On the way to Green Turtle: Snugly anchored in Crab Cay after a fun boat buddy sail, we planned to ride out a predicted northeast cold front due in two days. However, over coffee at 8:00 AM, we made a decision to move south around the Little Abaco Island to the Munjack Cay, where one of our boating buddies was anchored, to get better protection from the coming northeast winds. No problem! It was a beautiful day, light and variable winds (we needed to motor), with no northerlies predicted until afternoon.
We’re ready to go by 9:00, projecting to be at anchor at Munjack Cay in a mere three hours, plenty of time before the front hit. I went to start the engine, but nothing happened! Nada. No ignition. No moaning or groaning of trying to start. This has never happened before. Puzzle or crisis?
Cindy sprang into action, fiddling around “under the hood”, in our case, under the companionway stairs, confirmed that the battery seemed okay, but the ignition relay or solenoid might be the culprit. Based on earlier generator experience and old fashioned engine diagnostic ingenuity, she pulled out a big gauge cable scrap and jump started the engine, just as my dad used to do in the 1950’s with his cars. It worked! Quickly concluding that another night at anchor anywhere is not a particularly good idea given what just happened. We changed plans, setting our sights on the Green Turtle Cay Resort and Marina, just south a couple of miles from Munjack Cay. All we needed to do was contact the marina to move up our reservation from Sunday to today, Friday. We might need help with engine parts once we stopped the engine.
With engine running, the anchor was next, but like any bad day, it was a second challenge to delay us getting out of Crab Cay. So, a bit after 10:30 we were finally underway, an hour and a half later than planned, reducing the sunny, light and variable wind weather window to a much narrower time frame.
Within minutes of noon, still underway, a 17 knot northeast wind swept in, as predicted, across the shallow Abaco Sea bringing to us a storm with low lead-gray clouds blocking our view to the east. We adjusted, this kind of weather is nothing we haven’t experienced before, but then, the third challenge got me to worry as I gripped the wheel at steady Dolce Vento through the choppy chaotic shallow water.
Attempts to contact the marina via VHF, cell phone and satellite phone all failed. What would cause such a failure of our communications equipment? What could cause even a VHF transmission to fail? Listening to the VHF, we heard other sailors repeating calls, trying to communicate with marinas as well. Our attempts to hail the Green Turtle Cay marina continued to fail. At least we knew it just wasn’t our problem. Off the starboard side, we spied smoke rising from Great Abaco Island, but didn’t make any connections to our situation. Stupid us! “What in the hell is going on?”
Stress is a mild word for what I was feeling by this time. Finally, almost at the entrance to the narrow channel into Green Turtle Cay’s White Sound, John made cell phone contact. We were lucky to get the last open slip and the tide was high enough to get through the channel that is normally only 5 feet at low tide in some spots. An hour later we are safely tied up at the dock, eager to learn what had happened. The answer is very Bahamian.
Local authorities on Great Abaco Island were doing a controlled burn of an area to move out some wild pigs (for which the Abacos are famous), but a 25 knot wind took the fire “away from them” overrunning the area’s major electrical and communications hub, knocking out the trifecta of communications: internet, BTC telephone lines and electricity distribution. That’s why even the VHF systems were out until marina generators could get cranked up. It reminded me that “we’re not in Kansas anymore” as Dorothy once observed.
Back to our engine issue. The next morning at the dock, Cindy prepared to run some very specific tests to root out the cause of the engine starting problem. The first time she asked, “turn the key to ‘start’, count to five, then turn it off,” I did as requested, but the engine burst into operation before I can count “one”. We repeat the exercise five more times. Engine started every time. To me, a miracle occurred. To Cindy, she conjectured that corrosion on a connection was cleared, a loose wire was jostled back into place or the starter battery got back some missing voltage overnight. In any case, until the problem arises again, we thank the diesel engine gods for looking down upon us so kindly. We can always jump start the engine.