So the whole thing started because I was operating my mouth faster than my brain, a habit that 63 years on the planet (goin' on 64) has done squat to diminish. Anyway, I was purveying my political views to some poor soul while simultaneously trying to remove a nice little piece of brass hardware from the vicinity of Betty Jane's starboard side boarding gate, a sort of hinged break in her soon-to-be-varnished (hence my hardware removal exercise) teak railing.
"Blah, blah, blah," I was saying to the significant other of Brian Hicks, the guy who annually renews Betty's varnish, primarily because I seem to never have time to do it myself. Plus, truth to tell, Brian does a better job than I could ever do. "Blah, blah, blah, blah..blahdeblahblahblah."
The piece of hardware--I didn't even know what it was called at that particularly gloomy moment--popped loose under the pressure of the screwdriver I'd been distractedly plying (I'd already removed the two brass screws securing the piece to the top of the rail) and plummeted into the drink in a disastrous, slow-motion arc.
The sound shut me up for a moment, then sent me into a dither of thought, sometimes (but not always) a bad place for me to go. It was winter in North Florida--diving over the side was not really an option, at least for a guy like me who considers himself to be thin-blooded. But hey! The guy who'd just finished scraping barnacles off Betty's prop might still be around the marina, maybe workin' on somebody else's boat? He had a wet suit and a stout heart. Maybe we could get a little salvage operation going?
Ollie couldn't find a blessed thing--it was like the little brass chunk (whatever it was called) had dropped into a dark, alternate universe. "Sorry, Bill," he said, after fishing around in the murk for about 20 minutes, "I just can't seem to find it."
The next few days were enlightening. First off, I dug up an ancient Grand Banks catalog (see #3 in the photo above) which revealed the correct term for the piece I'd blathered and bloviated away: "Brass Rail Gate Latch." It was the folksy folks of Grand Banks, of course, who'd launched Betty in the first place so I gave 'em a call in search of a latch. In fact, I gave a whole bunch of Grand Banks folks calls all over the place. I even rattled 'em out of bed out on the West Coast one morning.
"The hardware's changed over the years," concluded a former dealer (or rather the parts manager of a former dealer), seemingly bringing the whole sad episode to a dreary end, "Chances of finding that particular part are slim to none."
On the verge of discontinuing my search, I called up a machine shop in town and explored the possibility of having a piece fabricated using an identical latch (there are three of the little jewels on a Grand Banks 32 Sedan) and the guy there said stop by and he'd see what he could do.
Then a miracle happened.
I got a call from one of the half-million people I'd called during my hunt for a replacement part--I'll be darned if I can remember who the heck it was--and that person suggested I call a fellow by the name of Dan Cross in Ft. Lauderdale. Dan, the person said, ran an outfit called D/C Marine. And if anyone would have a replacement for a Brass Rail Gate Latch for an antique vessel, it'd be Dan.
"You wouldn't have a Brass Rail Gate Latch kickin' around would you?" I asked after dialing 954-462-5643. I suppose I sounded rather pitiful. "I need one bad."
"Lemme look," he replied cheerfully.
About a half day later, I got a call from Dan. "I found one," he said, "and it's the only one I have. This is your lucky day, I swear...there's probably not another one of these babies in the whole world right now."
Here's a picture:
Dan charged me $49.95 for the part, plus shipping, by the way. More than fair, in my opinion, given the esoteric nature of the whole transaction. He took it to the UPS store himself and, a few days later, even took the trouble to call to make sure it had arrived safely.
Dan Cross. Ft. Lauderdale. What a guy!