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Saturday, 7 February 2015

Picaroon versus the JCB

We made an early start yesterday, and arrived at the boatyard at 8.30am for the expected launch of Picaroon at 9.30am, which was the time of the high tide. Although it’s only a 2ft tide it’s enough to ensure a safe launch, ie.,  no scraping our newly painted bottom. Picaroon had spent the night on the boat lifting trailer, so all was ready for a smooth operation that morning. I scrambled aboard to put out the fenders and sorted out the lines that we would need to secure her once she was afloat again.
??????????Because this is the Dominican Republic where punctuality is perhaps frowned on we’re not surprised that the haul in doesn’t begin till about a quarter to ten. The tides dropped about six inches but there’s still plenty of water to ensure our safe launch. Very slowly, tractor and the hulk, bearing our precious Picaroon creep across the concourse towards the ramp. I’m on board, to throw out the lines once we’re in the water, Jackie is watching nervously on the dockside, as we inch backwards and stop about six feet short of the water.
A few yards away a couple of the boat yard crew are trying to start the auxiliary digger that they use in tandem with the tractor to haul in and out for that extra horse power. It’s not the newest of diggers, in fact it’s perhaps one of the first JCBs ever made, and they’re having a problem getting the engine to fire into action. The stand pipe exhaust is belching black smoke and occasionally great globules of black liquid, which to my limited mechanical knowledge looks wrong. JCBNever the less, the battery seems to be in good order so they keep on cranking. More boatyard crew arrive to will the machine into life, and appear to tinker, but still it refuses to start. Someone arrives with the magic fluid that you spray down the air intake which often will coax a reluctant diesel into action. Half an hour later, with Picaroon and I watching the tide ebb slowly down the dock walls they give up on the old digger, and tell us that they have sent someone into town to hire another JCB, which maybe a little while. They need the extra security of the second JCB to stop the tractor and trailer slipping as we enter the water, so we have to wait, although the tide doesn’t wait of course.
I’m of course stuck up in the air on board Picaroon unable to get down, so I decide that there’s nothing to do but find a good book to while away the time. I decide on re-reading the Columbus log. It’s a copy of the ships log that Christopher Columbus wrote on his voyage to discover America. It’s sort of apt reading, and I ponder on whether he would have had the same problems before setting sail in 1492 with recalcitrant machinery that delayed his fleets departure. But the prologue just sets the scene, telling us a few facts about the man, and how he came to make this momentous voyage, there’s no mention of JCBs breaking down.
About an hour and a half later, there’s no sign of another JCB but a small truck has appeared and is being chained to the tractor. The tide has dropped a good 18 inches but they seem to optimistic that we can still launch Picaroon, so I put down the book and Picaroon begins to inch backwards on the hulk. As the tractor hits the slope close to the waters edge there’s a shudder and a jolt as the chain on the truck snaps tight, then goes loose again. Picaroon is now half in the water, well her aft end is and I go below to check the all important stuffing box, that I fixed last week when we were doing the cutlass bearing. As it was the first time I had stuffed a stuffing box I was nervous that perhaps I hadn’t done the job right. If it wasn’t right water would now be pouring into Picaroons bilge. I took the torch, and bent down to peer into the abyss of Picaroons bilge. Not even a drip, well that’s excellent, I thought, well done me. Back on deck and Picaroon slips unceremoniously into the water, no grounding, and I throw the ropes to secure her to the dock.
Jackie asks for permission to come aboard, it’s the first time she’s been aboard since we hauled out just before Christmas.. She can’t do ladders, which has been the only way to get aboard, and the ladders at Marina Tropical were a little Dominican, shall we say. Picaroon suddenly looks much smaller again now all that keel is hidden beneath the water. It was touch and go as to whether we would splash down today but in the end all went quite smoothly for the Dominican Republic, well except for the JCB.
A couple more weeks in Luperon and then we head for Haiti and Cuba.