The other day, sun climbing from Mount Baker, I drove through sleepy Oak Bay Village before 6 AM. The day before, I had started the boat, and listened to its purr of money, got the downriggers out, rigged the rods with flashers, bait holders and spoons, so that I would be ready to go when I cast off the lines. On my fishing day, I rigged one line with a large anchovy in a 602 teaser, behind a Farr Better Flasher in green. The bait had been moved from freezer to fridge the night before, so it would be unfrozen enough to insert the wire, and bend it behind the dorsal fin, before inserting the treble hook.
Heading out from Oak Bay Marina through the gap at the Turkey Head, I throttled up. The bow rose above my eyes and stayed there. I gave it more gas, but it would not settle, so I tried the other obvious thing: I tilted the leg down, and as it descended the boat came up and settled flat at cruising speed. Ah, the joy of a boat that treats you well, when you treat it well with regular infusions of cash.
The tide was ebbing, and following my own advice, prior to fishing the Flats, where fish had been brought in in the past few days, and other boats were already fishing, I turned the corner to fish an ebb tide back eddy, until 9 AM, when the flood would begin, and I would join my confreres on the Flats.
My own advice is that in summer fishing, when big springs are relentlessly heading east at 1.5 MPH close to shore in shallow water, it is best to fish the ebb tide back eddies where they will fin forward, but stay put, until the tide turns and flood pushes them east, toward their natal river. By the time I had the slow spiral on the bait, that I use in summer for large fish, rather than the slightly faster spiral for winter fish, the boat had been carried to the west end of the eddy.
I swung the boat around, heading east, into the ebb. After ten minutes, it dawned on me the ebb was strong enough that the boat was not gaining any ground. The GPS speed-over-ground feature registered zero to half a knot. Mighty slow. Several Grady White and Trophy-style boats motored past me en route to the Flats. I was happy to see them go as it meant they would not be fishing in the restricted area that comprised my back eddy.
Another ten minutes went by and it was clear I was going nowhere. I hit the green button for the ball, disconnected the release clip, and throttled up. At six knots, the boat soon putted up to the head of the eddy, whereupon I sent the ball, release clip and bait down to 33 feet. Then the boat made a loud beep, beep, which is what it does when the key reaches the first détente prior to starting. But I was not starting the boat, and the beep, beep continued blasting in my ear.
Several minutes of this rattling odd behaviour ensued until it dawned on me that the ongoing beep must also be an engine warning sound. Oil pressure was fine, the temperature was not over heating, and the fuel tanks registered lots of gas. At which point, I hurriedly got the ball back up threw the rod and gear into a glumph before the transom and throttled up.
I gave it lots of gas, but no matter how much I gave the engine it would not speed the boat beyond 7 knots, nor reach the plane. Then a tremendous backfire almost deadened my hearing, followed almost immediately by another in-board engine backfire bigger than the first.
It was time to make for the marina and hope the engine was going to make it back from Trial Island. I had been here before. One summer, more than a decade ago, I was fishing pinks four miles south of Trial, in a well-developed tide line. My main engine began over heating on the temperature gauge, and smoke began pouring from under the engine cover. I throttled up onto the plane and behind me left a cloud of smoke, flames coming out and beginning to melt the gas line to the kicker.
At this point, I killed the main engine, and started the kicker. I had to sit on top of the engine cover, smoke making me disappear into purple haze, hand wrapped in a towel, to hold the hot tiller. As the minutes went by, the boat stopped burning, my rear end began to cool, and my heart came back to near normal. I waved at a boat going by, they waved back and kept going, not understanding I was in trouble.
But, I thought, I’ll just putt my way home. Several other boats went by, waving at my growing frantic wave, but not stopping to help. The kicker kept putting. After two hours, the light beginning to move well into the western sky, Trial Island was still some miles away, and the ebb tide was carrying me away to the west. Wind began to rise from the north east, bringing waves up to four feet. I was going nowhere, and was not going to reach safe harbour going like this.
I had to make the difficult decision that I had no choice but to restart the main engine and hope it did not overheat until I reached safely. Soon, up on the plane, things began to look a little happier. It was with relief that I passed the south tip of Trial. Then through a seven-foot standing wave, that sent everything in the cabin flying. The boat landed so hard, I thought the hull would break.
The engine began its skyward climb into the danger zone. Soon it was higher than the boiling point of water, and heading for 250 degrees, as I passed the golf course corner at full blast. On shore, golfers leaned on their drivers and one pointed at me. The reason was that I was leaving a blue cloud of smoke. I passed the Oak Bay Beach Hotel at rocket speed, and full bore made it through the Turkey Head gap, with flames coming out the back end. At way over reasonable speed, I made fast for my slip, hoping the boat would not explode before I had it tied off, and could grab the fire extinguisher.
To my great good fortune, another boater on the dock, seeing the long line of flames from my engine, raced to my slip, and grabbed the bow line, while I hit reverse. The engine died, the flames grew higher and I exited right over a gas tank that could explode, extinguisher in hand. From the dock, I aimed the CO2, fearing the engine was going to blow apart, taking me with it. The other boater handed me a hose, and I doused the back end with water, enough to fill the engine compartment and separate flame from gas tank.
All of this other near-death experience raced through my mind as, just the other day, my boat slowly, achingly made the golf course corner tee box, backfiring so loud, I closed the door between us. I opened the forward hatch and prepared to jump and pull the toggle on my life jacket. There was no way I was going to kill the engine. The anchor and line were in the forward compartment, minutes away. The kicker may not be able to beat the ebb home.
The backfires grew louder, the boat speed slowed to five knots, and I shot the Gap, too fast for the tethered boats beside me. If I didn’t slow down, I would hammer the boats on B dock and hit my finger fast enough to lift the bow right out of the water. I had no choice but to back off on the gas.
To my great relief, as speed slipped down to 2.3 knots, the engine came clear and clean, as though nothing had happened. I turned past the kicker of my neighbour, hit reverse, then hit neutral and grabbed the stern line and slid it over the cleat. Thank god. Oh, to be on the dock separated from an engine that might blow.
I went straight for Gartside Marine services, just by the parking lot, and, fortunately, Kelly, their office person, was already in working, and drew up a work order, before I left, shaking, to my car. Ah, the joys of boating. The last time it was a completely new engine, that was $13,000 at the time, in 2003. No doubt a new engine is far above that price today. Will my insurance cover the problem? We’ll see.