Recap: Seeing the Light

Further’s home in Myrtle Beach: the Grande Dunes Marina

When I pulled into the Grande Dunes Marina on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was in a bad way. The transmission on Further was clearly messed up, so much so that my entire trip was in jeopardy. There were no real marine-industry-type resources in Myrtle Beach and I had grave doubts about being able to move Further anywhere I might be able to find some. I did quick research and found a marina back by one of the drawbridges at the north end of the town, and I figured I could probably pay for a tow to drag Further there to be hauled out. She could stay the winter and I’d go back to Annapolis and figure out what to do next.

In the short term, though, I guessed I’d hang out on the boat at the marina and “do” Thanksgiving there: maybe roast a small chicken, cook up some veggies, probably drink a very large quantity of wine. Why the hell not? The dream trip was over. Oh, and on top of being stuck in Myrtle Beach with a non-functioning transmission, the diesel heater on board decided to give up the ghost. And it was getting chilly—down to 32 or 33 degrees at night—even in South Carolina. WTF?! Man, I was done.

Seriously. I couldn’t go spending several thousand dollars on a new transmission. That was a trip-ender. Hell, it might even have been a boat-ownership-ender. Would I haul the boat out and try to sell it? Would I leave it floating in the marina, live aboard and get a job for the winter in Myrtle Beach? I had no real idea where I was going, on the trip and in my life. Everything had been pointing toward this trip, this fulfillment of a dream going back to when I was twelve or thirteen, and now here it was, coming to an end thanks to a blown-up transmission. Yeah, I was in a very dark place.

Soaring (and smiling again) over Georgia

To my rescue came my new friend, Chip, who’d journeyed aboard Further with my oldest, bestest buddy, Dave, from Norfolk to Wrightsville Beach. Chip lives in Atlanta and he used airline miles to enable me to make the one-hour flight over to his home, where I spent the holiday with him, his wife and his two college-aged kids, along with a whole host of friends with whom they did an annual community Thanksgiving dinner. Four days of fellowship, happy times, walks around Atlanta’s neighborhoods and even a little time going soaring over rural Georgia (Chip is a big-time glider pilot and spent a day giving check rides to area pilots) snapped me out of my funk and got me back on track. I was still pissed, to be sure, but the pity-party clouds had been lifted and I knew I could proceed with as as-yet-undetermined action plan. It may sound hyperbolic, but I will never be able to repay Chip and his family for their kindness. I was in that bad a place on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2023, but by the Monday after the holiday weekend, I was on the ball again.

In my research, I found a guy/company that was a specialist in marine transmissions in Georgetown, S.C, about 50 miles down the ICW. I filled out a form on the guy’s website and left a message on his voice mail. In my messages I made it clear I was from up north, not a local, and was simply en route down the ICW. To my surprise, he called me back about an hour later. And to my anger, when he asked me when I was hoping to get the boat looked at and I said sometime in the next week, he literally guffawed over the phone. Loudly. He then told me he and his company were already scheduling work in 2025 (yes, 25). I mean: the mother#$% knew I wasn’t local, knew I wasn’t able to look at a long-term project (let alone one that wouldn’t even begin for a year-and-a-half), and still he had the nerve to ask me that timing question. Basically, he wanted to be able to laugh at some sad-sack out-of-towner. He also made it clear he was an asshole. (Seriously, if you’re ever in need of marine work in South Carolina, steer clear of A&M Marine).

And then my buddy Kevin, he of Kiana who, along with his wife, had inspired me to start this trip in the first place, lit a fire under my ass. He was adamant—and loudly so—that I could remove the blown-up transmission and put in a new one myself. He connected me with a company in Virginia whose phone operators knew more about marine transmissions than me, certainly, and more than any sailor I’d ever spoken to before. They then delivered a new transmission exactly matched to my boat’s engine not in the two days they’d promised but overnight. And by pure luck I wound up in a slip at Grande Dunes Marina next to a powerboat captain who connected me with a local marine contractor who couldn’t do the work (he was too booked already) and despite not knowing me from Adam, loaned me some tools that I didn’t have but needed to remove the old transmission. Things were looking up.

Fast forward and over the course of several days—during which I also found, in (long) walking distance, a great little used-book store and a brewpub that had a good porter AND had the NHL channel on one TV nonstop—I not only got the old transmission disconnected from the back of Further’s engine, but I also got the new one in place, hooked up and actually working properly! Holy cow! I never in a million years thought I’d install a transmission on anything, but I did it. And I did it correctly, successfully, well. AND I probably saved $8,000 to $10,000 in labor charges—and in a couple of weeks instead of all the way out in 2025 as that asshole on the phone had suggested it was going to be. The day after putting the final touches on the installation, I took Further out onto the ICW and ran a mile or so downstream, turned around and came back. Everything seemed fine…knock on wood.

Feelin’ good…back at the wheel and on the move again

Finally, at 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 8, a full 17 days after pulling to Myrtle Beach, I departed the Grande Dunes Marina and resumed my trip south along the ICW. I was hoping to make it to a marina about 30 miles or so down the ditch and call it a day, maybe reassess how (if?) the new transmission worked and then try to make it to Georgetown, S.C., the following day, ahead of a winter storm that was forecast to be downright nasty.

Well, not only did the transmission run like a champ but my timing was exquisite, and I got a nice tidal push down the Waccamaw River. As a result, I did the entire 45 miles to Georgetown in one shot, where I grabbed a slip at a marina right downtown—a cute, little section of town that was all down up for the Christmas holidays—and settled in for a couple of days to ride out the impending storm.

Just as I can’t really convey how dark things were looking on that day before Thanksgiving, and just as I can’t ever sufficiently repay Chip and his family for their immense kindness over the holiday, I can’t convey how empowering it was to change out a transmission on my own. That might be the greatest outcome of my two-week detour in Myrtle Beach, and for that, I will be forever grateful. “Once in a while you get shown the light / In the strangest of places if you look at it right…”


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