Sailing with MacGyver

I wasn’t the first person to call him MacGyver. It was Neville, a single-hander we met just after we made landfall in the Azores. He limped into harbour a couple of days after us, having gone through the same gale we did but having fared much worse. His engine was seized, his boom was broken, and his batteries were dead. He’d been hand steering for four days and he was exhausted. Chris helped him put his boat back together as best he could using the sparse materials at hand, and ever after Neville called him MacGyver.


We set out for Newfoundland on Monday, under sunny skies. The wind was at our back, the seas lively but on our stern quarter so we were moving right along. We’d been out for about three hours when Chris gave me the wheel and went below to check something in the engine room. He was gone a long time. I heard the auxiliary bilge pump come on. Not a good sign.

“There’s water in the bilge,” he said.

“Where’s it coming from?”

“I don’t know but I’ve pumped it all out. I can’t see any obvious problems. Let’s just see what happens.”

We sailed along for a bit, going over all the possibilities we could think of. Then I went down below to see how we were doing.

“The bilge in the engine room is full,” I reported.

“Take the helm.”

He pumped the bilge out again, then came above deck.

“I’m just going to have a look in the garage.”

I’ve mentioned the garage before—remember? The enormous locker at the stern of the boat big enough to park a small car in? Well to our horror, it was almost full of water. Something had gone seriously wrong back there and the new bilge pump we had installed wasn’t keeping ahead of it.

“Turn around,” Chris said. “We’re going back.”

Now we were sailing into the wind and the seas, and it was impossible to point the boat back towards the Great Bras d’Or inlet without the help of the engine. Chris kept checking the garage—we weren’t winning.

“There’s a sandy bay over there,” I said pointing to a spot on the chart just outside the inlet. “We could drop anchor there.”

“Good idea,” Chris said. “It’s shallow enough there that we can ground the boat if we have to.”

I didn’t find this very reassuring.

We dropped the hook and while I kept an eye on the anchor, Chris hauled everything out of the garage—no small feat—stripped off his pants, stepped in, and started bailing with a bucket. The water was up to his thighs.

“There’s the problem,” he said, once the bottom of the garage had emerged. The engine exhaust hose, which unlike a car carries cooling water, not just exhaust, had split in two. We had been pumping the ocean into the garage as we motored out the inlet. And as we made our way back to relative safety.

He went down to his workshop, came back up with a can of glue, a roll of self amalgamating tape, and some shrink wrap—the kind we use to cover the boat in winter. Before long he had a temporary fix in place.

“Let’s get moving.”


We motored into the inlet, against the current but we didn’t really have much choice. We had to get out of the ocean. At one point, we were moving at one knot—about one mile per hour. It was after dark when we finally dropped anchor in the shelter of Otter Island. It had been a long day.

But a good day, in some ways. It reminded me that I’m sailing with MacGyver. We could have sailed across the ocean, if we had to, with the exhaust hose taped together so securely. Chris can fix anything but a broken heart.

Wait a minute—I’ve seen him fix one of those, too.


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