Charter Yacht



One fine day we were moving a charter yacht (a 115’ Hatteras) from one Bahamian island to another, we were on a fairly lengthy transit set to take 11 hours or so. As I had mentioned, the boat was just recently out of the shipyard and we had spent the previous few weeks getting her back into yacht-shape. During transits an ‘Engine Watch’ was performed every 30 minutes. It consisted of climbing down into the engine room via a stairway on the stern of the boat. The doors to the engine room were just inside the swim platform. They were low doors requiring an average sized person to duck slightly to get inside, though once inside standing room was adequate with a low ceiling. On my checks I would walk down into the engine room, look underneath the engines, check any gauges, smell the air, listen to the noise. If everything seemed normal I would come back up and enjoy the ride for another 30 minutes. On this particular check I didn’t even need to get to the engine room before I knew there was a problem.

As I approached the stern of the boat, I looked behind us and saw a bright sheen of oil fanning out across an otherwise pristine stretch of the Caribbean Sea. The view was like something out of an environmentalists advertisement. The type of ad where they make you sorry to be alive because humans are wrecking everything.    A beautiful tropical island off the starboard quarter, bright blue sunshine, calm ocean waters, a pristine white yacht gliding along through green ocean so clear it looked only a few feet deep, and fanning out behind was a rainbow oil slick.

I immediately informed the captain by radio as I entered the engine room and was hit with a wall of diesel fumes. He cut the engines and we quickly discovered the bilge was sloshing full of diesel fuel, the intercooler on one engine had leaked, (an intercooler is a radiator system that brings the fuel to the proper temperature as it enters the engine), it had sprung a leak spewing diesel across the front of one engine and down into the bilge. I activated a stripping line, (this was a suction line that was strong enough to pull a soft shell crab into the garden-hose sized line, something I had seen with my own eyes). I shut off the bilge pumps and placed the stripping line into the diesel fuel and began sucking it into the dirty water tank on board. Once a majority of the diesel fuel had been removed from the bilge, cleanup began. Diesel fuel is terribly dirty stuff, very oily. I soaped up the bilge with Joy dish detergent, (still the best thing I know for cutting grease), I scrubbed what I could, sucked up the waste into the dirty oil tank, and we limped back to port on one engine.

Once we reached Nassau, we contacted stateside engineers who came out to affect repairs. This took them a day and a half. They were flown out immediately and once the repairs had been affected, we set out to sea with the engineers on board for a sea trial. A couple hours later we’d determined everything was working fine and the repair was holding well. It was time to take the engineers back to shore. This was to be my choice duty, and an enjoyable event that I shall never forget.

I set out with the engineers on a 30 foot Scarab, fired up the dual 250 hp outboard’s and we headed for Nassau. I brought them into the dock that we had left earlier that day, they hopped off, engines still running, we said a quick goodbye, and now came the joyride of my life!


I had a set of coordinates the captain had given me for a rendezvous on the open water. I was to use the onboard GPS, (a much less advanced version of what we have now on our smart phones), this one displayed only coordinates and a compass heading. I headed out into the open ocean on this relatively small watercraft, alone. An hour later I was out of sight of land, out of radio contact and still blazing along enjoying every second and thrilled by the solitude and desolation of the open sea around me.  I shut off the engines and drifted for a time. Taking in the moment, that place and time. Alone on the ocean, for real. It was wonderful.

Eventually I started the engines, took a bearing and checked the gps, fixed the sun in the sky, and I headed off again.  I made site of the yacht before dark and rejoined her without incident for a few somnolent days and nights at some of the more remote dockages and moorings the Bahamas has to offer.

I have kept those few moments of being alone on the ocean close to my heart since then. I still taste it on occasion when I am far enough south on Swan Lake on my sailboat. The south end of the Swan doesn’t have cell service, and if I camp down that way all I have is a handheld marine radio that may not reach home base, If anyone were even monitoring it.

I enjoy being alone, it suits me to a degree.  No expectations, no distractions. I enjoy that feeling, and I’d received a huge dose of it just then, out on the ocean, bobbing silently.  Just for a short time there was nothing I was doing, no chance someone would need me, no sounds of another person and nobody could hear me no matter how loud I yelled.  I was even out of radio contact.  I think there is an energizing strength in solitude. There is something about being alone on the open ocean that feels really very small, and that’s not bad. There’s a sense of perspective that I gained on the open ocean. It’s really big out there. bigger than anywhere I’d ever been.

Horizon to horizon, nothing but water.

I found it appealed to me greatly and I certainly look forward to experiencing it again.



Blackbird down!..and up again



The rythmic thumping of the helicopters blades preceded it’s arrival as the cool morning air transmitted the ever expanding and ever dissipating pressure waves created by the circling bars of metal. Like a pebble in a pond these waves spread through the otherwise silent morning air bouncing off the mountains and trees, building and cancelling, rhythmic and varied. The amplitude of these impacts increased as the machine glided on it’s spinning wing towards the now dry and dead pasture.
“Now you can hear it” intoned the Boss.
“Here she comes!” a guest added excitedly, eyes to the tree line.
A bright eyed tow-headed young boy began to jump with expectation. He was promised a seat on this flight and his excitement could be measured in inches as his feet left the ground over and over.
Cameras were raised and the moment was captured as a gorgeous Bell 429, Black with Gold pin-striping, sporting the West Point mascot proudly beneath the rotors center glided over the treeline like a superhero.

The aircraft appeared over the treetops, moving slowly, gliding in to softly touch down on the gentle groomed slope of the pasture.  Effortlessly removing my hat on its way down.

West point mascot


Well today was a big day. After many days of preparation, a helicopter tour was commencing in the 100 year old pasture which had been cleared in this rain forest long ago, for horses long since passed.
Our county, along with many in northwest Montana, is currently under stage 1 fire restrictions due to the lack of precipitation. It hasn’t rained much at all this spring or summer so far.  What rain has fallen has dissappeared into our often single digit humidified air.  It is bone dry here.

Many days of preparation were required to make certain that we didn’t start a grass fire, leading to a forest fire, potentially leading to our eviction from the neighborhood. The process began with a significant mowing performed in the early morning when dew should have been present, but wasn’t.  The cooler temperatures gave me confidence that I wouldn’t start a fire during this morning operation. A large clearing was carved from the two foot tall, mostly dead grass, as a welcome mat and perch for the Bell’s arrival, still days away at this point. Then the watering began.


Conveniently, the owners of this particular Lodge have their own fire truck, it is a 1981 Utah LaGrange on a 4×4 Ford chassis carrying a 1000 gallon tank and engine.  It’s red, of course. Initially I had planned to use the 1 1/2 inch hose reel to spray down this nearly one acre patch, but after a few minutes I realized that would take a lot longer than was necessary.  I found that by aiming an unemployed connection on the top right side of the truck I was able to splash water off the hose rack in a spraying arc as I drove the truck around in overlapping circles like the world’s largest sprinkler. Accomplishing a full watering and dumping of the 1000 gallons in under 10 minutes time and leaving the dusty ground and dead grass stubble quite adequately soaked.

Monday was to be our launch date, but that appointment was delayed by two days due to inclement weather. Finally! Rain! It lasted all day Monday, and part of Tuesday. And here we are Wednesday, at 6:30 a.m. and I find myself in the pasture reaching down into bone dry grass and soil. Even after all that rain, still no morning dew.

The helicopter arrived promptly at 7 a.m. setting down to the great delight of all present. Hands were shaken, and approximatly 20 minutes of photographs were taken as introductions were made and stories were told.

One interesting bit that came out of all the talk was that this particular aircraft was recently flown from Kalispell, Montana to a movie set in Florida (a 14 hour flight), where it was filmed, measured, and digitally reproduced to be used in the next Iron man movie.  To be clear, the helicopter was never flown in the film.  Upon arrival to Florida a team of technicians descended on the aircraft to the chagrin of the pilot, with lasers and cameras to record every dimension and angle so as to be digitally regenerated as needed.  So remember, when you see Mr Downey jr riding around in his helicopter, know that it never really happened,.. through the use of CGI and a green screen, no actors were required to leave earth for that film.

Back in the pasture: Once the champagne and coffee has been dispensed by the accommodating pilot and seating arrangements made, the fortunate voyagers climbed aboard, settling into the finely crafted leather interior of the Bell 429 for a 2 hour tour around the valley.  A safety talk was delivered and the doors were closed and latched.

The turbine started with a woosh much like when a gas bbq is lighted, and the rotor began to spin.  It took about 5 minutes for the preflight and warmup and as the rythmic whir and thump deepened the skids became light on the earth, and ever so gracefully and gently the machine lifted into the air.

liftoff landing side view

Glacier Park is currently on fire, and so their intended flight path over that beautiful piece of geography would have to wait for another day.

With the tour underway, I occupied my landborn time tending to my duties. Watering the dock flowers and fueling some boats.

In the distance, just before 9am, the rythmic whap whap whap once again beat off the mountainsides and bays. The helicopter returned with a similar flare and grace. Landing neatly in the space prepared.  The guests climbed off, all smiles, with heads full of new perspective.

The young blond fellow had slept through a portion of the trip, unable to defend against the somnolent drone of his carriage, and he exited the craft with a big grin and with a full run launched into his waiting mothers arms to the delight of them both.

Pilot Mike returned to his craft and with a wave departed like a superhero in a movie,  equally impressive as a real life Black Knight.

Thank you Mike and The Glacier Jet Center for delivering on an amazing charter.  It is another great day to remember.


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