Taking the Tiller: A Breakdown on the Shakedown

Our in-house blogger introduces the newest member of the family

July 13, 2007

Sorry for the dearth of blogs lately, dear scads of readers, but I was on a vacation-of sorts. True, I was out of the office for nine days, but much of that time was devoted to the prepping and transporting of the new boat from Milford, Connecticut, to his (yes, his-more on that later) new home in Padanaram harbor in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

On June 29, Charlie and I left in the late afternoon for the drive to Connecticut. We spent the night at his cousin Janet’s house in New Haven so that we could get to the boat first thing in the morning. For the record, it’s a 1973 Tartan 30, hull number 160. (I had described it as a 1970-something hull number 161 in my previous blog.)
We spent much of that day cleaning, organizing, checking out the rigging and sails, and generally familiarizing ourselves with the vessel. Around 2:30, we decided that we and the boat were ready for a test sail. We left the dock and Charlie navigated the congested and unfamiliar harbor as if he were a local.

Well, we weren’t quite out of the entrance of the narrow channel when Charlie suddenly realized that the engine was overheating-way overheating. Note to self: 250 F is not the optimum temperature for an Atomic 4. Panic was definitely an option, but as luck would have it, another sailor was passing to port at exactly that same moment. “I have to shut down my engine!” Charlie yelled. Congenially, the mystery skipper replied. “Want a tow?”


Charlie threw the guy a line and said, “Just get me past the first red buoy and I’ll throw up the main.” And our extremely impromptu plan went off without a hitch. We passed the buoy, the guy (thank you, whoever you are) threw us back our line, and we put up the main. Phew. Sort of. Now we were sailing in a busy harbor, on an unfamiliar boat, in a place neither one of us had ever been, and with a seriously unhappy engine.

I spent most of the time at the tiller while Charlie tried to figure out the problem. It turns out that the impeller was broken-and if you’ve been reading Steve D’Antonio’s recent maintenance columns in Cruising World, you’ll know, as I do, that that’s a small but important part of the engine. Without it, not enough seawater gets through to cool the engine and, hence, the extremely tropical temperature readings.

The good news is that our new boat sails like a dream-smooth, steady, and actually rather zippy in the right conditions. The other good news is that Charlie is never short of innovative ideas and quick fixes. He assessed the tide and the wind, and decided that we could definitely, well probably, OK, possibly sail almost all of the way back through the harbor and just turn the engine on long enough to dock.


There were a few hairy moments and some fickle wind changes that almost marred our foolproof plan. But just like the tow from our mystery savior, this strategy actually worked.

Once safely back at the dock, Charlie ran up to the marina’s well-stocked chandlery and bought the necessary parts to fix the engine, and I resumed my cleaning endeavor. After Charlie was satisfied with his handiwork, he let the engine run for about a half hour. Then, just to be extra sure, we went for a little engine-powered harbor cruise.
The early evening jaunt was lovely, uneventful, and assured us we were ready for the big trip up the coast. Oh, and by the way, an Atomic 4 is much happier at around 120 F.

In my next blog, I reveal the boat’s old name, new name, and why she is really a he.


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