Thursday, June 4, 2015

Things always look better in the morning

Captain's Log: 4 June 2015; Hour: 0537

After a fretful night's sleep last night I waited with trepidation for Wally the mechanic to return with his load-tester for the batteries. A total of eight 8-volt batteries. Just purchased less than a year ago. If they're all dead it will cost a small fortune to replace them. He tested the starboard bank first. Battery one was holding a charge. Same for battery two. Battery three was a little low. Not dead, just lower than the others. Battery four was fine.

I wiped the sweat from my brow.

The port side bank. Battery one, fine. Same for the rest of the bank. The tension washed out of my body. I felt like I'd dodged a bullet. But why wasn't the port engine starting? A smart man is a man who knows his limitations. "We'll have to call in Diesel Don," Wally said. Diesel Don? Apparently, he is the man. Known far and wide and liable to be just about anywhere. Wally got him on the phone. He was actually in town. Had a sea trial he had to do. Should be at our boat some time in the afternoon.

I know how that goes. Things happen. Jobs take longer than you anticipate. Hours slip away and, before you know it, the day is gone. Another day wasted.

I decided to put the idle time to good use. I worked on some projects I had started. The boys and I went to town on the marina truck and stocked up on provisions. We washed some clothes and made the best of our situation.

At about 3pm a wise-looking man boarded the boat as I relaxed on the sofa on the aft deck. "I hear you're in need of a mechanic," he greeted. I sprang from the couch. "Diesel Don," he said with a smile and an extended hand. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you," I said.

He brought out his tools and went to work. We tried the port engine. Sounded like it wasn't getting enough juice. He wanted to test the batteries. I told him Wally's results. He had a special meter just for 8-volt batteries. My heart sunk. He tested the port bank since the starboard engine was starting fine. Like a doctor with a stethoscope he placed the leads on the posts. Battery one was fine. So was battery two. Battery three was a different story. "This one's bad," he informed me. Battery four was fine. Because the third battery was bad it was preventing the sum of the batteries to reach 32 volts.

"What are my options, Diesel Don?" He scratched the back of his head. "These 8-volt batteries are hard to find," he stated sympathetically. "They can probably have them here in a week but you don't have a week. You want to get out of here." I nodded. He asked me for jumper cables and I gladly produced them. Something Captain Bob had insisted I buy on our initial trip and he was right. We used them on several occasions. Diesel Don jumped the bad bank with the good bank and asked me to try the starter again. It tried to bite but couldn't quite get there. "Again." Same thing. "Hand me a pair of pliers." I did. I waited a moment while he moved around the engine room. "Try it now!" I bounded up the stairs to the helm and hit the start button. Suddenly the port engine came to life. Diesel Don peered over the aft deck railing down at the exhaust. The new impeller was working. Water was coming from the exhaust pipe. Water was streaming from the port spout.

The boys came to the helm from three different directions, their eyes dancing with excitement. "Are we good?" one asked. "It appears so," I answered. What was the problem? Why had we been stuck for two days? Sometimes it's the simplest things. When we docked in Guntersville the first night the starboard engine wouldn't shut down. I pulled the emergency shut-off. I apparently pulled it for both engines. On these old Detroit diesels you have to reset the emergency shut-off. Apparently that function wasn't working for the starboard engine but worked beautifully for the port engine. Who knew? Diesel Don knew.

Before I let him go I wanted to drink in more knowledge. We changed the fuel filters together. He showed me little idiosyncrasies of these durable but mysterious Detroit 8-71s. He gave me a recommendation for a diesel mechanic in Nashville. Almost like a referral from your doctor. And I really didn't care if his suggested mechanic was in my network. I'm going with any recommendation by Diesel Don. I'm a fan.

We settled up. He almost apologized for the bill. I was happy to write the check. We were back in business and ready to roll. We said our farewells and offered our appreciation to Diesel Don then cranked those capricious Detroits. We had already planned our next step. An all-nighter. We were stocked with several high-powered lights. (My boys learned all about lumens) We had our binoculars and two pots of coffee. At hour 1911 we were pulling out of the marina, thrilled to be back on the river.

After locking through one lock and then another, we found ourselves 8 1/2 hours and 98 miles down the river in front of Wilson Lock at 3:44 in the morning. We couldn't raise the lock master on the radio so I called him on my cell phone. The lock was having electrical problems and it would be around 7 in the morning before we could lock through. So, here we sit. I had to laugh at the irony. Electrical problems. Better thee than me.


  1. Like button.. Just keep soaking it in.. Sooner or later you will have a masters in marine mechanics.

  2. Enjoyed following your last adventure on the boat and this one has been just as entertaining,although I am sure you don't see it that way. Lol. I am a huge fan and can't wait to hear all about it on the show. Wishing you better luck and hope you and your boys have a safe trip home.