Patience Is a Virtue

BONEHEAD BLUNDER: Being quick on the throttle
THE BONEHEADS: Boat owners 35 years apart
WHAT HAPPENED: What if a bonehead taught you a lesson — that’s a switch! — that you remembered long enough to use once, just once, but the timing was perfect? Many years ago we had a customer “upcountry,” an older gentleman who’d been a waterman and boated as his only pleasure. I’m not sure how he got our name — phone booth where Superman changed clothes, maybe? — but he said each time he attempted to leave his dock, his 70 hp Evinrude would shudder and stall. That spelled certain carburetion problems, so off my brother and I went one afternoon after work to resolve the problem. There was enough light left when we arrived to be able to pull the carbs, clean them pretty well, reassemble them and test the throttle response while we were still snugged to the pier pilings. No problem there. The boat veritably jumped in the air. Home we went, ice cold ginger ales to celebrate on the way.

The next morning the gentleman — and I use that term loosely — was waiting at the shop’s front door, steam practically rising from his head. He was hollering before we even got the door unlocked: He’d attempted to go out that morning but the problem he’d paid us hard-earned money to correct was still there and we were a couple of thieves. We relocked the door and back upcountry we went to see what we’d done wrong.

We hopped into the boat so the owner could drive and duplicate the problem for us. As soon as we’d pulled away from the pier he pushed the throttle hard forward. Unlike his low-powered crabbing scow, this boat’s stern squatted quickly, and the prop churned up stakes, oyster shells and all kinds of junk until it overpowered the engine, which stalled.

“See!” He yelled. “That’s what happens! Can’t you fix it right?”

My brother, the calmer of the two of us, told the owner if he’d done one of two things — waited until the tide came in and raised the water level or waited until he’d gone another few hundred yards before he accelerated — the problem would be non-existent. He sheepishly offered to pay us more, but the pleasure of being arrogant outweighed financial recompense by a long way.

Thirty-five years later (last week) a new client calls me. A neighbor’s referral. The lady is not from Massachusetts, but Haverhill, she says, as though the elite seceded from the wallowing masses. She also has a horse farm in Virginia horse-country and a waterfront mansion in our area, so she’s either stone-broke, leveraged to the hilt or mired in gold pieces like Scrooge McDuck. Regardless, I listen to her rant at the top of her voice about this boat having been delivered with a red check-engine light blinking, and every time she began to accelerate after removing the boat from the lift, the engine shuddered and quit. Shhhh … why does that sound familiar?

First thing I did was reset the oil service reminder, which is why I encourage all boat owners to have a copy of the owner’s manual on the boat, to know what the alarms mean. The depthfinder, a reliable Garmin, was showing less than 1 foot of water as we pulled away from the lift. She spun the boat around as though she were riding a quarter-horse, then nailed the throttle, at which point the prop buried itself in mud and century-old oyster shells, and quit.

“See!” She shouted triumphantly. “There’s no excuse for returning a boat in this condition!”

I pointed to the mess floating to the water’s surface as I tilted the muddy lower unit out of the water, offering only the soft suggestion that she might want somebody to give her a tide clock for her next birthday. We became friends as well as business acquaintances that day, and I should have plenty of winter work ahead.

Lesson Learned: History does repeat itself, sometimes profitably. Nothing like a lesson learned that generates income!

Bonehead Blunders


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