn’t say anything. He looked at me and said, ‘‘Salmon.’’

Charlie lent me his radio, I called the coast guard who relayed a message to Jennifer. We could hear the coast guard side of the conversation.

I started the engine and four and a half hours later was climbing aboard Caro Babbo. The next morning I installed the part, started the engine, called the coast guard who closed our file, and continued our journey until the next engine issue, and the one after that.

We’ve had parts air freighted in three times so far. It is the trip of the engine, and I think two out of three times I was at fault.



Author: johnjuliano

One-third owner of Caro Babbo, co-captain and in command whenever Caro Babbo is under sail.

One thought on “Conversation Part 3: Picking up the Parts”

  1. And the story continues to take exciting twists and turns! Like you, I hope your father is able to put his traveling boots on one more time for this golden opportunity.

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