The water was flat calm as Bob Matthews and his wife, Catherine, backed out of their slip and headed up the creek at no-wake speed. With clear skies and a windless forecast for the early morning hours, conditions were perfect for kicking off their fishing season. Striped bass were today’s target, but a lengthy cruise down the twisty two-mile tributary to the harbor would need to be made before making the 16-mile run along the beach to a rocky point where one of Bob’s friends had scored the limit the day before.
“We had some bad gas in the tank on our initial shake-down run a week prior,” relayed Bob, “so we just wanted to make sure everything was good to go before heading out of the harbor. Our mechanic had suggested we add some dry gas to the half-filled tank, change our filters, and top off with hi-octane fuel to clear-up the problem. If the engine were still running rough at that point,” Bob continued, “we could always get the old gas removed and start with a clean slate.”
After an initial cough or two, the older, two-stroke outboard seemed to be working perfectly. It purred softly at idle and slow speeds inside the creek and hummed appropriately out in the harbor. Bob cut the engine twice to make sure it would restart and, having no problems, pointed the bow east toward open water and his striper hot spot.
“Everything seemed to be going fine as we made our first couple of drifts,” revealed Bob, “Then, as we set up for a third pass off the point, the engine sputtered and died. I tried to turn it over few times, but it would cough a little and then shut down as I kicked it into gear. I checked to make sure the fuel line was clear and fully engaged at both ends, pumped the bulb a few times to confirm gas was getting to the engine, and even tried waiting several minutes between tests to make sure I hadn’t flooded the system. Nothing worked. We were dead in the water.”
With no other choices, the Matthews allowed their vessel to drift clear of some moderate rips and dropped anchor as the tide graciously carried the 19-foot center console into a quiet cove with a clean, sandy bottom.
“I think it’s time to call Sea Tow,” said Catherine. “You can always keep trying to get it running while we wait for them to arrive.”
“Guess so,” responded Bob, “I have their number in the dashboard storage box. I’ll give them a shout. There’s a package of cut clams in the cooler, so we can fish the bottom for scup and sea bass while we wait. Maybe we can still put a few fillets on ice.”
Even if they keep their vessels well-maintained and take all the basic precautions necessary before heading out, most boaters at some point experience engine trouble or some other mechanical failure that can prevent them from safely arriving at their destination or turning around and heading back to port. Steering cables break, oil pumps quit, throttles and shifters seize, submerged rocks damage bottom units. Like it or not, that’s all part of the boating experience. While no one is ever happy with such occurrences, it can sure be a relief to know Sea Tow is always ready to come to your aid when a trip slides off course.
On this mildly ill-fated trip, the Matthews decided to sit back and drop their fishing lines over the side while waiting for Sea Tow to make the hour-long run. Before the yellow response vessel drew close, they managed to ice a dozen slab porgies and two tasty black sea bass. Several additional attempts to start the engine had failed, so their Sea Tow captain secured a tow line and, safely connected, they all headed home against what was by then a stiffening breeze.
“The trip home took nearly two hours, but it was, all things considered, pretty relaxing,” recalled Bob. “In fact, at one point I had contemplated putting out a couple of trolling rigs. I know of another Sea Tow member who did that on a return tow from offshore waters in Florida - he actually caught a couple of mahi. We had enough fish in the cooler already, though, so we decided to just take it easy. We had plans to meet friends for an early dinner and drinks at a waterfront restaurant back near the marina. Thanks to Sea Tow’s quick response, we managed to make it with time to spare. We even had time to run home, shower and freshen-up before heading out to eat.”
Of course, the convenience and reassurance of having a Sea Tow membership provides a feeling of security whenever you hit the water, but it was when they got back to the dock that Bob and Catherine also got a good look at the true monetary value their membership provides. Once their vessel was safely secured, their assisting captain assured them there would be no charge for the service. As a Sea Tow member, their invoice was $0. The typical charge in their area runs $300 per hour from the time a tow vessel leaves the dock to the time it returns, so if not a member their tow would have cost $1200.!
“Getting our Sea Tow membership was one of the smartest boating moves we’ve ever made,” laughed Catherine. “It’s saved us a lot of money in the time we’ve had it.”
The Matthews have since had the bad gas removed from their tank, changed all their fuel filters, and made a practice of keeping their gas tank filled through the cooler months after a full winterization. They are currently in year six as boat owners, and year five as Sea Tow members.
“It is good to know that Sea Tow is out there 24/7,” concluded Bob. “We’re friendly with our local Sea Tow captains. In fact, we wave at them when cruising past. Sometimes we even pull up and get a fishing report. Membership, after all, does have its privileges.”
Written by Tom Schlichter
Tom Schlichter is a full-time outdoors writer, editor and marketeer living on Long Island, NY. Follow him on Facebook at @outdoortomcorp or visit his website at www.outdoortom.com.