Skip to main content

Electronics to the Rescue

  • Author:
  • Updated:

I mark my time as editor of PMY with a number of technological milestones. One was when we got our first fax machine. (Until then we relied on the U.S. Mail and something called a telex, whose mysteries I could never fathom.)

When the bell on our machine sounded, the staff would all gather ‘round to watch a fuzzy, streaky document spool out. We were as enraptured as relatives of the deceased at a séance. Actually reading the thing was another matter.

A few years later came computers for writing and designing and then mobile phones, although coverage was so spotty, conversations never lasted long.  On the plus side, we had the ready means to get rid of anyone we didn’t want to talk to by simply uttering the words, “Sorry, you’re breaking up.”

But the major technological milestone of my PMY career was the electronically controlled diesel. As a former diesel mechanic, I appreciated the improvements electronics ushered in, such as better fuel efficiency and throttle response and reduced smoke. But as a guy who tested boats, I absolutely rejoiced because the electronics could also display in easy-to-read numerals the exact fuel consumption rate at any rpm, which I needed to create the performance grid that goes with every boat test. Until then, my colleagues (including Capt. Pike) and I could obtain this precious data only by breaking into each boat’s fuel system (messy) and inserting into its supply and return lines devices that were notable for their utter lack of reliability: The smallest piece of debris required a disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly on the spot (even messier). You can imagine why no one wanted to sit next to us on the plane ride home.

Referred to simply as “the test gear,” this equipage (above) consisted of two boxes, each weighing maybe 40 pounds. One contained flow meters and the electronic display, the other, tools, rags, and enough fittings, clamps, and hose to outfit an oil rig. Yet we never seemed to have the right combination and usually ended up resorting to a makeshift assembly that would have made any Coast Guard safety inspector swoon.

All this became just a nightmarish memory with the advent of electronic diesels. Today when we test a boat we don’t even have to wash our hands when we’re done, proving again the value of technology. Although I still long for the days when I could whimsically extract myself from a boring phone call.