My First Time Being Towed
19 May 2021
We had been cruising our new to us Silverton 372, LAMANTIN, for less than a week. We had a first day with a hired captain to show us the ropes (except there aren’t any on a motor yacht). And, we ran aground. The somewhat embarrassed, hired captain -- since he had advised the course that led through the shoal -- told me later that he had never run aground during a training day. It is nice to be the first at something. We also took the boat out to refill the gas tanks. We ran aground again. Now, we were on the third day of actual cruising to make miles and we needed a tow!
On the first day of cruising, we had had a great day crossing Tampa Bay. The boat was new to us so we cruised at different speeds to get a feel for the boat in maneuvering, displacement and planning modes. At the end of that first day, we felt pretty good about the boat. The second cruising day had us nicely tucked into a spot in the heart of Sarasota, where we found a great Asian fusion restaurant. Feeling pretty good, we headed into day three with an expectation to make it to Savannah, GA in about a week.
After an uneventful few hours crossing near Port Charlotte and passing Captiva and Sanibel, we headed up the Caloosahatchee river towards Fort Myers, where we intended to spend the night. Just as we passed through a narrow, crowded area with shallows on both sides (isn’t it always like that), the helm appeared to go hard over and we were heading towards another boat and another grounding. Fortunately, I was able to reduce the throttle and gain control quickly, avoiding a certain disaster.
Alexi took over so that I could try to figure out what was going on. Limping along on one engine, using a combination of throttle and helm, Alexi guided us towards deeper water where we dropped the anchor.
Many attempts to start the engine led to good cranking but not firing. I changed fuel filters and verified what I could but was not able to quickly diagnose the problem. We could have sat at anchor comfortably for a while but I couldn’t fix the problem and Fort Myers has lots of good mechanics. So, we decided to get towed.
Fortunately, we have TowBoatUS insurance that offers free towing within 50 miles of shore. After answering a few questions on an app - which forwarded to phone number where I had to answer the same questions with a human – a tow boat was dispatched. In a small RIB with 300 HP of outboard power, Billy and his young son deftly maneuvered us into a slip at the nearest marina.
Then, I spent more than one hour calling over 20 mechanics in the Fort Myers area. Some were booked 2-4 weeks out! Some no longer worked on inboard gasoline engines. Most never responded to my messages. It seemed like I was going to be the mechanic-du-jour.
After some desperate posts on the Silverton forums, I was able to obtain the manuals that I needed to start diagnosing the problem. I spent most of that day and all the next morning tracking down the problem. The engine was cranking but no fuel was reaching the throttle body. The fuel pump worked but was not getting a signal. Even when I overrode the control on the fuel pump, the fuel injectors were not squirting fuel onto the butterfly valves (this engine is a hybrid of electronic fuel injection and carburation). After deducing that the problem as an electrical problem, I suspected a blown relay. It took me 30 minutes just to find the relay, buried in a housing that I thought only contained fuses. But a quick test confirmed my suspicion. The ignition relay was blown.
A great advantage of having car engines in your boat is that some parts are cheap and easy to obtain. AutoZone had three of these in stock at $8 each. A quick Uber and a quick job of replacing the part and the engines ran perfectly again.
All in all, we got very lucky. Without the manuals and some experience working on car engines, I probably could not have fixed the problem. And if I didn’t fix the problem, we could have been stuck in Fort Myers for weeks or even months waiting for a mechanic.
It turns out that the easiest part of the entire experience was the part I feared the most; the tow. The tow boat arrived on time and was super professional and skilled. And, with our insurance it was free. I don’t think I want to do that again. But, it is nice knowing that I can, without worries.