Friday, October 25, 2013


Posted by Scot

After our extra long day on Monday, our plans to leave at 3 a.m. to cross to the Bahamas were scuppered, even though that meant we might miss our weather window to get safely across.

Instead, after a good night's sleep, we awoke with enough energy to formulate a plan to address the issues with our dysfunctional alternator on the starboard engine, and our generator which we couldn't get to start.  We also had some ideas about our failed power monitoring system.

First thing Tuesday a.m., I Googled diesel mechanics in Miami.  At 8 o'clock, I started making phone calls. Surprisingly, as I was leaving a message on the machine of the first place I called, someone picked up.  It turned out "J" was available that morning, and if I could get the boat to a dock in Miami, he would come out at 10:30 and look at my alternator and the generator.

So I phoned a few marinas, and it turned out Dinner Key, just across Biscayne Bay from No Name Harbor, had space for us.  In fact, that was where we had dinghied the night before to pick up our Canadian registration, so I already knew the way.  Things were looking up.

Miami's Dinner Key Marina, was in a nice area of the city, which we reminded me of the part of Vancouver where we used to live.
We quickly raised the anchor and headed across to Dinner Key.  As we motored, I was surprised and relieved to see the alternator readout for the starboard engine looked normal, and was more or less the same as the port one.  It hadn't done that at all the day before.

Anyway, we were tied up and checked in by 10:15, just in time for J to arrive.  It turns out he was actually a bit late, but at 11:00 I called his cell phone, and he said he was just signing in at the office, so I walked up the dock to meet him.

When I got to the office, a slightly perplexed looking elderly gentleman was standing at the counter.  I introduced myself, and confirmed he was there to look at our boat.  Then, we stood at the desk in an awkard silence for a few minutes.  Finally, it occurred to me that he was waiting for something from the marina employees, and after a few more minutes, I worked out that he wanted to sign in, but for some reason, wasn't asking anyone.  "How do we get J signed in so he can come work on my boat?" I asked.  With characteristic American brusqueness, someone shoved the sign-in clipboard at J.  Seemed pretty straightforward to me, but after looking at it for a minute or so, he told me he hadn't brought his glasses, and couldn't see what the form said.  As I walked him through it, and showed him where to sign his name, the date, his company, our boat info, etc., I began to wonder how he was going to be able to work on our boat.

Things got worse as we walked down the dock.  Our conversation was pleasant enough, but he asked me at least 3 times what kind of boat it was in the 7 minutes it took us to get there.  And I had already told him on the phone that a.m.  Also, he told me multiple times how little he liked working on Northern Lights generators.  The biggest warning sign, though, was when he started telling me he had driven his classic car to the marina, so he didn't have his tools with him, and if he needed to do anything significant on the boat, he wouldn't be able to do any work until the next morning.  This wasn't working out like I had planned.  At all.

Pier 4 at the huge Dinner Key Marina.  There are something like 10 or 12 piers like this, all full of boats, almost all of which had nobody on them.  It was a little eerie, especially at night with the wind whistling through the rigging.
When we got to the boat, I hopped on, then turned around to see J looking at the gap between the dock and the boat with trepidation.  It was pretty clear he wasn't going to make it across.  He gamely walked up the side of the boat, though, and reached up, grabbed a life line, and shakily hauled himself aboard.  For a moment, I thought I might end up having to pull him out of the water, but he straightened up and steadied himself.  "Not bad for an old man!" he said.  In theory, I had to agree.

We went into the boat, and I showed him the panel for the generator, and explained to him the procedure to start it, based on what I remembered from Gene (the previous owner) showing us a couple of months ago, and what we got from the owner's manual.  J told me he wasn't really familiar with this kind of panel, and I could tell he couldn't read anything on it anyway.

So, I walked him up to the front of the boat, and opened the hatch that the generator is in.  He slowly got down and swung his legs into the hatch, sitting on the edge, but it was clear to both of us there was no way he was getting in there, and if he did, there was really no way he would get out again.  "Go inside and try to start it", he said.

As I walked back into the salon, I said to Sara "He seems like a nice guy, but how do I get him off my boat?"  She was as worried as I was, having witnessed him perusing our panel.  I gave the generator a try, and just like the night before, it coughed and sputtered, but wouldn't start.  "Try it again!" J called.  I could see he hadn't moved from his sitting position in the hatch.

I tried it again, and lo and behold, the generator struggled a bit, started to "lug, lug" slowly, then died.  "Why did you let go of the switch?", J yelled. "Do it again!".  Well, he was the mechanic! So I tried it one more time.  And would you believe, it fired right up!  I was thrilled, not only because the generator started, but also because this meant I might get J off my boat without him actually doing anything.

Another view of the huge Dinner Key marina.  In addition to all the boats on the dock, they have a massive mooring field.
I went back up to the hatch, and said, "Well, that was easy!  Must have been enough just to have you here!"  After I helped him to his feet, we started back to the cockpit.  After one step, though, J slipped and went down on his left hip.  Fearing the worst, I was relieved to see him pop right back up.  "Strange", he said.  "Usually it is French catamarans that try to kill you."

I then talked to him about our alternator, and explained that it seemed to be working better that a.m., but hadn't read the proper output all day the day before.  "Fire up the engine and we'll see", he said.

So, I fired it up, and the readout seemed to work fine.  Without even lifting the hatch over the engine, J said "Yup, that seems to be working well.  No problem.  Now, let's talk about what you are going to pay me.  How about two hours worth of work?"

At first I thought he was kidding, and I kind of laughed a little bit.  But then he started talking about all the time it took him to drive there, and the time he needed to get home, and I realized he was serious  Sara, as keen to get him off the boat as I was, said "Two hours should be fine.  What do you charge per hour?".

At this point, J got pretty confused, and couldn't seem to remember what he made per hour.  "I haven't worked for a couple of weeks, so it is hard to remember.  What did we say, 4 hours?"

"No J, we agreed to 2 hours, but we need to know what you make per hour."

After quite a bit more confusion, it became clear that J was not going to be able to figure out what we owed him.  Sara and I discussed it right in front of him, and decided on a price that seemed fair to us, which we paid him in cash.  He seemed to be relieved and satisfied to have that over with.

The boats that actually catch the dinner at Dinner Key.
As I walked J back up the dock, I couldn't help but smile, a bit sadly, at the whole thing.  He was really a nice man, and I suspect he had probably been a good mechanic in the past.  Now, he had some age related dementia, but was still doing his best to make a go of things.  I think we were both equally relieved that he wouldn't be working on my boat, and I wondered how many times he had been paid to keep him from working on someone else's boat.  As I said goodbye to him and watched him walk away through the gate, I couldn't help but wish him well, and hope that he made it home without getting lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment