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The Halon Tragedy

Sometimes DIY projects have a way of telling you when to quit.
Bill in cloud of halon

Know when to quit for the day, or your boat may get mad at you.

First of all, my boat is old, okay? I mean, despite the brand-newness of all the systems I’ve installed over the past year, her essence stretches back to 1988. And so, maybe, just maybe, the old girl gets a little cantankerous occasionally. Maybe she’s got her good days and bad days. Maybe she sports a few quirks and hot buttons and really doesn’t care to camouflage them with pleasantries anymore. Shoot, man. I can identify.

Sometimes I get testy myself these days. Like, for instance, on a recent Saturday evening. It was about six o’clock and I was hunkered down with my back to the forward firewall of the Betty Jane II’s engine room, enduring levels of heat and humidity that, while I’d slaved away in the cramped space for the previous six or seven hours, had pretty much boiled all the wisdom, patience, and intelligence out of me.

“You know, Bill,” I remember telling myself just before tragedy struck, “you’ve been working down here in this freaking hole since this morning. You’re exhausted. You’re hot, you might even say roasted. Perhaps you’re not thinking straight, getting emotionally unstable. You should cease and desist. Finish tomorrow.”

But did I heed this sage advice? Heck, no! Instead, I tuned into that louder, more willful voice, the one that always spells trouble. “Oh no, no, no,” it bellowed. “Hang tough, man! Stick with the plan. Just pull that hose off that sea strainer, shorten it, and slap it back on—you cut it too long in the first place, dummy. It’ll be perfect. It’ll be lovely. It’ll be perfectly lovely!”

Here’s the deal, though—the hose wouldn’t come off. No matter how hard I pulled or how many times I pulled, it retained a veritable death grip on the bronze barbed fitting emanating from the sea strainer. So, I became really, really frustrated, descending into a vengeful state of mind which unfortunately conferred upon me super-human strength and, simultaneously, rendered me even more susceptible to the machinations of the willful, loud-mouth voice.

“Come on, Billy Boy, pull that hose off there!” it yelled at me. “What are you, buddy? A man or a jellyfish?”

Now, before I conclude this tale of woe, let me briefly review a related issue. On the forward firewall of Betty’s engine room (right behind my back) was a bracketed halon bottle rigged to both manually and automatically deploy. And, to be truthful, I can’t tell you how many times over the previous six or seven months, while entering or leaving the ER on one errand or another, I’d snagged a tee-shirt or a belt loop on the defuser wheel at the top of the bottle, always telling myself I should install a “head guard” to prevent an inadvertent discharge and always failing to follow through.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I ultimately pulled the hose loose from the sea strainer with a tremendous, enraged kerpoweee, a development that sent me flying backwards into the halon fire extinguishing system, which promptly discharged with a great whooshing sound, enveloping me in a cloud of halon gas and concurrently lowering the temperature of my overheated derriere with the speed and efficiency of a top-notch flash-freeze machine.

Just as I erupted from the engine room (with considerable drama, I might add), my good friend Patty was walking past Betty’s transom. “Bill? Bill!” she shouted in alarm, startled by the plume of halon bursting forth from the open salon door.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” I replied, as the gas began to dissipate. “But I do believe it’s time to shut this project down for the day, Patty. I think maybe my boat’s mad at me!”

Read more of the Exploits and Misadventures of Capt. Bill Pike here. ▶

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.