My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
However much we might want to keep putting a smile on things, we can all sink into deep lethargy and depression when all that seems to happen every day is for yet more problems to arrive. What to do then? People seem to have two types of responses to these kinds of delays and setbacks. I’m sure we’ve all heard them before, but maybe we don’t really take them seriously until trouble comes tumbling down on us.
1) “It’s not meant to be.” The Universe is sending you a message. I heard this quite a few times from friends and strangers. Human beings are hard-wired to be pattern seekers so it’s no surprise that a series of setbacks might be interpreted as having significant meaning.
2) “Keep going.” Nothing tough is ever easy! Surprisingly I didn’t hear this as much as the “not meant to be” response.
But in the end, as delays and problems multiplied, I made the conscious decision just to ignore everything negative and stay focused. Anything worth doing is bound to have problems. And sailing to Ungava Bay in Kuan Yin was never going to be easy. But I was determined to stay committed and to work through each and every delay or problem great or small.
The news was not good. The transmission was not what the boat’s engine book said it was. When eventually identified, it was discovered that production had ceased in 1980 and production of spare parts had stopped in 1991. With fall gales now only a few weeks away at most, there was no point trying to hunt down spare parts. So I decided to install a new transmission. Now a race began to find out which model would fit both the engine, the prop and the space in between.
I ordered a ZF12M for $2650 only to discover on the day it was due to arrive that the supplier hadn’t even ordered it yet because he had a question about the drive plate, but hadn’t bothered to contact me! I was now told by a supplier in Seattle, who sold both the engine I had and the transmission I wanted to buy, that my drive plate would not fit the new transmission and would have to be custom-made. More delay. More money. Every day I felt I was sinking, even if the boat was keeping afloat. People visited to ask about the boat and sometimes returned with firewood for my woodstove. The Sardine woodstove was a lot of money and took several days to install, but it has proved a blessing this summer. Always the boat was snug and dry. And the crackling of the wood burning was a welcome companion especially on grey rainy days.
Several fall gales and two storms hit St. Anthony. With 10 heavy nylon ropes securing Kuan Yin to the wharf and off the wharf, I was not overly anxious until the waves inside the harbour built to 4 – 5 feet and the boat was being slammed against the big wooden posts. Waves outside the harbour were 30 – 36 feet! Unfortunately during the afternoon the waves heeled the boat and slammed her into the wharf so hard that the steel tube on top of the bulwark (around the edge of the deck) was bent in two places.
The sixth precept for coping with adversity is to ask for help and to accept help that’s offered. Hard times are not the occasions to be proud and insist on trying to do everything oneself. (Of course you must be willing to help others too.) As darkness fell and the wind howled, a man appeared on the wharf offering to help me tighten up the two lines holding the boat 3 feet off wharf. Easy work for one man when there’s no wind. But in the face of the storm, two men could only inch the ropes tighter in each lull and do their best to avoid getting fingers crushed. We did pull Kuan Yin another foot from the wharf so that, even in the gusts, she did not quite hit it. The stranger vanished as mysteriously as he’d appeared.
Conditions were too dangerous for me to try to leap back on board the bucking boat. So Nelson offered his truck and I sat inside being rocked by the wind on the wharf in the dark until I eventually realized there was nothing I could do even if the lines broke or she heeled over so far that the mast or shrouds hit the wharf. Better to get a good night’s sleep and be ready to cope with whatever might happen during the night. Getting plenty of sleep and eating well are especially important when we’re stressed and maybe more tempted that normal to stuff ourselves with deep-fried food or chocolate. Research, as well as experience, clearly shows that being tired greatly decreases the quality of decision-making.
The storm subsided in the morning. When I got aboard there were no frayed lines (I had put anti-chafing on all lines) and no further damage. Down below, everything was in place, though from the scratches on the bulkhead it was clear the barograph had been swinging wildly. Even the pottery teapot was sitting unscathed on the side in the galley. What a relief! Home sweet home.
Eventually the new transmission and the new drive plate arrived. It was now mid October – long after I would previously have considered it too late to be sailing so far north. Opening the boxes revealed yet more trouble in each! The new bellhousing was merely an adapter plate and not at all what I thought I was paying 100s of dollars for. And the new drive plate ($500) wouldn’t fit the engine unless turned round (which the maker in Seattle then claimed was the way it was supposed to go). But when turned round, the bellhousing was not deep enough. It would need a spacer. Using a spacer would mean there was not enough room from the transmission to the stuffing box without yet more adjustments. In the end, I discovered that the old drive fit the new transmission.
I think I would have admitted defeat at this stage if it had not been for my friend Nelson Pilgrim’s support and generosity. Certainly there’s no way I could have made the necessary adjustments to the bellhousing without the equipment in his workshop. (And by now I was long past trusting the problem to someone else to fix.)
Together Nelson and I thought out the problems, measured and drilled. We made a mistake first time round but, as the bellhousing began to look like a bit of a Swiss cheese, we recalculated and redrilled. With quite a bit of grunting, and bent over the engine like a yoga practitioner, I managed to reinstall the drive plate, bellhousing, transmission, spacer and connector. Hurrah!
Actually, things had become so bad I’d given up setting myself up for disappointment by entertaining expectations. Somewhere in all the ups and downs, a new attitude had taken over – work hard, take responsibility, do my best – and whatever happens happens. Then I’ll deal with that.
By now it was almost mid-November. Snow had fallen. The toilet and shower I was kindly being allowed to use was now closed for the winter. Most boats were gone or out of the water. I judged it too late for me to attempt to sail down the coast to a marina where I could be hauled out. Most close at the end of October. And anyway, I judged it reckless to sail off in mid-November, alone when I was weary, with an untested new transmission installation and down a coast I did not know. If I read of someone doing that, getting into trouble and having to call on other people for rescue, I’d think them a poor seaman and foolish in the extreme.
Fortunately, the harbourmaster of St. Anthony agreed with me and promised to do his best to haul out Kuan Yin using the brand new equipment they’d just purchased. If that failed, I might have to let the boat freeze into the ice – not a welcome prospect at all.
All that was needed now, was to align the engine to the propeller shaft. Not difficult or time-consuming to someone who knows how to do it. But not something I was prepared to attempt on my own for the first time. The skipper and engineer off a tug on the wharf both promised to come to do it. But after three days of promising and promising they suddenly said they had to leave. That left me with only 4 hours of daylight to find a way to get the boat from the wharf to the ramp where Kuan Yin could be pulled out on the new trailer at high tide at first light the next day.
I was too worn down by the whole summer of setbacks to panic and I stayed pretty calm. As darkness fell the harbourmaster needed a definite “all set” or cancel and I began to have a rising sense of apprehension. Having search for other options, in the end I tramped up to Nelson’s house and asked for help. Actually I asked to charter his 20-foot motor boat to tow me across the harbour. Nelson was not impressed that I was stooping to offer money for his help. He’d already agreed with his son that they’d do whatever they could to get me out of the water and the boat safely stowed on land for the winter.
If ever I’ve done a good turn and helped someone else, I’ve always been “repaid” 100 times by the generosity of others. I did help Nelson with the roof of his workshop but he “repaid” me 100 times over. There was never any calculation – in each situation, it was just what needed to be done.
I strongly believe that there’s a kind of energy of generosity that must be passed from person to person. It’s much more than “every good deed deserves another”. When something needs to be done, I often step forward – “lending” money to a stranger in need on condition that they pass on the money to help someone else, or just gathering up litter by the roadside. Someone who doesn’t pass on favours will eventually find no favours.
Needless to say, it took FOUR attempts to haul the boat out of the harbour on the trailer. But Kuan Yin carries her own legs and (with 4 logs from Nelson’s firewood) she now stands safe and sound and all closed up for the winter. Boats do have souls; so I’m hoping she’s already forgotten the pain of the problems and delays this year and is now slumbering in the snow and dreaming of our voyage up the coast of Labrador into Ungava Bay next summer.
For all the setbacks and heartbreaks, I still have faith that finally we’ll make it north in the wake of Jonathan and his wife Sybilla on their amazing voyage in 1811. For any great adventure requires faith. And a good definition of faith (that avoids the overly-religious wording) was given by Alan Watts in his book, “The Book”:
“Faith – in life, in other people, and in oneself – is the attitude of allowing the spontaneous to be spontaneous, in its own way and in its own time…faith is always a gamble because life itself is a gambling game with what must appear, in the hiding aspect of the game, to be colossal stakes. But to take the gamble out of the game, to try to make winning a dead certainty, is to achieve a certainty which is indeed dead.”