Visiting Easter Island (Boat-Based)

Hanga Roa Stopover (continued)

David makes some unscheduled outboard motor repairs.  

The panga driver towed the dinghy out of the harbor, through the surf line, and back to Nine of Cups without any difficulty; the dinghy towed very easily now that it was right side up. As we neared Nine of Cups, Marcie must have seen us coming because she had rigged a few fenders to hold off the panga. We both climbed aboard Nine of Cups, glad to be back in one piece, and tied off the dinghy to our boat. Before he left, I tipped the driver 10,000 pesos (which is about $16). His eyes popped out when he saw the denomination and he was very pleased, so it must have been a very good tip. But I considered it to be a small price to pay for the services he rendered. He basically saved our lives, or at least saved us from lots of extra effort to swim the dinghy in, which would have had its own risks and possible complications. Plus he gave us a tow back to Nine of Cups, and panga shuttle service costs $10 to $20 a day anyway.

Before we left the harbor, a surfer had found my hat floating in the surf zone and had paddled his surfboard all the way back into the harbor to return it to me—very nice. In the end, we didn't lose any equipment, although I lost the two plastic earpiece covers from my sunglasses (which had already fallen off a few times anyway).

Once we were on board Nine of Cups, we told Marcie what had happened. She hadn't seen us flip, and as we were being towed back she thought we had had motor trouble and didn't at first see that we were dripping wet. I went below to change and Marcie kindly rinsed out my salty clothes and hung them to dry. David also changed clothes, then immediately started the rather lengthy process of resurrecting the motor. The manufacturer correctly assumed that motors might get dunked so the manual had detailed instructions for restoring a motor after a salt water immersion. Basically, get rid of all the salt water in the engine, rinse everything with fresh water, then lube various important moving parts to keep them from corroding. The good part about these engines is that they normally burn a mixture of gas and oil, so most engine surfaces, inside and out, are already covered with a thin layer of oil that keeps the salt water from attacking the alloy metal of the engine. But the key is to flush and lube the engine as quickly as possible, before the protective layer of oil washes away.

I hadn't checked my backpack yet, which had my camera in it. The camera was either OK or not OK and there wasn't anything I could do about it now. Once I unpacked it, there was a little water in the ziplock bag but only a few drops on the camera—amazingly enough, it worked. I dried the water off and opened up all the compartments, then left it in the sun and wind to dry out. I really had a lucky break, and I was very glad that I had taken the time to double-bag the camera at the last minute, using a fresh ziplock bag. I had put my wallet, passport, memory sticks, and a few other things inside another ziplock bag, and these survived just fine without any water damage. My notepad and Rapa Nui tourist brochure were soaked; so were my backpack and shoes.

Unfortunately, the nice ICOM handheld VHF also got soaked, and despite rinsing it in fresh water and drying it out, the radio hasn't yet worked. This is a significant loss, since the handheld radio not only was expensive but also was an important piece of gear. But we do have another handheld VHF which is part of the emergency ditch kit. Too bad we didn't think to put the radio in a plastic bag. As an aside, we haven't given up on the radio yet. Both David and I are inveterate tinkerers and we will do our best to repair and restore the radio, if it's at all possible with our limited tools and spare parts.

After working on the outboard motor for an hour or so, David was ready to test it. After many yanks of the cord he finally got the motor to sputter to life, but since it was mounted on the big boat's stern rail, he immediately hit the kill switch (the motor needs to have cooling water to run for more than a few seconds). We lowered the motor to the dinghy and David prepared to go on a shakedown cruise to run-in the motor and dry it out. Unfortunately, he couldn't get it to start despite yanking the cord dozens of times. Due to approaching darkness, the motor resurrection effort was put on hold until tomorrow.

In general, we were both lucky. We managed to stay with the dinghy when it flipped, so we didn't have any problem staying afloat. Without ready access to the dinghy, it would have been much more difficult and dangerous (at least for me). We also were not in immediate danger from rocks or breaking waves, which also was lucky. The water wasn't cold, the flipping dinghy didn't hit us in the head, no one became trapped underneath or tangled in a line, etc., lots of lucky little details.

The main lucky break was that a panga with an observant and compassionate driver happened by literally minutes after we flipped. He helped us out and saved our bacon. It's the off-season and there's very little panga activity, so we were very lucky the panga happened by. That was a major lucky break. Things could have been a lot worse. We could have had serious problems. Either David or I could have drowned, or both of us, thousands of miles from home, leaving Marcie with an immense problem on her hands.

But, like they say, a miss is as good as a mile.

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