The word ‘explosion’ might seem an exaggeration but when there’s a bit of a bang and an engulfing billow of white smoke it does seem justifiable – particularly when it occurs when you’re chugging across Grenada’s Prickly Bay in an inflatable. Of course, all sailors become accustomed to bizarre setbacks but this particular one was a novelty for me.
But first some background. We had met Lesley in Greece; more specifically in Vliho Bay – one of the pleasantest and useful (though occasionally treacherous) anchorages in the Ionian. She was working at the local yacht club admirably engaged in the dispensing of food and beverages. Later we learned the she had succumbed to the urge to move on, quitting the Med and heading westward across the Atlantic. She and partner Mike were now in Grenada, not a mile or so from where Shindig had been laid up ashore during the hurricane season.
With contact, most agreeably re-established, we met at the Dodgy Dock restaurant in True Blue Bay. Their boat lay to a mooring no more than a hundred yards or so away. “Handy,” I think I observed.
It has to be, we were told. Their own outboard motor had succumbed to the natural decline of old age and they were now reduced to rowing ashore.
I think I exclaimed “Ahah!” or something equally profound. A thought had come to me. “We have two motors and, frankly, one is using space we could make better use of.”
In this I was referring to a 5hp four-stroke Honda – an elegantly engineered bit of kit but just a bit too beefy to heft around with any degree of joy. Also, it had become increasingly prima-donna-like as the years rolled by. Prone to sulkiness some would say. It had acquired the habit – at particularly awkward moments, we thought – of folding its arms and just sitting there, blatantly rebellious. No matter how hard I tugged the starter cord or tempted it with every combination of throttle and choke, it would just sit there remaining obdurate. Call in a professional mechanic and it would behave impeccably – only to revert to its old tricks the moment he had packed away his tools.
But perhaps the charms of another crew? It had to be worth a try. “Borrow it,” I heard myself say. “on an indefinite basis.”
And so it was that Mike collected it the following morning. Three days later Shindig hit the water and we motored out into Prickly Bay and dropped the hook. We inflated the dinghy and perched the 2.5hp four-stroke Mariner motor on the transom.
All to no avail. After half-an-hour or so my helper admitted defeat. “This is a job for Jesus,” he announced. Now here I’m not talking about the Jesus you might have found strolling across the Sea of Galilee. This particular Jesus hails from Cuba and I had met him the year before when he had worked on the Honda. After a quick phone call, it was agreed that we should take the Mariner ashore and commit it to the hands of a professional. Once fixed, Prickly Bay marina would bring Jesus out to Shindig whereupon he would demonstrate the miraculous results he had wrought.
I only had to wait till the next day. The marina RIB (ever helpful) brought Jesus and the Mariner out to us before moving on to other duties. The outboard was clamped in place, the start cord was pulled and – oh, joy beyond reckoning! – that which had previously been inert was born again.
With Jesus at the helm the dinghy cavorted like a young pup. Full speed; slow speed; hard over turns; figures of eight. “Now, you must try,” he insisted. We swapped places and I did likewise.
The invoice was a little higher than expected but Jesus had sensibly added some routine servicing items to his brief: oil change, fresh filters, ditto spark plug, new start cord to replace the old worn one. All in all, it wasn’t unreasonable. However, since we hadn’t expected more than a beer or two’s worth of hits to our cash funds there wasn’t enough on board to wipe the slate clean. No problem for Jesus who was content to wait until we could.
“Now you must take me ashore,” he reminded me.
“Done in a flash,” I replied and later wished I hadn’t. Somewhere around halfway the motor emitted a peevish cough followed by the cloud of smoke previously mentioned. Once again, the Prickly Bay Marina Samaritans where there to rescue us, this time towing us to the dinghy dock on the bay’s eastern bank. The frown on Jesus’s face spoke of perplexity and dismay. Whatever costs had accumulated so far there were almost certainly others waiting in the wings. Deep in thought he marched up the pontoon to return with Matthew another engineer.
“Probably a piston ring or valve,” Matthew opined. “They're awkward litle things to work on. Could be expensive time wise. More than the motor’s worth.”
Jesus looked worried – deeply hurt. But it clearly wasn’t his fault. The oil level in the sump was within limits. All visible components looked fine. He hadn't touched anything profoundly mechanical. But clearly something had broken. I reassured him.
“But I mend,” continued Jesus. I think his professional pride had been challenged. “Today is Friday. I fix by Monday.”
“Smaller four-strokes are always vulnerable,” mused Matthew, then to me “I would think about it carefully.”
Although much appreciated, I needed no such advice. Over a ten-day period that had started with us owning two outboard motors, we might now possess none - an impossible situation for us. That’s why Saturday morning found us at Budget Marine (a marine store well known in the Caribbean) negotiating the purchase of a 5hp Tohatsu 2-stroke. It’s a much simpler machine than either the Honda or the Mariner which in itself is reassuring. A discount was offered; a deal was struck.
Monday morning saw Jesus back at the marina. We had motored in to meet him. The Tohatsu had been repaired and he was anxious to show off its tricks. But I had lost faith in it. Would he accept the gift of the now repaired engine as payment for the work he had done?
His smile said it all.