“Life is short. Whatever happens, make sure you enjoy it.”

Liam, the author's partner in life and extravagant travel plans.
Liam, the author’s partner in life and extravagant travel plans.

Silver Linings of an Engine Breakdown

The engine squealed, loudly. It was the kind of squeal that announces a catastrophic failure of some kind: a death wail. I peered anxiously down through the companionway, taking in the worrisome sight of Liam lying defeated on the cabin sole and cursing profusely. This did not bode well for anyone. 

Liam: “I cooked the engine.”

Me: “What?!”

Liam: “It’s done. Dead. Never coming back.”

Me: “…Oh. Do you need a second cup of coffee?”

Liam: “*@#$%&!”

Me: “Ok.”

Not knowing what to say that wouldn’t add fuel to the fire, I retreated back to the sunny cockpit and trimmed the sails. It looked like, for the moment at least, we were going to be traveling the old fashioned way. 

Wild Rye, the author's Wauquiez Centurion 32
Wild Rye, a Centurion 32 .

The Great Refit Project

Liam and I were just beginning to settle into a life afloat. In December 2017 we had bought an old, somewhat dilapidated sailboat with the goal of refitting it and cruising the world together. We named the boat Wild Rye, rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Liam, my partner in life and extravagant travel plans, had the dubious honour of being Captain of the Great Refit Project. With me as his inexperienced and frequently mutinous First Mate, we began the long, slow journey of taking Wild Rye apart and putting her back together again. 

The author lends a hand during the rebuild.
The author lends a hand during the rebuild.

The first item to address was the old 1970’s era Volvo MD2 engine. A rusty relic that threatened to quit at any moment, it had to go. Since we were young and keen, with a small bank account and unshakeable confidence in Liam’s DIY abilities, we decided, against the recommendations of everyone we knew, to purchase a used Volvo engine as a replacement. The new-to-us-but-still-very-old engine had been recently rebuilt, and it would fit perfectly into our existing engine bed; most importantly, it was cheap. We patted ourselves on the backs for our savvy purchase and thought happily of the money we had saved.

This new-to-us Volvo MD2 seemed like such an easy compromise... at first.
This new-to-them Volvo MD2 seemed like such an easy compromise… at first.

Unsurprisingly, the new Volvo was an absolute lemon. Our relatively simple “Project Engine Replacement” turned into “Project Complete Engine Rebuild”, a nightmarish quagmire of broken parts and building costs. Liam spent several disheartening months trying to turn that engine into something useful; I seemed to spend most of my time fretting about the pileup of expenses and wondering what exactly he was doing that was taking so long. After countless early mornings and late nights, Liam declared victory over the uncooperative beast and installed it on Wild Rye

Liam eventually declared victory over the rebuilt Volvo.
Liam eventually declared victory over the rebuilt Volvo.

Finally Finished and Cruising… Briefly

Fast forward to May, 2019: after a year and a half of refitting Wild Rye, we had finally moved aboard in time for a dreamy summer of cruising north up the BC coast. Our plan was to sail up to Haida Gwaii, and then back down the outside of Vancouver Island. We had an ambitious schedule involving visits with several friends and family members and little time for anything to go sideways. The squeal of the engine seizing, one particularly hot morning in May, was the sound of all our plans crumbling to dust after barely two weeks of cruising. 

We sailed south towards Sutil Point at the thrilling speed of just under one knot, Wild Rye drifting in a melancholy manner that was well suited to our mood. Finally, as we rounded the point, a quickening breeze filled the sails and seemed to dispel some of the gloom on board. As though some benevolent sea god had tipped the scales in our favour, a pod of orcas surfaced just ahead of our bow as we made for the Gorge Harbour entrance. Moments later, a passing skiff slowed to offer us a tow into the harbour. 

A tow into Gorge Harbour provided a serendipitous end to a stressful day.
A tow into Gorge Harbour provided a serendipitous end to a stressful day.

Local Visitor, Worldy Wisdom

Safely tied to our mooring, we curled up on deck with a couple cold beers to sooth our crushed egos and sunburnt faces. As we relaxed into the evening, our frustration muted by the serene setting, our good friend Hubert – a Cortes local – rowed over for a visit. 

A lifelong sailor who has spent decades exploring the BC coast, Hubert was no stranger to all variations of engine troubles. As we recounted the morning’s dramas, he nodded knowingly. With the timing of a practiced storyteller, he launched into an engine breakdown story of his own: one summer, while sailing up the coast, an overheating engine forced him to dock in Dodge Cove for several weeks while he made some repairs. Not a man accustomed to sitting still, he introduced himself to some locals and spent his time in Dodge Cove helping out with any project that he could get his hands on. By the time he left, he knew the people of Dodge Cove so well that he somehow managed to resolve a decades-old feud between two of the locals on the night of his going away party. It was clear, as Hubert fondly recollected his time in the tiny community, that the experience had been an unexpected highlight of his summer. 

Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island wasn't such abad places to get stuck.
Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island wasn’t such abad places to get stuck.

We stayed up until the sunset had given way to velvety darkness, listening to Hubert’s travel stories and waving to rowboats that passed us with shouts of “Welcome to the neighbourhood!” Of all the places to get a little bit stuck, it was clear that Cortes was not the worst. My spirits considerably lighter, I realized I was already looking forward to exploring this friendly gem of an island more thoroughly. Hubert, with characteristic perfect delivery, left us with some parting words as he stepped back down into his dinghy and rowed away into the night:

“Life is short. Whatever happens, make sure you enjoy it. Don’t waste it; love each other a lot.” 

Liam, Captain of the Great and Terrible Refit.
Liam, Captain of the Great and Terrible Refit.

Adventure Found Us

I looked at Liam, Captain of the Great and Terrible Refit Project, and my partner in questionable life decisions. We had bought Wild Rye hoping for an adventure and, although it was taking a very different shape than we had envisioned, the adventure had found us all the same. Whatever happened, I was sure we would take it in stride the way we always did: with countless mistakes, frequent arguments, a bit of cursing and a lot of love.