Monday, September 11, 2006

Not to be dramatic or anything... (or, The Fantastic Voyage)

Well, Friday night was interesting to say the least. Sometimes it seems like I have to brainstorm things to post about here if I'm going to be updating more than once a week or so. Not today. You know the scene in "Swingers" when Rob tells Mikey that the previous night's drama didn't upset him too much, because "it's like now I've got my L.A. gun story"? Yeah, it's kinda like that. Except with a boat. Or more accurately, a 75hp outboard I'll be hereafter referring to as "Ol' Smokey".

The story goes like this. Christina, Carey, Sara and I headed out on the boat around 7, over to Akiuk to surprise Sara R. for her birthday. It was to be a good time, with some food, a 6-way game of Settlers (which I got rocked in by the way after previously winning in my second game ever), and a few episodes of Sex and the City on DVD, a show of which I'm not really an active fan, but I've seen a few times and find fairly amusing, if a little annoying. So we hung out with Sara R. and Eric, and decided at around 11 that it was just about time to go. Now, when we got here a month ago, it would have been light at 11pm. Now, it's about twilight, and a mostly overcast sky made for the prospect of a dark boat ride home. Despite my slight worry about traversing the tight channels and cuts of the meandering river in the near-darkness, I knew I was with a party of bush-teacher-superstars, two of which have been in Nunap and driving this river for at least a year. We'd make it home, it would just take a little longer that the trip there, being careful and navigating by memory and flashlight.

Wait, let me back up a second, I just have to drop in a story from the trip over. We had a bit of a run-in with the shoreline, having been moving quite quickly through the lake so as not to get the motor bogged down in the weeds that cover the majority of the shallow water. Christina was headed for some equipment on the shore that had previously marked the opening to the next cut, but apparently...someone had moved the equipment. So there we were, bow in the weeds, unable to use the motor to reverse for fear of wrapping up the prop in said weeds, trying to push ourselves out from shore with a length of 2x4 that someone had luckily left in the boat. We didn't have too much luck using it, but enough to eventually back us out to the point at which we could put the motor in reverse and head out and over to the actual cut through to the next lake that got us to Akiuk and Sara R.'s place. At the time it seemed like a touch of adventure, enough that I took a picture with the intent of posting on it, but little did I know at the time that the trip to Akiuk would be the easy, even funny, half of the evening's travels.

So back to a little after 11pm. Armed with a pair of flashlights and not much else, we headed out to make the two or three mile trip back...or so we thought. We'd made it a few minutes out, maybe a third of the way across the first lake when the motor started to noticeably strain. The fact that we were traveling through pretty heavy weeds, and more slowly than usual at that due to traveling at night, made us think at first that it was just a matter of the prop being wrapped with vegetation. Soon however, the thick smoke and high-pitched beeping from the instrument panel seemed to indicate otherwise, and the initial diagnosis was that the motor was out of oil. Not a good situation in the middle of a lake at 11:30pm, with no oars of any kind, not to mention VHF radio or outboard oil to add to the motor. So, after a bit of discussion we decided to turn around and head back to Akiuk, to see a) if we could make it, b) if we would be able to scrounge up some oil for the motor, and c) if not, if there was a place there we could crash for the night until someone could come get us/fix the motor.

Of course, the "fixing the motor" part was entirely contingent on us not completely ruining the thing on the way back by running it (so we thought at the time) bone-dry on oil. Limping back and listening to the motor strain, I have to admit that while I knew we weren't in any real, immediate danger beyond just getting stuck on the water for a few hours overnight (and getting in trouble for blowing up the motor on the school boat), there was a bit of praying to the gods of internal combustion machinery. And, well, it worked, because about 45 minutes after we had left, we nursed the boat back into the school dock at Akiuk. Now lit by the village lights, we were able to take a look at the motor well enough to determine that while the boat was indeed a little low on oil, it was by no means out of oil as the beeping would have suggested. This was good, as we were unable to find any usable oil anyways at around midnight on a Friday. No, the beeping was something different indeed. A closer examination of the instrument panel by Christina revealed that the beeping we were hearing, combined with the inability of the motor to run above half speed, meant that the problem was as simple as overheating due to mud/grass/muck/whatever being sucked into the cooling system. The motor was then turned on to check if the output of water did indeed seem restricted (we hadn't noticed this through the smoke while trying to get back), and whaddaya know? It was spitting out exactly no water at all.

After all breathing an audible sigh of relief that the problem seemed to be an easy fix, as opposed to a possible welding of pistons to cylinders for want of lubrication, we procured some wire with which to clear the output, and borrowed an additional flashlight and Sara's VHF radio...just in case. We got the motor "peeing" like a champ again, and after the slight delay headed back out one more time for the attempt to make it home for the evening. We took it slow, which helped the motor stay a little cooler, but which also meant drafting a little lower in the water and chewing up more weeds and gunk, so we stopped a few times to clear the prop, make sure the output was clear, and give the engine some time to rest. The sky had cleared nicely in the time we were dorking around in Akiuk, and a full moon provided quite a bit of light for us as we dropped anchor each time to prevent the wind from pushing us into the heavier weeds at shore. In addition, the little bit of light was helpful in finding our way through the cuts and channels to navigate back to Nunap. Not to say we didn't make a wrong turn or two, but all in all the rest of the trip back went fairly smoothly...if at a much slower pace than the trip out.

I have to say, after we all knew the engine would behave if treated kindly, the mood relaxed and we had a pretty good time making our way back. With Cap'n Christina at the wheel, Carey navigating and operating the spotlight, Sara reprising her role as Communications Director in charge of the VHF as well as keeping an eye on the motor's "peeing" and a firm hold on the wire with which to clear the hole, and myself, well, not doing much of anything but trying to keep my appointed flashlight charged, we joked around and tried not to get too loopy from the smoke/fumes. Only a brief moment of panic when the motor didn't seem to want to start after we had stopped to rest within sight of home and swiming distance of the Nunap school dock put a kink in the mood, but like I said, that moment was brief. We were home and on dry(ish) land only a couple hours after we had originally left Akiuk.

Probably the biggest reason we needed to get home was that the boat was needed on Saturday morning to pick up another teacher and the school's cross country team at the airport, which as I understand was another adventure altogether...but I'll leave that story to Christina, as I was thankfully home snug in my bed at the time.

edited 9/12 to add pics :-)


Christina. said...

Uh... so to all the people who did not hear my story verbally, Saturday morning (in the mile or so it takes to go to the airport, to the B side of Nunap, and then back home) I was able to both run out of gas AND hit another boat.

I got mad fly captainy skillz, what can I say?

Ay'atang'aq said...

Some people might say that I was the cause of all that drama... but I don't care. I'm glad you all came, I had fun. But most importantly I'm happy that you made it back safe.

It's crazy, isn't it, how a "normally" 2.5 mile ride over can take much too long. (And by normal I mean when it's frozen of course!)