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Nothin’ To It, Bub

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So what a pickle! The yard had just launched Betty Jane, complete with the new flying-bridge engine control I’d just installed myself. The control had worked fine at first, producing several successful gear changes while the TraveLift’s slings continued to hold sway. But now here we were, Betty and I, well beyond the TraveLift, out in the fairway, and the control would no longer give me forward propulsion. So, I began backing down gingerly, allowing a faint breeze to push Betty alongside a nearby dock.

Shoot! It was Saturday afternoon, the TraveLift operator admitted to being “no mechanical genius,” the rest of the yard’s employees seemed to have gone home, and I really needed to move Betty to her marina, a mile down-river, so I could finally put a stop to the decidedly evil practice of paying a yard bill while simultaneously paying a monthly slip rental. I eyed the control warily. Based on our short history together, I figured it would take several hours to troubleshoot the darn thing, fix it, and reinstall it. I phoned my wife. “Looks like a late night,” I said.

The job started out jauntily enough but soon turned rocky, not only because I was tired and frustrated but because I was constrained to work within the interior of Betty’s flying-bridge steering console, a spot that’s about as spacious as a woodchuck hole. After lying inside for 40 minutes fiddling unsuccessfully with the underside of the control, with my feet sticking out the access hatch, sweat dripping off my nose, and electrical wiring hanging in my eyes, I decided to momentarily withdraw, sit at Betty’s helm, and enjoy a somber period of self pity.

The exercise was soon interrupted, however. I spotted a white-haired old codger zip across the tarmac in a forklift and disappear into one of the giant sheds. He looked ancient; in fact so ancient I was a tad surprised the yard let him operate heavy machinery. And despite his age, he cut quite a figure, with hulking work boots, a leathery tan, and a big sheath knife on his left hip, as well as an array of screwdrivers hanging from worn rawhide straps. Could such a guy actually help with a problem as pressing as my own? Could he even make it safely up Betty’s flying-bridge ladder?

After telling myself, “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” I decided there was only one way to find out. I chased the old boy into the shed, cornered him, and asked if he knew anything about engine controls and their relationship to transmissions. He nodded and then without uttering a word, accompanied me to Betty’s flying-bridge ladder, which he ascended with the agility of a gazelle.

Magic happened next. With one of his screwdrivers, he removed an annunciator panel at the rear of the steering console, several inches below the engine control, thereby granting unfettered access to the control’s inner workings from outside (rather than inside) the steering console. Then, while comfortably seated at Betty’s helm, he quickly found where I’d improperly adjusted the gear-shift cable, put it right, and followed up by reattaching the panel.

I was darn near speechless! A pain-in-the-posterior problem had been resolved in a flash. I thanked the old guy.

“Nothin’ to it, Bub,” he replied, before walking off into the sunset.

Illustration by Gill Adams