Monday, February 20, 2012

The Beast From 10 Fathoms
The old grill came with the boat. A round, relatively small, Magma, maybe 14 inches across. Serviced by 1 lb. bottles of highly priced propane, actually, the propane was cheap but you had to buy the steel container it was packaged in (I can’t believe that no one is out making fiberglass ones).  My dream was to buy a big enough grill and a 10lb aluminum tank, connect the two and live out the rest of my days grilling shrimp the size of my fist. After a few seasons of living with my old grill with its little lava rocks and quirky hot and not so hot spots, I came to enjoy its simplicity, To the delight of the local fish an Italian sausage would occasionally roll off and over the low side accompanied by a twirl and a splash. These losses were rare and taken as part and parcel of grilling on a non-stationary platform.  The only serious lost was when I was lighting the grill with a long lighter, I created a fire ball that sent me backward in an effort to save my eyebrows. I inadvertently picked up the grates with the lighter and sent it flying into the deep. The fish and I were not amused. This was the first night of a two week vacation and we were loaded with little goodies patiently waiting in the fridge for their turn to be on the fire. Fortunately, we managed to find a ridiculously priced replacement at our next stop and were once again in BBQ heaven. The day arrived at last, the long researched square “Newport” Magma of my dreams was being heavily discounted at West Marine, shipping in the contiguous US free! Now was the time. I pounced on the web site and within a few seconds had one on its way to the house. Who cares if it’s February? Thoughts of grilled steak fragrances wafting downwind…
We used the standard rail mount clamp that worked so well with our old round grill, but felt that the grill was not quite outboard enough, and we were going through one pounders like candy on Halloween. I tried moving the base around but was not truly satisfied with its location. To cut down on the propane cylinders, we purchased a little brass contraption that allowed me to refill used one pounders from a larger propane tank. For a while, things were good. But alas, my anal tendencies goaded me, can you say OCD? I purchased an aluminum tank, a match to the two we already had on board. Always good to have redundancy I told myself. Also a 6 ft. hose, set up for a propane tank to a heater with all the right ends, and started my dream project. The set up worked perfectly out of the box on a few pieces of chicken and I thought we were on our way. All I had to do is mount the tank somewhere, wire-tie a few things, and we could get down to some serious grilling.  As Bugs would say “What a maroon”. The almost full propane tank stopped delivering. Odd. I changed tanks and it worked again. Bad or frozen tank valve on a brand new tank I thought. We were still in the Chesapeake heading south and after a couple of stops and some phone calls I located a propane distributor who could do the job. Great guys, even refilled the propane tank when done. So I happily brought my newly refitted tank back to the boat and, you guessed it…same problem. I started looking more closely at the hose then went back to the Internet. Sure enough, this wasn’t any old hose. Being a hose for a heater it had some built in “safety” features, and like the new tanks, had to have enough pressure on the fittings to open, it also had some spring loaded internal valves the size of 14 gauge wires inside the fittings. At this point I’m going to launch the hose into low atmosphere. I might as well see what makes it tick and set about carving off the ends and taking apart the fittings. I finally found a screw driver small enough to unscrew the internal restrictors and wire clamped the hose ends back on. Well I got flow; I got so much flow that I could cook a 4 lb roaster in 20 minutes. Flames were jumping out the back of the grill and I could not get any control of the heat. Turns out the little grill regulators are no match for that much propane under pressure. It took a while but I managed to just crack the valve on the tank enough to “leak” gas to the grill without a flame out. All this for a lousy hot dog, I should have just gone down to the local greasy spoon. With the gas issue under control I tackled the issue of location. I know that Magma sells these arms that sit in a fishing rod holder and are highly maneuverable.  Great, I’ll just buy one and a clamp on a rod holder then I can put the grill anywhere at whatever angle. I first started with an old rod holder we had on board, which, just as advertised could be mounted anywhere and all you need to do is drop in the grill. Unfortunately the new grill base was not tapered, the old holder was, and after a night of grilling, heating and cooling the two became stuck together. So stuck that one had to unscrew the holder and the now attached grill, from the rail, find a nice area to lay this out and beat the holder off with a winch handle. On an early attempt in Great Harbor, Peter Is, BVIs I hit it so hard that the drip pan jumped out and, of course, went immediately overboard. The fish were fine with this as it had not been cleaned yet. I was about to mark the spot with the rest of the grill & holder assembly but thought better about littering the sea floor.  So with that knowledge I mounted a new holder purchased from West Marine and tried again. It went in and out easily but never held the base firmly. The grill would rock back and forth like a bobble head and sometimes rotate off to one side. I had to make a point of mounting it straight up. It worked but always was on my mind when it was on the rail. At this point we had made it down to Guadeloupe and the “Saints” a small cluster of Islands belonging to Guadeloupe just South of the main Island. I was working on my next plan to mount and had placed the grill over the transom. We had a grilled lunch and even made some extra chicken for future lunches. All seemed well, until that evening…. Laura and I had just finished dinner and were running the engine to top off the batteries when a crash was heard on deck. We both jumped up to the cockpit looking for the cause.  The grill was gone. The mounting clamp was still attached, but the tube and its burden were gone, shaken apart with a combination of load shifting and engine vibration. We looked over the transom hoping the swim platform had caught it, but no luck. 60 ft to the bottom.  I could hear the fish screaming with delight, food and housing, maybe this was part of the long awaited artificial reef. I started to laugh, not the ”I saw the Three Stooges do this before” kind of laugh, but as Laura would subsequently describe it, a more institutional type of laughter, closer to a wail or a scream. I was torn. I could leave the evil thing at the bottom and learn to grill with a garbage tin lid, some old palm fronds and some gasoline siphoned from the outboard or perhaps start wrapping things in foil and heating them on the exhaust manifold. Tough choice.  I was not about to let a piece of equipment get me, and for the rest of the evening I planned my next move.  We had purchased a used dive tank in St Martin. This would mean taking my first dive in 16 years in equipment not used or serviced in 16 years and go on a salvage dive to 60+ ft. Brilliant. Next morning I pulled out the old gear and tank. The BC (Buoyancy Control) had a leak in its rubber bladder, a very bad thing, the master valve was releasing pressure via a safety valve due to the tank pressure being over the 3500 lbs. not expected but not a bad thing. All the regulators worked, the dive computer came up but it had a low battery warning. I guesstimated the weight on the belt I should wear.  Not to worry, we temporarily fixed the BC with the dingy repair kit. We dropped a weighted line from the stern to pull up the grill if I found it, and in I went.  Things came back pretty quickly, I guess your brain realizes the importance of such things and goes into overdrive. Breath normally, clear your ears, slow descent. I was happy the visibility was so good that I could see the bottom clearly from just below the surface. It was grass about 4 to 6 inches over sand on a sloping hill.  I hit bottom at 63 ft. and started to where I thought the grill should have hit. I was worried that as it fell through the water the grill tumbled and opened up spilling out the grates. They would be almost impossible to find in the water or at local boat stores. It would be easier to buy a whole new grill. I started in the direction of where I thought the grill should have landed and within a few minutes found it. It had stayed together but a top corner of the lid was mashed up and some tack welds had broken. I locked the cover and tried to pick it up. Not a chance. I held on to it and inflated my BC to its max. The grill finally came off the sea floor and we made our way to underneath the boat. After securing the grill to the lift line, I went back to find the mounting tube. It had to be close to the impact area of the grill. After a few sweeps up and down the hill I found that also. A home run! Time to get back to grilling. I ascended to the boat and handed over the tube to a jubilant Wife. We just needed to hoist the bugger up. I stayed in the water to watch the process and Laura put the haul line on a winch and cranked away. At the surface we switched to the dingy engine hoist and brought her home. Can't wait to see what new trick of fate awaits. 
There will be unhappy fish.


  1. I love this story. Such a great adventure. Monika and I are going to the Cayman Islands in 2 weeks to get our scuba certification. We will also be able to rest at night knowing our grill will never be lost.

  2. Can we perhaps recommend skip the bbq and go for Sushi? Too funny!