My Narrowest Escape!
Francis E. Caldwell
I left off last month with my foot hopelessly caught in the anchor line
, my 43-foot boat nearly ashore, and a fire in the foícísíle.
It was winter, and I wore a pair of old dress shoes inside fleece-lined overshoes. I put my left foot alongside my right and began to really pull. I pulled so hard sweat ran down my face. Little by little, I felt my foot start out of my shoe. Then it was out of the shoe, but still inside the overshoe and the rope was as tight as ever. Suddenly my foot pulled free, flinging me backwards onto the anchor line. As soon as my foot was free the overshoe flew overboard, and the anchor gear started running out again. This time I was more careful and managed to take a couple of turns around the winch.
The anchor found a hold in the rocks and the boat swung slowly around with the stern towards the shore. It stopped so close to the rocky beach I could have ran and jumped off. I leaned over and checked the wheel and rudder. They were not touching rock.
The deck was covered with snow and ice. My track to the stern was bloody. I examined my ankle and foot. A lot of skin was missing, but nothing seemed broken. For a few minutes I sprawled on my back on the hatch cover, gave thanks to the Lord, and allowed time for my heart to catch up. It was beating so rapidly it actually hurt. I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack.
A glance at the wheelhouse door confirmed my worst fears. A black cloud of acrid smoke was pouring out. I hobbled in, found the fire extinguisher, went into the foícísíle and emptied the extinguisher. Same as before, the fire died down, but flared up again. I then realized that I had to go to the rear of the engine room and kill the battery.
Taking a deep breath, I went into the engine room, blindly found my way through the acrid smoke to the back where two banks of 8D batteries, and the battery switch were located. I pulled the switch. Back in the foícísíle, I emptied a second extinguisher at the flames. The engine room bulkhead and overhead were scorched and burning. Finally the fire was out.
I went out on deck and laid down, coughing and gagging from the acrid smoke Iíd inhaled. After the smoke cleared, I inspected the wiring. It was charred. Nothing worked, including the starter button. There was plenty of wire in the lockers. I painstakingly began rewiring the starter, coil and whatever else it took to start the engine.
Thankfully, I had two banks of batteries. One was ruined, but the other was good. I held the ends of the two wires that ordinarily would have gone to the starter button together, and the engine roared to life. Iíve never heard a sweeter noise! The clutch and throttle were both mechanical. I hauled anchor and headed for town.
What caused the fire? Remember, I rewired the entire boat and changed the polarity from positive ground (a no-no for catching fish, I was told) to negative. But I missed the air horn. When I pressed the switch, the copper tubing leading up to the air horn itself on top the wheelhouse, got red hot. All wiring was tightly tied to this copper tubing!