Wild Horses was the only boat in the harbour as we entered our final week at Trident Yacht Club. Although we love living on the boat, the days and nights had started to feel very fall-like. The water at the docks had been shut off as had the laundry access. It was definitely time to end our boating season.
On October 23rd we moved into our new apartment in Gananoque and, the very next day, we set off for our last sail on Wild Horses for 2021 as we moved the boat from Trident Yacht Club to Loyalist Cove Marina in Bath, Ontario.
Only it wasn’t the melancholy, relaxing voyage that we had planned.
We set off from our dock slip under motor, with a very light south west wind and a bit of an overcast sky. The trip would take us west, through the Bateau Channel, past Old Fort Henry, in front of downtown Kingston and then finally to the town of Bath. We had already removed our big genoa sail for the season so with light winds and only the mainsail to deploy, we had decided to motor the whole way so that we could take the most direct route right along Kingston’s shoreline. In total we were looking at about 3 hours of motoring, with an expected arrival time of one o'clock.
Motoring along, our overcast sky turned to rainclouds. No worries, Wild Horses has a full enclosure so we were well-protected from the rain and the chilly air. It wasn’t a pretty trip but we were warm and dry. The rainclouds disappeared just before Fort Henry and we were looking forward to our last hour or so on the boat.
All of a sudden, our boat went silent. The engine on Wild Horses had just died. Ummm, yeah. Very unceremoniously, without warning, the engine stopped running, as though someone has walked over and turned it off.
Mike and I looked at each other with OMG panic in our eyes, but we immediately went into emergency mode. We had a vessel that was adrift and far too close to land. We needed to get power to the boat immediately or risk smashing into the rocky shoreline. Thankfully we had kept our mainsail on the boat and ready for deployment and thankfully there was enough wind to allow us to maneuver away from shore.
Whew, we were safe. I stayed at the helm, hoping for the wind to pick up so we could make some forward progress (our boat speed was painfully slow, toggling between 0 and 1 knots) while Mike started to trouble shoot our engine. After several minutes, he went over his findings. No power at all from the starter or the regulator but the batteries were full and all of our instruments worked. There was obviously an electrical failure of some sort but not one that we could find or fix in short order. It was clear that we needed help.
Was this a “mayday”? Nope. A “mayday”, or emergency coast guard call, is only when lives are in danger. This was not the case. The lesser emergency call of “pan-pan” was an option but with our one sail limping us along, we were doing okay. I mean, we are a sailboat after all 😊. No, our concern now was mostly about our intended destination at Loyalist Cove Marina. Sailing into a dock slip is rarely done and extremely challenging. With our big, beefy boat it would be almost impossible. We were also keenly aware of the time. Although it was still just before noon, we were currently only moving at about 1 knot. At this speed, we wouldn’t make it to Loyalist Cove until well after dark. Hmmm, sailing into a dock slip…at night…without help. Yeesh.
We decided to call the marina and let them know about our situation with the hope that the skeleton weekend staff would be able to help us. We were in luck! The owner’s son, Zack, was on site and had a work boat that could tow us. The only downside was that it was a small-ish workboat that couldn’t handle the big water of Lake Ontario. If we could make it to the narrow channel on the west side of Kingston, he would meet us and tow us the rest of the way. Wild Horses was now doing 3 knots so we were confident we could make it.
And we did. Just after 3pm we kept our rendez-vous with the work boat. After a short interlude for Zack and his mechanic friend to try to fix the engine, they concurred that we had an electrical problem but they also weren’t sure of the source. A tow was in order.
Brilliantly, the guys towed us the last half hour. It wasn’t an easy feat – they had to maneuver around a ferry, another sailboat and also add gas to their boat, all while towing us along. That is skill! And they expertly released us at our reserved dock with several Loyalist Cove members and crew ready to grab our dock lines and safely secure us in place.
The next day, a boat mechanic did a thorough check of our engine and found the issue. A tiny wire to the alternator had become unsecured and dropped onto the manifold, burning through the protective sheath and shorting out the wire. Wow.
With a temporary fix in place, we were able to move Wild Horses to the “haul out” well the following Wednesday. She is now sitting safely in her steel cradle for the winter, with a permanent engine wire fix scheduled for next spring. Although our experience on the water was unnerving, we were happy that we stayed calm and worked the problem to safety. Even more so, we were happy to have had fair winds and the skilled and wonderful crew at Loyalist Cove Marina to help us. 😊
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.