Monday, June 8, 2015

The home stretch is always the hardest

Captain's Log: 8 June 2015; Hour: 1338

Remember that scene in Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard crash on the final lap and the cars race, end over end, toward the finish line? That's what it was like for Yesterday on her final stretch.

We got the new batteries we needed in Paducah, KY and put them in place at Green Turtle Bay Marina. We all crossed our fingers and said a little prayer and I hit the starter button. The starboard engine fired right up. I hit the port engine. Instantly purred to life. We moved the boat over to the fuel dock and this time I personally made sure both tanks were topped off.

We encountered this before but for some reason there was a lot of water coming into the boat and settling in the engine room. That's the lowest point on the boat. We would check it about every hour or so during the 8 hour cruise to home and when the water got high we'd evacuate it through the emergency bilge pump on the port engine.

We arrived at Cheatham Lock at around 1415 hour and prepared to tie up. Everything was going according to plan. That's when it happened. The port engine idled down too low and shut down. Without the batteries fully charged I couldn't start it back up. We struggled against the current and tried to tie up with one engine but it was nearly impossible. I told the lock master I was going back out to practice maneuvering the boat with just one engine. He was very patient and told me to take my time.

I spent about 10 minutes getting used to moving the boat around on the starboard engine and got brave enough to try it again. This time we were able to clumsily tie up and lock through. As we were waiting for the lock doors to open it occurred to me. Without the port engine there was no way to evacuate the excess water that was coming in. I asked one of my boys to look. It was halfway up the wall to the floor. I checked the chart. The next place to dock was the Ashland City Boat Dock and it was about 10 miles away.

We headed up river as fast as one engine could take us. "The water is at the bottom of the floor," one of my boys informed me about two miles down the river. At that rate, the engine room would fill with water and we would be officially sinking. "Why don't we just start bailing it out?" one son suggested. It was our only option. I put my youngest son at the helm and I went down in the engine room. We used a tea pitcher and a metal bucket I used for various odd jobs around the boat and set up a fire brigade line from the engine room to a window in the salon. The bucket would be going one way, the tea pitcher the other. We bailed and bailed and barely held ground.

There was a lot of traffic on the river. I pulled myself up from the engine room and helped navigate. I got on the phone to the Ashland City Boat Dock and informed them of my situation. We needed 50-amp power at the dock. Did they have it? They'd check. If they didn't have it we were in big trouble. We had to have it to start the port engine. The lady came back on the line. "We have 50 amps at the dock." Thank God. "We're going to be coming in hot," I told her. "We'll clear the dock," she said. "Someone will be waiting there to tie you up."

We went back to bailing but the river was winning. I decided to concentrate on getting us to that dock. How much further. We saw some high-rise condos in the distance. I called and asked how far they were from those condos. Just beyond. We pushed forward. "The water is now above the floor," a son told me. I stayed focus on the bridge ahead. The dock was just beyond that.

We rounded the curve just before the bridge and got our first glance at the dock. It was small. Up against the shore, too. Would we run aground? I couldn't worry about that. We had to have that 50-amp power. A guy was waiting for us at the dock. I came in faster than I ever had before and slammed the starboard engine in reverse just before we hit. We threw him a line and he began walking the boat quickly up the dock.

Speaking of Talladega Nights, we looked like a pit crew. One of my sons already had the power cord over his shoulder. I jumped from the dock as did another son. I grabbed the cord from my son still on the boat, threw one end to another son and plugged the other end into the boat. He plugged into the dock. We hit the shore line switches inside and the lights came on telling me we had power. I hit the battery charger and ran to the port side and looked over. Two streams of bilge water were pouring out. We were back in business.

I hit the starter for the port engine. It revved to life. I ran down into the engine room and activated the emergency bilge pump to get the rest of the water out. The boys went for lemonade. Fairly calm for a near-death experience.

We unplugged and hit the river for the final stretch home. I called the boat dock to thank them again for saving us. They were happy to do it. We pulled into our harbor and standing on the dock of our new home was an entourage of other boaters waiting to greet us and help us snuggly into our new slip.

A mechanic met us and made sure our bilge pumps were working properly. Whatever had caused the excess water to enter the boat was gone now. We'd worry about that later. Everything was back to normal. The boat was fine and we were safe. And we made it. All nine days and 765 miles. We made it.

It was so good to be home. So good.


  1. Thanks Phil, really enjoyed the cruise daily log entries, sounded like a Hollywood movie script to me, think about it.
    Man I always wanted a boat, thank you so much for convincing me I really don't want a boat.


  2. Great blog, Uncle Phil!! So, are you going back to a 36 volt system? Not having the power to crank those diesels will forever be a PITA.

    Walker, ex-big boater

    1. Yes, we had the 32-volt system reconnected in Guntersville by a real diesel mechanic. We had two bad 8-volt batteries (4 per engine equals 32 volts) and we bought two new batteries during our stop at Green Turtle Bay. All I need now is a new battery charger. The old one was the source of our battery failure. It would overcharge the batteries and cooked two of them.

  3. Uncle Phil thanks for the blog. I have been a listener since your early days here in Nashville on WLAC AM. Always enjoy your show. Johnny B is great. Get him a raise will yea. LOL Really enjoyed the journey with you and your boys. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.


  4. There I was, anchored out at the island in Ashland City. I was among a sea of drunk rednecks (myself included) baking in the hot Tennessee sun. As I sat on the bow of my cruiser enjoying my frosty adult beverage I noticed what could be mistaken as a mothership headed straight for us. No joke, this thing could be mistaken for a naval battle ship barreling down on the drunken volleyball game. The wake was big enough for a 39 pound midget to surf on. I looked over to my Father in law and said, Hey Larry, I think that’s Yesterday, it is, it is, that’s ole uncle Phil and he looks like he is in a hurry. After reading the last post I now know “the rest of the story”. Anyway, if you see a tubby redneck in a Monterey 262 at the marina drooling over your Chris Craft just ignore him, im harmless. Really enjoyed reading the adventures. I look forward to you next voyage!

  5. Thank God everything worked out well for you and you, your family and your Chris are safe. A small, gas powered volume pump is a great investment and comes in handy under the circumstances you encountered. All things considered, it's cheap insurance. Now find out why you were shipping so much water.

  6. I, too always wanted a boat. I will look forward to hearing more about yours. I saw the pics. its nicer than my house. Joe i in leland, NC aka Joe kilted

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