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.