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Broken engine

WarrenMiller-color

While I still wonder where the white goes when the snow melts, it means that it is again that hopefully fixed-broken boat launching time of the year. When we haul our boat out of the water in November to escape the winter storms, our mechanic has four months to fix all of the broken stuff on it. He does this while we are in Montana in deep, powder snow.

Both Laurie and I make up a list of what needs to be fixed, so that by the next spring when we get back so we can cruise without worrying. Some years the list is long and expensive, and some years it is short and just as expensive. We always tell our Guru mechanic and friend of many years when we will be back and to have the boat ready by that date because we want to go on a week or two shakedown trip.

Without fail year after year, when we call to find out when we can pick up the boat at the repair yard he has discovered some last minute thing that needs to get fixed. Many years ago, I learned that the cost of boat maintenance is doubled for each extra 5 feet in the length of the boat.

For example: if something costs $10 for a 20-foot boat the same thing for a 30-foot boat will cost $30. However, when you have gone north for a few hundred miles and are tied up in a small cove for the night all of the costs are irrelevant while you watch a beautiful sunset after eating a dozen or so hour-old barbecued oysters.

This year, when we were all set to go to launch our big boat, the boatyard discovered that something was wrong with the muffler. It had a pinhole-sized leak and was spraying all over the engine room. We needed a new one. The boat is 17-years-old and this part is no longer manufactured, so we had to have a special one made for about the same cost as a pair of a top of the line, new fat powder snow skis. When something goes wrong with one of our two engines, we might as well replace the same part on the other engine because soon after it leaves the repair yard it will break. The really bad part of the whole deal is that we also have to wait two more weeks for them to make the parts.

We made the decision many years ago to live on an island in the Northwest when my body got too old to ride a surfboard or a windsurfer. I have to stay in touch with the ocean, which involves at least one or more salt water immersions per week. This started when I lived near the beach in Topanga Canyon when I was a small kid. I had a bathing suit and the ability to stay in cold water for a lot longer than I should have.

Unfortunately for me, the water up here in the Northwest is a lot colder than a body born in Southern California can tolerate for long, but our friend and her daughters swim in it regularly. They are either crazy or we are for missing out on their fun.

Because of that we have a great heater in our cruising boat just in case I ever fall over board and need to be defrosted. This leads me back to getting the parts replaced on both engines.

Cruising in a boat is not like cruising in a motor home. If something breaks, you just pull off of the road and call AAA and someone will show up and fix it for you. In a boat, you are 100 percent at the mercy of your mechanic and you are at the mercy of your credit card and how much float you have left on it. We are lucky to have had the same boat mechanic for many years and he is great with Laurie and long distance, telephonic diagnosing boat problems.

I am not complaining about the cost of maintenance, but rather just pointing it out. A lot of my friends think nothing of paying $500 per person for a single round of golf. Chances are they use their corporate credit card to pay for it and always include at least one customer in the foursome.

What it all boils down to is the price of freedom. In 1962, when I bought my first catamaran, at a time when surfing was getting too crowded (I had gotten used to surfing at Malibu in the early 1940s when it was considered crowded if the third car with a surfboard showed up), the wind was free and the ocean was never crowded. The price of total freedom is whatever you care to pay for it by trading your time for the dollars to travel somewhere else to enjoy it.

Right now, that money is being spent in the engine room and that will guarantee our freedom to cruise all summer without worrying about getting safely back to the dock. In the meantime, I can wrap my hands around a golf club instead of a pair of throttles on our boats. I’m lucky that I can do either one until the mountains in Montana turn white again. And, I can plan on that happening, on schedule.

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