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Help Me Help You

Enlightening experiences sometimes unfold as you’re walking down a dock. A decade or so ago, I was doing just that when I spied a group of people gathered around a boat, dead ahead, several slips down the line, on the starboard side. Being about as nosy as the next human being, I sped up, experienced a jolt of adrenaline and joined the crowd, ultimately squeezing in between a guy in a yachty ensemble and another with the no-shoes, no-shirt, no-service look. What everybody was focused on was a cockpit with its engine room hatches thrown open and a sweaty, seemingly half-crazed gent standing between two big inboard gas engines with a wrench—and whoooeee, he was presiding over a dicey little snafu that every one of us could relate to, have opinions about and harbor suggestions in connection with.

Here’s what had taken place. Intent on adding zest to his boat’s top speed, the guy had removed all the sparkplugs from both of his V-8s with the intention of replacing the lot. I know—all 16 at the same time? Asking for trouble, no question.

Then the poor devil had gotten overheated—it was wicked hot that day—and decided to address a binnacle-control issue on the somewhat cooler, bimini-shaded flybridge. But while up there, digging through a container of stainless-steel hardware, he’d inadvertently popped a loose screw into the air and watched in horror as it defied the laws of probability and dropped several feet directly into an open spark-plug hole. “I can’t believe it,” the guy kept saying. “I can’t believe it...”

I don’t recall how the dilemma got resolved—memory fails me. I do remember, however, that at one point a gum-smacker in the crowd opined that a magnet on a wand would extract the screw, although that soon proved a no-go because the stainless involved was not magnetic. And I remember somebody else—one of the marina wags—suggesting the smacker’s gum might do the trick, too. But better than anything else, I remember how all the advice the guy was getting was not really helpful. In fact, it was driving him nuts!

Enlightening experiences, I guess, don’t always guarantee enlightenment. Just recently, I got tangled up in the same sort of nutsification the screw-loose guy had to contend with. The fracas opened with a friend of mine asking if I’d help him add a new micro-chippy surge suppressor to his antique air-conditioner, so his equally aged genset could handle the startup strain. Since I’d personally installed a new air-conditioning unit on the Betty Jane II some years before, he said I’d “make light work” of the task.

But hey! When I showed up on a steamy Sunday afternoon with my multimeter, wire strippers and other implements of electrification, I discovered that my friend’s brother-in-law Ed (I’ve changed the name here to protect me, not the innocent) was joining our merry band. And it was soon obvious Ed saw himself as a sage advisor. In fact, not long after sliding in around the vintage air conditioner, a dusty throwback if ever there was one, Ed let me know that my approach to the project was ever so slightly flawed. “Here,” he said, handing over a sheaf of directions I’d already perused to a fare-thee-well. “Look at this.”

As the afternoon wore on, I lost touch with my equanimity, truth to tell. Not that I wasn’t able to snatch it back now and again, thank goodness, by engaging in deep-breathing exercises. But the constant yammering—the barrage of comments and suggestions while I did all the actual work—complicated things immensely.

“How’d it go?” asked my wife when I’d finally returned from the fray—with a hard-won success posted on the leaderboard, but Ed’s derogatory comments concerning my battered-but-cherished old tools still toasting my transom.

“Experts,” I huffed, “they drive me absolutely freakin’ nuts.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.