not a smooth operator
15 April 2010
The day I learned that I had been a bad dingy operator started like any other. I had learned (so I thought) all the little nuances for starting and handling the dink from Al. We even had the verbal check list each time we went out. So far, I had done well. Al had to sit up front and so I was left to do the driving. Why, you may ask? Of course, no secrets among friends. The facts are that we had a small dink. At 7feet, 9 inches it sounds small enough. But then factor in that 16 of those inches were behind and outside the dink; in the form of the tube ends. Then our dink becomes really a 6foot, 5 inch dink. It gets smaller still when you figure in the extra 10 inches for the diameter of the front tubes. Now the dink is only a 5 foot, 7 inch dink. Since our tubes were small, whenever Al tried to sit on the back side tube to operate the outboard, the rear of the dingy would swamp. Maybe this wouldn't happen if we were small people, but hey, we like our meals super-sized. A hundred less pounds on the rear tube really made a difference, so I had to learn to be the dink driver.
As I had learned to from Al, I first would open the vent on the top of the tank, then throw the choke lever open and pull the crank handle. Vroom-vroom. We had taken the dink out for a few small trips just to test our skills, and check that the 3.5 HP outboard worked well. When I say small trips, I mean around 5-10 minutes in calm water at our marina. Then there was the 2 minute over-and -back solo that I did at Bimini to check us into the country. That was the extent of our dingy use, and my total learning curve.
So when we were asked to come over to another boat for our first ever sundowner event, I made up some pizza and enthusiastically jumped in the dingy. Al followed and we made the trip across the anchorage to our neighboring host boat. The tide was changing, and as sometimes happens, our boat had swung around, and theirs hadn't, so the trip was only around 200 yards. We made it fine, and had the great time one always reads about regarding these events. Life was good.
When we left, it was full dark, and finding the boat was done by the light of the sliver of moon in the sky. It sure looked a long way off. Oh, right, the tide had swung both boats by now so ours was a long way up current now. We climbed in the dink, went through the verbal check, fired up and left. The current really made our flat bottom dink work at getting back to the boat.
We were making slow steady progress when the outboard sputtered and died. The current grabbed hold of the dink without pause, and I tried pulling the cord to no avail. So I did what I thought was urgently called for in the situation, I grabbed hold of the oars and threw myself onto the floor of the dink and began to paddle for all I was worth. That got me wet from the water that resided in the bottom of the dingy. The current was a little, no, a lot more than I anticipated. I redoubled my efforts. We were losing ground, but I was determined, and slowly we started to gain on our boat.
Al asked if I wanted him to paddle. No, I could do this; I must do this, what if Al hadn't been around? I would have to do this, so I was going to by god do this. Our friends had heard the outboard die, and so had jumped in their dink and tore across the anchorage to give us a hand. I was fading fast, if not for stubbornness I would have taken the tow they freely offered. But by then I was a woman on a mission, and you don't mess with that if you know what's good for you. Inch by agonizing inch, I pulled that little dink closer to the mother ship. Finally Al was able to reach out and grab the stern rail. I was exhausted.
We thanked our friends and they gunned their outboard and left. Al and I wanted first to find out what was wrong with the outboard. With the flash in hand, he ran over the obvious, and stopped almost right away. "I thought I told you to open the vent on the top of the tank." "I did, see?" and showed as I closed it a quarter of a turn. "You need to open it three or four full turns, or it will stall for lack of fuel. You create a vacuum and no fuel can flow if you don't." "Oh," I said as I inspected my soaked shorts, "I was afraid if I opened it too far it would let water in." The bad dingy operator turned the vent open three full turns, pulled the rope, and Vroom-vroom. My clothes were soaked, my arms were as sore as they can get, and I was still slightly out of breath from the exertion. "You did a good job rowing back. I was really amazed!" Al said as he killed the outboard. "Yah," I replied, "that current was really strong." Poof! No more bad dingy operator. Al should have been a diplomat.