|The Extra Mile|
3: The Fickle Finger of Fate
By Capt. Bill Pike — June 2000
Electrical systems can pose problems as well. A few years ago I encountered some strange fuel lines on a European boat as well as some weird-looking batteries that were incompatible with the requirements of the test-gear computer. After purchasing approximately $200 worth of oddball fittings from a hydraulic supply shop about 30 miles away and using them to effect an exceptionally Goldbergian installation, I had to hit the road again, this time to buy a 12-volt battery at Sears to power the computer.
The most outrageous factor complicating the realm of boat testing has little to do with fittings or batteries, however. Known as the Fickle Finger of Fate, it can crop up anytime. For example, in the midst of a test-gear installation on a motoryacht a couple of years ago, editor in chief Richard Thiel had to leave the vessel to locate some of those ubiquitous missing fittings. Thiel advised the captain not to crank the engines until he returned, as he had disconnected the return fuel line on the port main. Unfortunately, the captain left the boat temporarily and failed to inform the mate of the instructions. Thiel returned an hour later to discover the port engine idling and hot diesel fuel deluging the engine room. "It took me hours to clean up the mess," he recalls.
Senior editor Capt. Ken Kreisler tells a similar but even gloomier tale. At the end of a day much like Thiel's, he inadvertently lost touch with a return fuel line while disconnecting a test-gear installation in the superheated engine room of a big sportfisherman. Under pressure, the line began snaking around with momentary violence, bathing Kreisler in hot diesel fuel and overflowing his rubber-soled deckshoes. Eventually the rubber in the shoes began to break down, of course, and as Kreisler departed the vessel after a lengthy cleanup, the soles actually stuck to the swim platform, separating from the uppers. A cab ride later, in an Army & Navy Store where he'd gone to purchase new clothes, Kreisler heard the following comment from the manager concerning his diesel-fuel-reeking, barefoot appearance: "Good Lord, man, you stink...and where's your shoes?"
Unfortunately, not all the chaos is quite so whimsical. My personal best--or worst--story of test-related bad breaks took place in November in New Jersey several years ago. With a near-perfect test almost complete on a big sportfisherman, the builder/captain and I simultaneously noticed a rapid and unexplained reduction in speed. A subsequent inspection of the engine room revealed the reason: The boat was sinking--fast--with sea water almost halfway up the engines, a dire situation made worse due to the frosty weather conditions. With the aid of five-gallon buckets, stout hearts, and St. Christopher, the patron saint of boat testers, we kept the vessel afloat long enough to make it to the nearest TraveLift. The problem? Poor rudder design had allowed water pressure to lever a couple of holes in the hull bottom. The vessel never made it to market, so I never wrote a report, but it still cost PMY thousands of dollars in saltwater-immersed equipment. I always figured the test was worth it, though, since it helped bring to light a little unvarnished truth--which is, after all, the whole point of doing boat tests in the first place.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.