Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

06 February 2007

Broken Speedboat

In the interest of honesty and self-disclosure I must make the following admission: I crashed the boat. Not bad, but bad enough. People told me it would happen sooner or later; I had just kinda hoped it would be later. I bring this up, not out of some misguided sense of guilt or a neurotic need to incriminate myself. I mention it because there is a story. In Honduras, there is always a story...

Ours starts out a couple of weeks ago, when we had all those women visiting. On Tuesday, January 23rd they wanted to go hiking up the waterfalls and snorkeling at Michael's Rock. We loaded up into two boats and headed for Bo's, which would be our central rendezvous point. Devant took some of the women in his speedboat; I took the rest in the boss's boat. He had to stop for gas - I went on ahead (first and biggest mistake).

The island of Guanaja is ringed with coral. It can be tricky to navigate through. I had been to Bo's all of twice, and thought I knew the safe way (second mistake). After coming out of the canal that allows passage from one side of Guanaj to the other, I turned eastbound, directly for Michael's Rock. Shortly, we hit something, hard. Not a log or a piece of driftwood, this felt bad. Martha, the boss's wife was sitting in the back of the boat facing rearward. "A prop blade just flew off!" she reported. "Are we somewhere we shouldn't be?" Yes, even she knew. The boat continued to run, so we pressed on.

At Bo's I surveyed the damage. There is what they call a "lower unit" on the outboard. It is a bullet-shaped metal piece in which are set the gears that change the vertical drive of the shaft coming down from the engine to the horizontal drive of the prop. Also, it holds the bearing that the propshaft rides in. A huge chunk of this lower unit was missing. I could see the propshaft bearing. It was like looking at an ugly, horrible wound. The boat still ran, barely, and did actually get us home. But it was clearly not happy and there's no telling how long it would have continued to run in that condition (best bet: not long).

Okay, needless to say there's not a lower unit for a 115 h.p. Yamaha four-stroke outboard anywhere in Honduras. I didn't expect anything different. So on Wedneday, January 24th I called our trusty friend Al, who works in our Florida office. I gave him every bit of information I could glean from the powerplant and asked him to find me a new lower unit. Oh, and please do it before the airplane comes back down this week?

Turns out that this particular outboard is not an American engine. Evidently Yamaha expected four-stroke outboards to take off in popularity. This did not happen, and the engine was not marketed in the United States. How we ended up with it here in Honduras is anybody's guess. Operator's Manual? Service Manual? Parts Manual? Nope, nothing, nada. But Al is nothing if not incredibly resourceful. Miracle of miracles, he was able to source a new lower unit - in Jamaica! He got it shipped to Florida and, unbelievably, it made it in time to get on the plane by the February 3rd departure. The airplane arrived here in Guanaja on Saturday as scheduled, and I was relieved to see the new lower unit. It's tough having a boat out of commission for any length of time, and it had already been nearly two weeks.

End of story? Hah. I wish. This past Sunday, the local boat mechanic agreed to put our speedboat back together. In the afternoon we got the call with the bad news.

Did you know that boat propellors can turn in different directions? I didn't. It stands to reason though. For boats that have more than one engine, you'd want the props to counter-rotate for a number of sound, logical reasons. So the manufacturers make the lower units in such a way that the props can turn clockwise or counter-clockwise. The one that had been on our speedboat turned clockwise. The new lower unit turned the prop counter-clockwise. But it had not come with a prop. Aw, shit!

I hear your question already: "What's the problem? Why not just find a prop that turns counter-clockwise and bolt it on?" That's what I asked! Well for one thing, so-called "left-hand" props are almost unheard of here in Honduras. Nobody uses them and nobody stocks them. Plus, we already have two "right-hand" props which would be instantly turned to the status of...well, junk.

Now, this is not a Honduras problem, strictly speaking. Except that because of our remoteness, we can't exactly put the lower unit in the back of the pickup truck and take it back to where we bought it. Oh no. It's got to go back on the airplane, then back to Florida, then back to Jamaica. Hopefully, we'll be able to find the proper lower unit...someplace...and get it to Florida in time for the airplane's next departure - as of right now, that date is Friday, February 23rd.

So our boat, like our front-end loader before, will be "down" for at least a month. I'm getting a strong sense of deja vu all over again*. The boss is pissed, of course and who could blame him? On the other hand, while we have the boat out of service we can use the opportunity to do some much-needed other maintenance. So I guess there's a good side to this. But a happy ending? We'll have to wait and see about that. There will be a "Part 2" to this - I'm just not sure when it will be.

*Yogi Berra was a famous and eminently quotable baseball player and manager (New York Yankees and Mets) who was given to malapropism. Examples: "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded," and "It ain't over till it's over." He is generally credited with that "...deja vu all over again," line.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob:
Welcome, once again to Paradise! I, too, hit a rock near Bayman (most likely the same one you hit) and bent the shaft which affected the lower unit. This was 5 years ago and I am now being reminded of the fact (from my husband) that this is the initial cause of our lower unit problems. We, too, are trying to find a lower unit. Our motor, unfortunately, was reclaimed by an insurance company in the states from a lot of stolen motors. Before reselling it they filed off all identification marks and now it is getting difficult, if not impossible, to replace the lower unit. We bought one but one of the inside pieces do not mesh with ours. We have the problem of picking from a choice of 3 lower units and then we have to do the clockwise, counterclockwise, thing too. Do you stand facing the motor to determine the rotation or behind it?? Help. Anyway, we may end up spending money on another unit but, unlike you, we do not have the option of returning it. Ohhh, sometimes it is nice living on the mainland of the U.S.!