It started out simple enough. Now that my sailboat, Kontentu, lays permanently at a marina dock, I realized that the loading of dive gear could be incredibly easy. And diving from a boat opens up the thirty or so dive sites that dot the perimeter of Klein Bonaire, our offshore island. I had dived Klein a few times with Wanna Dive, a local dive company. They run boats daily to the islet for a good price, but I was never able to choose the site. Going with my own boat heralded a new age of total freedom.
Joining me for the first expedition was my regular dive buddy, Bruce. While he has hundreds of shore dives under his weight belt, Bruce, like me, has done few dives at Klein Bonaire. We chose to go to Forest, a dive site described by the New Guide to the Bonaire Marine Park as… atypical, special. Forest is an avalanche of orange elephant ear sponges and dense bushes of black coral; tiger groupers of every age and size. Sounds good to me.
Conditions were calling for piping 18-knot winds, gusting to 20. For the maiden voyage, there were a lot of logistics to work out. Our dive gear was assembled and filled the recessed deck of the boat. There would not be much room to move around if we needed to tack while sailing. I chose instead to motor out to the dive site two miles away. Better to keep it simple for this first attempt. But before leaving port, I removed the sail cover and put in a reef (this reduces sail area for high winds) just for good measure. Always good to have a Plan B in case shit hits the fan.
As we approached Klein Bonaire by motor I heard a small ‘thump’, the kind of sound that occurs when something hits the prop. I immediately looked back and saw no flotsam behind nor any damage to the propeller. Perhaps something had hit the hull. Game on.
About ten minutes later we were motoring along the south coast of Klein paralleling the reef about 20 yards away. The dive buoy from Forest was in sight. So was an approaching squall, dark and furious. No worries. We should be hooked up and in the water by the time the storm reaches us.
Then the proverbial shit did hit the fan. I suddenly heard a ‘pop’. Looking back to the transom, the outboard motor was titled 30-degrees. Something had gone terribly wrong. My first action was to quickly get away from the reef while we still had power. I got some distance away when I heard the second ‘pop’. Now the motor was listing 80-degrees with the prop nearing the water surface! I immediately hit the kill switch and grabbed the motor as I thought the entire mount might break and head into the drink. Bruce scrambled back to the stern and helped me unscrew the motor clamps from the now-very-twisted bracket. Of course, the wind from the squall hit us at this time producing 3-4 foot waves. That really made getting the motor off a challenge, but at least the boat was being blown parallel to the reef. We finally got the motor loose and found a place to stow it on the deck between the dive gear. It was time for Plan B.
By now the squall was in full force. I would guess winds were 22 knots, gusting to 25. I rarely sail my boat in any winds over 20 knots, but there was no choice. I asked Bruce to point the boat into the wind and I raised the reefed main. With all the dive gear and a motor low on deck, plus two guys on the rail, Kontentu sailed like a champ due to all of its cargo.
Long story, short. We easily sailed home through the squall and back to the marina. I inspected the twisted bracket along the way and discovered two of the four mount’s bolts had sheered off. It would have been just moments before the other two broke sending the motor and bracket down in 400-feet of water. We entered the marina and I swung a 180 and popped the main sheet. Kontentu kissed the dock and we were home safe. So was the motor. Just another day on the water.