Captain's Log: 7 June 2015; Hour: 1108
I'm almost embarrassed to log this entry. And I still haven't quite figured out how this happened. We woke up early Friday morning at Clifton Marina. It felt like the boat was listing ever-so-slightly to starboard. We checked the instrument in the salon that shows you if your boat is listing. We were one degree off. I thought we might actually be on the bottom since we had walked the boat up the backside of the fuel dock where the shore was just a few yards away. I had the crew walk us back out to the end of the dock just in case. I didn't want to engage the props if we were on the bottom. We left Clifton Marina at 0645.
Once out on the river, I noticed we were still listing and then it dawned on me. Diesel Don had been showing me the flow-between valve for the fuel tanks. This is where I can't get any of this to make sense. If he closed the flow-between valve then when we filled up at Grand Harbor we should've been even. If he opened the flow-between valve we shouldn't be listing to starboard the fuel should even out. I remarked that we took on less fuel than I anticipated at Grand Harbor. Usually I'm personally supervising the fuel intake but we needed a break and went to lunch with my wife. The only thing I can figure is the guy only filled the starboard tank while we were at lunch and not the port. If the flow-between valve were cut off then that would explain the listing. We took on 245 gallons of fuel, more than enough to get us to Green Turtle Bay Marina even if the tanks had been empty so I just planned to figure the listing thing out when we docked.
Just 17 miles from Green Turtle Bay Marina the port engine ran out of fuel. I heard it start to sputter and frantically removed the hatch to the fuel tanks to change the flow-between valve. It was too late. The engine died and with no battery power there was no restarting that engine. Now, I know what many of you are thinking. Why didn't I just turn the flow-between valve while we were on the water? The answer is, we'd had enough bad luck already and I didn't want to chance screwing something up.
Fortunately for us, we died right in front of the entrance to Kenlake State Park Marina. We had planned to just fill up there but the diesel pump ran so slow, by our calculations, it would've taken at least 4 hours to fill it up. I put 35 gallons in the port tank and we floated the boat over to a dock with 50-amp power to charge the batteries yet again. At this point I'm ready to choke the guy who convinced me to try starting 32-volt engines with 24 volts. We charged the batteries about 20 minutes and tried to fire them up. Only the starboard engine would fire. Apparently the port engine needed to be primed and I wasn't sure how to do that so we headed out on one engine.
We hit Barkley Canal that joins the Tennessee River with the Cumberland, turned to port at the Cumberland for the short trip the Green Turtle Bay Marina and Resort. We've stayed at several places that claimed to be a "resort." As I've said, it's like places that call themselves "estates." Most aren't. In fact, they're usually trailer parks. Green Turtle Bay Marina and Resort, however, lives up to its name. Once we limped in on one engine and got checked in, we headed up to the Commonwealth Yacht Club for dinner. With all we'd been through I thought it was the least the captain could do to treat the crew to filets and shrimp.
The next morning, I was preparing to log this entry when I noticed two gentlemen looking at the boat. I was on the aft deck with my computer and one of them asked me what year the boat was. "1968," I answered, and got up to greet them. Matt Inman was one of the gentlemen and he would prove to be invaluable later in the day. His parents had a similar boat when he was growing up and he just loved the old wood boats.
I told him of our battery problems and he said he thought the marina's supply house carried those batteries. If so, we were back in business. We said our goodbyes and I decided to take a picture of the batteries to show the guy in the marina shop when they opened. I lifted the stairs in the galley that access the engine room and was immediately enveloped in panic. Water was above the floor in the engine room. I yelled for the boys to get up and ran down the dock to the marine supply store. It wasn't open yet. I ran back to the boat. By this time the boys were stirring and wondering what all the commotion was about. I told them we were taking on water and began looking through the brochure I'd been given at check-in for the emergency number. I couldn't find it but I did find the marina office. I called and they were open. I told them my emergency and they said they'd send someone right over. I don't believe I had been that freaked out on that boat since the infamous Gulf crossing. Then I started asking myself, why aren't the bilge pumps working? A-ha! They must be powered by the batteries and the batteries are dead. I turned on the battery charger at the breaker panel.
About that time, Matt Inman, the guy I'd just been talking to, boarded the boat. He looked down in the engine room while I went topside to peer over the railing to see if the bilge pumps were pumping. They were. Water was streaming out of the side of the boat. Matt confirmed that the water over the floor in the engine room was starting to recede. I started to calm down. Again, all of this because I was convinced to abandon the boat's 32-volt system. I knew one thing for certain. I had to replace those bad batteries.
Once the marine supply shop opened I walked up to inquire about the batteries. They didn't have the ones I needed but they gave me the number of Paducah Battery Supply about 35 miles away. I called and they had the exact batteries we needed. The problem was getting there. The marina had a loaner van but it was out and not expected to be back until at least 10:30. The battery place closed at 1pm. I sent my middle son to wait for the car and contact me when it arrived. In the meantime, my oldest son and I attempted to wrestle those 90-pound batteries out of the engine room. Of course, they couldn't be the ones closest to the hatch. They were both three batteries back in a very cramped engine room. And when I say "room" that's a generous term. It might be a room to Cousin It but the best we regular humans can do is stand on our knees.
We struggled to extract the port battery and, through sheer will and the brute strength of my oldest son, we pulled it out. We were just before starting on the starboard battery when we got a call from my middle son. The car was there and the clock was ticking. We had less than two hours to make the 45-minute drive to Paducah, get the batteries and get back. I left my youngest son on the boat to monitor the water in the engine room and if it got halfway up the side to the floor to call me immediately and/or go get someone from the marina.
Not having the second battery meant that we wouldn't get credit for the core which ended up being a $30 difference. Insignificant given our set of circumstances. We returned to the marina with the batteries as our time was expiring and began the task of putting those 90-pound beasts back into the engine room. The port side wasn't too bad. We man-handled the new battery over the others and dropped it into place. I reconnected the wiring, having taken a picture before I disconnected just to be sure.
The starboard battery extraction and replacement was a whole different matter. It was — wouldn't you know it — wedged under the battery charger. Now, we could've disconnected the two batteries in front of it and slid those out then reconnected them but it seemed like a lot of trouble. I wedged myself in the tiny space behind the batteries and the hot water heater and my eldest son and I began the battle to pull the battery from its resting place.
We began tugging and pushing and I started to feel a burning sensation in my ring finger on my left hand. No, it wasn't my wife sending a searing remote electrical shock through my wedding ring, although I'm sure if she could she would about now. It was something I hadn't counted on. Battery acid. I quickly called for a wet towel but by the time I had it wiped off I had two wounds in my finger that resembled a cross between a burn and a cut. I warned my sons before we continued.
We finally got the battery up on end and away from the battery charger and then pulled it over the other batteries and out. It was like dragging a dead body. We replaced the new one with equal trouble but we got it done. I hooked it back up in sequence with the others and then it was the moment of truth. If the engines fired we could fuel up and continue the journey. If they didn't, we were back to square one. The boys held their breaths. I turned the key and reached for the starter button. I closed my eyes.