Monday, October 1, 2007

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I spent the better part of the weekend landscaping the front yard. Okay, I was working on the boat. But it is among the top five Eyesores of Eastview Court, so if it could be cleaned up just a little, my world would be prettier. Of course, there's no use washing and waxing that thing unless it works.

And guess what? It works! Raise your hand if you've heard me say this before... okay, all of you smart-asses put your hands down. No, really -I fixed it! Well, I think I fixed it. I haven't taken it out on the water yet. And by "fixed" I mean "repaired to functionality", not "immobile, stuck in one place."

I've had the thing in parts and strewn about the garage for months (years) now and I think what finally made me tackle the task was that I needed to clean the garage once and for all. But it's been a challenge, as it seems that every time I piece that boat together and take it out on a test run, I just break another pushrod or overheat the engine from a bad impeller or whathaveyou. But I think I've got it this time. I really do.

The reason for my confidence is that I've been using my new tool: the Compression Gauge. This allows me to test the compression in the cylinders after I fire it up, instead of taking it out on the ocean and blowing a pushrod there in the helpless nowhere. Anyway, The Gauge tells me I now have full compression in all of the cylinders, so yahoo! Of course, that's when everything started to overheat, so there was a certain amount of web searching and part replacement in which I had to engage.

So I've been piecing it together for a few months now. All summer, really. And since the annual insurance bill on the thing came due and we didn't use it but thrice last year, and none this year, Mrs. Ditchman asked me (albeit sarcastically) if we should pony up the cash for next year. Since no one had done us all a favor and stolen it out of my driveway, (I long ago stopped putting the padlock on the trailer) I figured I'd give it another shot.

I consider the internal combustion engine to be one of the modern marvels -so efficient, so compact, and so simple. It really is. It's a beautiful system, and once you get the gist of how it works, there's nothing to it. As well, it gave a lot of unathletic nerds a chance to be men in the past century, as, if you can fix a car, you're in. Unfortunately nowadays, all cars are electronic and computer-controlled, so the nerds are back, and the men have moved on to something else.

The powerboat is just a floating box with a combustion engine in it, and then a drive shaft and a propeller hanging on the back. Fairly simple, really. All you need to do is keep the boat from sinking and the engine running and you have success (!) which I have encountered to varying degrees in my lifetime.

My Dad loved boating and he was pretty good with engines, and in those things we are alike. I remember when I was about ten and we were standing in the garage, looking under the hood of his '56 Austin Healey when he asked me, "Do you know how an engine works?" I shook my head and he explained it to me. It took him about a minute.

As simple of a concept as it is, there are, unfortunately, a few hundred greased and moving parts that all have to work in near-perfect synchronicity in order to contain the endless and rapid succession of explosions created by the oxygen, electricity, and gasoline. It's just a couple of those moving parts that have vexed me for so long, and that one-minute lecture on mechanics my Dad gave me twenty-five years ago was insufficient.

So after a certain amount of reverse-engineering, book-learning, and self-reflection, I think I've zeroed in on the problem, and I'll not bore you with the specifics, but this old boat is nearly twenty years old itself, now, and I've scraped away enough rust in that engine compartment to find that there's no part where a part was supposed to be in some cases. Float a steel engine out in the middle of the water and sooner or later you're scraping rust off it. I think I've replaced just about every part on that engine, and scraped and re-painted every other.

Why do I do it, you ask? Not sure. On some level, it's just what men do. The garage is the cave, which is where men go when the vexing problem of women is insurmountable, and the set of problems that automotive repair presents are the ones that men are capable of solving. Women want to discuss. Men want to solve. The engine either works or it doesn't, no discussion necessary. Men want to be left alone and in charge of their own destiny, and this is why they go out to sea.