Sunday, October 16, 2011

Day 1, Again- How Many Does This Make?

Saturday, September 3.

The new boat, Close Enough, awaits me in the harbor. She's ready. Me, not so much.

Wee hours held many half awake, vague bad dreams about how I was possibly going to mess up driving the new boat. Some of them were comical, some plausible. In that nether state, I somehow believed that if I thought about it enough, I'd have experience that I do not have- I'd know what do do without ever having done it.

I anticipate all the steps- starting up, unhitching, working around the ledge and boulders, docking with the Liberty Risk for bait, get turned around and out of the harbor and heading out to get some work done.

Deep down, I am confident of my ability to learn this newest alien activity, to safely go out, work and come home dry and alive. I am also deeply aware of how little I know and how catastrophic a mistake can be. This isn't a sturdy slow 300 pound wooden boat powered by hand. I won't be just a few paces from the shore.

The other unwelcome night and dawn visitor was the wind.

It's now 7 am and I haven't found anyone to go out. I'm terrified of just getting around the ledge in the harbor and tying up at the bait boat, much less going out into the open ocean and hauling traps for the first time. I go out to the boat anyway, and start organizing. And agonizing.

I open the hatch to turn on the electrical switches and fire up the motor, but can't make my hand push the button and do it. I'm frozen. I'm also having a parental voice in my head saying that despite my probably making an idiot of myself, it is wise to have a second person aboard on this first time out.

I paddle back to the wharf and make a call, leaving a message for one guy and then convincing Craig to come out. This security and company makes all the difference.

We go out in some substantial chop and break me in and introduce the boat to Matinicus lobstering. Every move is unfamiliar. The wind is robust and the waves slosh us around. I manage to haul a handful and feel like that's enough for today.

Every transition is new and tightens my insides. My saving strategy is to go super slow. I approach the bait boat, the mooring, the dock with glacial slowness. Other guys bring in boats to the dock like snowboarders swoosh to a stop at the lodge. Not me. Water is very slippery compared to pavement, gravel or fields, where I've operated big equipment in the past. The water is slippery and boat hulls and docks are very heavy and unyielding.

Craig grabs the mooring for me and the boat is once again safely tethered to the bottom of the harbor.

The next day, I figure I'm heading out for the first real work day; I'll start making some money instead of spending like a congressman the way I have been. Note the "I figure" phrasing. I'm warming up the engine and feeling all captain-like when I notice the voltmeter is low. In instrument panel design, red is bad and green is good. My voltmeter is not in the green happy place. I stop, make calls, stop people in the road, talk to Joe in the harbor. Under 12 volts is not good enough. I decide to try it for a while thinking maybe when I rev the motor, the volts will come up. Think again. Even though the voltmeter keeps slumping further away from Green Land, I get to haul a few pots and catch some lobsters.

Further consultation with the island brain trust leads to the conclusion that I need a new alternator. I head out Monday morning with my handy U.S. Navy manual on the motor and get 95% of the way through removing the alternator- my first introduction to the cramped, awkward, knuckle skinning realities of engine work on a boat.

After loosening and removing the bolts, I smugly move to pull the alternator out, and there is a tug back from the dark recesses. There's one more nut to remove. I can barely fit more than a couple of fingers in there. There are a couple of hoses in the way. When I can get a glimpse of the last item, it looks crusted over with rust and grease. And very hard to reach.

I try open end, box end and socket wrenches. I try liberal amounts of lubricant. I try very liberal amounts of profanity. There is a single 3/8" nut between me and making a living, and it is successfully thwarting every idea, angle, heave and tool I can come up with. I try to fit a hacksaw blade in the space. I try a chisel. Morning turns to afternoon.

Eventually, Weston shows up. We spoke this morning and he told me it was "a ten minute job."
Weston sees something behind the nut that I didn't see and after a couple of "oh this is nothing" remarks that morph into "oh, no wonder you've been on this all day, it's a total pain in the ass," he gets pliers on one part and a wrench of the other, and turns until the bolt fatigues and melts itself into two pieces. The alternator is out. Along the way, I manage to mangle the wiring plug, and will need to get that ordered as well.

Unfortunately, getting the dead alternator out does not put the boat back in working order. Today is Labor Day, so I'm not getting a new one today.

Tuesday morning, Clayton advises me to remove the pulley off the front of the alternator because the new one won't have that piece. OK, I say, thinking that I'll pick up a couple of tools, apply them to the job and remove the pulley. Note the "thinking that I'll" phrasing. After an hour of wrestling, I feel as though I have as much chance of bending the doors on a wood stove with my bare hands as I have getting that pulley off the alternator.

It's a contest of getting a wrench on one part, and holding the rest of it securely. Actually, it's a matter of having an impact wrench. Silly me. I don't happen to have an impact wrench. And at this point, I don't even know I need one.

I'm near tears at this point because I manage to do 95% of the tasks, but get completely stopped in my tracks by the last 5%, simple things like old corroded nuts or things that need an impact wrench. I am ignorant of the world of diesel engines and rusted nuts and bolts and impact wrenches. I can't do the simple parts of these jobs. I need to start making a living starting last year and have been disabled by little rusted parts and things I don't know how to do.

I am in way over my head. Again.

Afternoon comes, and with it a shiny new alternator with no crumbling, rusted bits. The reinstall is a lot more fun than the removal, although I'm haunted by the fear that I have misdiagnosed the problem, and when I start the motor, the voltmeter will still be in the red place of worry and failure.

I feel I've invented cold fusion and won the Nobel Prize as I push the start button, start the motor and watch the needle majestically rise well into the green.

All is well.

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