Broken Down on the North Coast

August 23, 2010

Once past the major population centers, cruisers are on their own. Or are they? Over the years we’ve heard many stories of problems that were dealt with when the whole coast came together to help when help was needed. This does not relieve boaters from being prepared, but even well-prepared boats can’t have everything. Dave Scott sent this account, with photos.

My wife, Eddylee, and I had left Barnard Harbour about 10:30 a.m. on July 21st with the intent of taking our American Tug 41 Prime Time II down the remote west side of Princess Royal Island and through Meyers Narrows, to an anchorage on the way to Shearwater. We have made this trip several times. It is a beautiful route, although rarely traveled by most cruisers, and it can get rather nasty (Hecate Strait).

getting towed

Without warning, four hours later near Kent Inlet on Laredo Channel, traveling at 1570 RPM towards Laredo Sound and Meyers Passage, the boat quit moving forward although the engine continued to run normally. It was pretty easy to guess transmission failure. Dropping into the engine compartment, I saw that a hydraulic hose leading from a transmission valve had separated from the fitting. Oil was spewing everywhere.

No boats in sight, tide ebbing SE, wind 10 kts, and 8oo feet of water under us. I spent the next hour trying to devise a way to bypass the Amont Valve & Filter and connect the transmission to the oil cooler. Not surprisingly, I did not have enough fittings.

If this had happened an hour later, we would have been in Meyers Passage, a narrow channel with kelp-choked areas and currents—a boat disaster ready to happen!

Coast Guard boat

Eddylee waved down a DFO fisheries patrol boat that had appeared. They took us in tow, heading back north toward Hartley Bay, while contacting the Canadian Coast Guard SAR vessel, Gordon Reid, assigned to that area. About an hour later, a Coast Guard RIB brought the Reid’s chief mechanic to our disabled boat. He reviewed the situation and took the broken hose back to the machine shop on the Reid to build a new hose with our old fittings.

When the mechanic returned with the new hose and old fittings. we reconnected all the old hoses, filled the transmission with my gallon of transmission oil and a quart from a gallon of 30 wt. oil they gave me, and tested all. We went back to Barnard Harbour with a Coast Guard “shadow,” arriving at an unused float about 8:30 p.m.

The Problem:

The Coast Guard mechanic pointed out the cause of the failure: The fittings used for the plumbing of the Amont Valve are really good and designed to facilitate “at sea” repairs. However, the vendor that provided the aftermarket plumbing used the wrong hose. In the photo you probably cannot read the impression on the hose. It says: “ISO 7840-A1 with 26 SERIES CRIMP FITTINGS ONLY.”

Our Quandary:

The damn boat was unsafe. We didn’t know if the transmission had suffered damage when it ran out of oil. We had four more hoses with eight fittings, any of which could blow apart at any time. At the very least we needed to get the oil and filter changed, and the incorrect hoses replaced with the correct series. We were not about to put the boat and ourselves at risk without some resolution.

wrong hose

At Barnard Harbour we were at a float with no communication ability other than going to a fishing lodge and using their comms with my laptop for email and Skype.

The nearest facility with comms was Hartley Bay, some three hours away.

Prince Rupert was 95 miles north, two days’ run, and across Chatham Sound, which can get nasty.

Shearwater was 113 miles south, three days’ run, through Jackson Passage, Perceval Narrows, and Reid Passage. Shearwater has docks and a large marine repair facility.


Potential Solutions:

The safest and best (and probably cheapest) would have been to fly a mechanic to either Hartley Bay (if I could get the insurance company’s permission to move the boat) or to Barnard Harbour with 20’ of hose, a portable vise, a few extra fittings, tools, two gallons of oil (I had a spare filter on board), a container for the used oil, and a couple of quarts of degreaser (the engine room and carpet runners were a mess).

However, Barnard Harbour’s King Pacific Lodge, a gorgeous high end resort in the heart of beauty and big fish, had a chief mechanic who was willing to help. We removed and measured for new hose lengths and correct size fittings. The mechanic ordered replacements from a hydraulic hose company he has used in Prince Rupert. It was Friday.

I spent Saturday cleaning the engine room and bilges (oil everywhere; the lodge was able to dispose of the waste).

Sunday, the mechanic and I took one of the fast Lodge boats 25 miles to Hartley Bay to meet the float plane from Prince Rupert with all new hoses and five gallons of oil. We installed and tested everything that afternoon and were off the next day, July 26th (our 26th wedding anniversary).

This story would be incomplete if we did not thank all those who came to our aid. The cast of “Boat Angels” (in order of appearance):

Officers Davey, Gyorfi & Otto of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. We commonly refer to them as the “Fish Cops,” charged with enforcing all the Recreational & Commercial B.C. fisheries.

Once they realized that we were in real trouble, they immediately and professionally changed their roles from “Enforcers” to very practical “Rescuers.”

The 15 officers and crew (Red Cycle) of the Canadian Coast Guard ship Gordon Reid, commanded by Capt. Donald Lee.

Thoroughly trained, highly professional, and infused with a “can do” attitude, they took over from the DFO folks and got the job done.

Robert Penman, manager of the King Pacific Lodge (, who had the uncanny presence of mind to recognize our dilemma and integrate the workings of their high end operation with lending us their chief mechanic, staff, boats and supplies.

Bill Clark, King Pacific Lodge’s chief mechanic. A highly skilled and knowledgeable “bush” mechanic, who rolled up his sleeves, got his tools and lived with me in the engine room until all five new hoses were installed and tested.

BYTOWN Diesel Services Ltd. (Prince Rupert). On Friday afternoon we emailed them the specs to manufacture the new hoses. After several phone calls to clarify our requirements (they really understood the necessity of “getting it right” the first time when dealing with remote locations). At 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning six new hoses were delivered by float plane to Hartley Bay, 95 miles from their shop. All were perfect, as specified.

The TOMCO (builder) staff, available at work or home 24/7 to guide us through the week. They were prepared to hop on a plane to come to us.

Thanks to all.

Dave Scott
M/V Prime Time II

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