On Saturday morning, April 23 we left our slip in Marathon to begin our journey to the Abacos, Bahamas. We were about 2 miles out when Pauline heard sounds from the engine while standing on the aft deck that were definitely not normal. She rushed up to the pilot house to let the Captain know. At the time he happened to be on the radio with our friends Maria and Roberto of Gratitude, who were traveling with us to Rodriguez Key for the evening. They were just a little ahead of us. By that time he, too, had noticed the problem and then an alarm went off, beeping and beeping. There was clearly a problem. When trying to put the boat into either forward or reverse, the engine rpms would fluctuate radically from idle to full without moving the throttle lever! In neutral the engine ran normally. Mark immediately began to try to diagnose the problem. But no matter what he tried to do, the boat would not respond properly and could not get the alarm off.
In the meantime, our friends Lisa and Mark Carruthers, back in Marathon, heard our conversations with Gratitude and Mark took off in his dinghy to come out to see if he could help. During this time we were adrift in water about 9′ deep below our keel being blown toward a nearby key. We decided that we needed to anchor the boat. Gratitude turned around and came back, but we told them to go on. There was nothing they could do to help. Mark Carruthers arrived and for the next few hours the two of them tried everything they could to rectify the situation. They identified that the problem was with the electronic engine throttle and transmission controls. Our boat has 100% electronic controls, not the older style mechanical or hydraulic controls. Numerous times they turned everything off and tried starting the engine and going through the start-up process of what one does every time in readying the boat for departure. No matter what they did, the alarm and error code came back on and the throttle/transmission did not respond. Pauline was able to get Gregg Gandy, the service VP at Kadey Krogen on the phone. Gregg had Mark try numerous things to get the alarm to reset and the controls to work properly. Nothing worked. We ultimately decided that we needed to call US Towboat and get towed back. We contacted the marina and told them of our plight and made arrangements to get back in our old slip. Within 30 minutes the tow boat arrived. We hooked up a “bridle” with a tow line onto Next Dance, and pulled up our anchor. Mark Carruthers took off in his dinghy and Lisa Carruthers, along with the marina, readied troops on the dock to help catch our lines. Again, we could not maneuver the boat to get it back in the slip using forward or reverse. The tow boat got us lined up so that we could drift back into the slip. Luckily the wind was in our favor to do this. The Captain was able to maneuver the boat with our bow and stern thrusters to move it right or left. As soon as we got close enough, Pauline was able to toss a spring line to someone on the dock so that we could get attached to land. The remaining lines were tossed and Next Dance was again secured in the slip. Whew! What an experience. Not one we EVER want to have again.
After we were settled, Gregg Gandy called with the phone number for the ZF Controls technician. Together they went through the error codes shown on the controls processor, a large computer. All the readings were normal. Mark once again fired up the engine. Guess what – everything worked. No alarm, the throttle/transmission controls worked normally. What on earth?? He tried this a couple of times with the same result – everything worked. As mentioned before, the throttle/transmission controls on our boat are an electronic system. So the problem was not mechanical, it was electronic. So now the technician was stumped. He originally thought that it was probably a bad processor. But now that we could not duplicate the problem, he was not sure. He suggested we should try to leave in the morning and see if it happened again. Really? Mark asked what the next step would be and it would be to have the processor replaced with a new unit, and the existing one sent to the factory so it’s memory codes could be reviewed. After Mark got off the phone with him, we discussed all of our options and made the decision not to attempt crossing the Gulf Stream and potentially having the problem occur out there. If the problem reoccurred at mid crossing, 30 miles offshore, we could not communicate with land, except by using our emergency beacon and the tow back to the US would run into many thousands of dollars and we would be at the mercy of the waves and current for hours while waiting for the towboat. It was a quick decision that we were not going to put ourselves in danger.
Now the sad news. Our Bahamas trip will not happen. We made the decision not to go. If it was just affecting us, that would be one thing. But Mark’s son Scott, and his girlfriend Emily were flying into Marsh Harbour on 4/30. We had to make the phone call to tell them their trip has been rearranged. We are going to have someone come out to replace the processor, try to determine if there is anything else wrong which could have triggered the problem. Scott and Emily will fly into Fort Lauderdale or Key West, rent a car and drive here to Marathon. By the time they arrive, the repairs should be completed. We will spend our time with them exploring the Keys, take the boat down to Key West for a couple of days, and anchoring somewhere. No, it won’t be quite the same as being in the islands, but we can still have a good time. Emily has never been to the Keys, and Scott has only been to Key West with us. We’ll have a lot of fun exploring the Keys and spend a lot of time people watching. There are a lot of unusual characters down here! After they leave, our friend Louise Crowley is also scheduled to fly into Marsh Harbour. We haven’t made that phone call yet. But Louise is always a trooper and she will understand and we will have a great time with her also. After Louise departs, we will begin heading north up the east coast, a little sooner than we had planned.
So, we invited Mark and Lisa over for dinner, pounded down a few cocktails and finished off three bottles of wine. We drowned our sorrows and had a lot of laughs. Like we said in our last blog, with boating, nothing is written in sand.
In the end, we know we are making the right decision. We will continue our “shakedown” cruising close to the east coast. It is a new boat, and stuff is going to happen.
Until next time, fair winds and calm seas . . . (and no problems)
Pauline and Mark
Well furriends, there was a lot of activity this morning. The engine roared and off we went. All was good for awhile. We assumed our usual positions under the chairs in the pilot house. Then all of a sudden there were loud beeping noises and chaos in the pilot house. Mom and dad were clearly distressed about something. This in turn made us very upset. We didn’t know what was happening, but we didn’t like it. Over the next few hours this continued. A strange man came on board and added to all of the chaos. We proceeded to start foaming at the mouth, throwing up and pooping – sometimes we made it to the litter box, sometimes we didn’t. While dad and the stranger were going in the engine room, the pilot house and the flybridge, the loud beeping continued. The engine room door was open and that noise was really loud too. We were very distraught. Meow. Mom went on clean up duty and tried to calm us. She even gave Pema some medicine to get her to relax. After some time, we heard mom and dad say that we were getting towed back into shore. Thank God! We were done with that fiasco going on. We are glad to report that we are safe and sound back in the slip and everything is quiet. Wonder when the engine is going to roar again? Until it does, we are going to chill out and savor our time in the sunshine! Meow.
Ming and Pema, Boat Cats