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On Living Aboard

Mostly because of the insurance debacle, our planned trip ‘around the horn’ (i.e.) counter clockwise around the tip of Cape Cod was put on hold for this year. We did however, spend three days at Block Island without ever going ashore, two days at Three Mile Harbor where we did, and then over to Orient Point for another couple days, not in that order. During these trips we did not take the little Century Runabout. It’s the first time we haven’t taken Mustard in a long time. The reason being that when I started her up to run over to the gas dock, the transmission started making an awfully expensive sounding noise. Deciding that I did not want or need another ‘event’ at this time, I tied the boat back in her slip and for the next three weeks, totally ignored the situation. There was a time in my life when I would have immediately jumped right into the problem and wouldn’t have stopped until it was solved. I can still do that, but I can also be selective. After the Block Island trip, I decided that it might be nice to have a boat that we could use like a car again and got to work. Some may call this a prime example of procrastination, but I call it preserving my sanity. Running the boat over to the travel lift well, the noise got progressively worse even though I kept the engine at idle. I had recovered Mustard’s trailer from the rear of the yard where it spends the summer months. During the winter, the boat is stored in my friend Ritchie’s barn in exchange for the periodic help he needs moving and mounting the custom kitchen cabinets he makes. The exchange works out quite well. The original engine and transmission installed in Mustard when she was new in 1953 was built by Graymarine and was called a Fireball 140, and had six cylinders. When we bought her, she had been sitting in a garage at a New Hampshire lakeside cottage for some forty years. Her owner had passed unexpectedly and his son had hauled the boat and backed her into the garage, totally forgetting to drain the engine, with the predicted result being a nasty crack in the block. Once we got her home, the engine was removed and placed in the hands of a man who said he could repair it. He also said that he wouldn’t speculate as to how long the repair would last. To his credit, it lasted several years. Eventually, water began weeping around the weld and I knew that something had to be done so that we wouldn’t be left in a lurch at some point. After a lot of research I decided that the best course of action would be to repower with one of the small Chevy engines that are used in mid-sized stern drive boats. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I looked around for something used. What happened was that I ended up with a whole boat that had been damaged beyond repair, free for removing it. With Ritchie’s help, it was cranked onto a trailer and once in Ritchie’s barn, it was easy to yank the engine. The rest of the boat was cut up and hauled away in a dumpster I’d rented. Using parts from the engine, a marine short block was obtained, and a rebuilt transmission ordered. There was some modification needed to Mustard’s engine compartment to mount everything, but it ended up being a fun job, and there was a marked improvement in the boats performance. After getting Mustard into Ritchie’s barn, it took about an hour and a half’s work to rig the come-along to the beam that spans the loft on each side, and lift the engine out. Moving the trailer out from under the now swinging engine, it was a simple matter to back the truck under and lower it down onto a makeshift cradle, which in fact was a large worn out truck tire. With everything thusly supported, it was easy to remove the transmission from the engine. Next, the engine was once again lifted, the trailer backed under it and lowered back into the boat on the tire, which now sat on top of the engine stringers. That done, the trailer was moved back out of the way. The repair shop where Mustard’s old Graymarine engine was repaired is located in the epicenter of farming country, and indeed, most of their work is from farmers who have forsaken maintenance for production. They are very good. Parker, the go to guy there, took a look at the transmission in the back of the truck and then walked around to the other side. “Never done one of these, but I can take a look.” He said. I’m sure that there are people who are wondering why I didn’t go to a marine repair shop, but if you have ever attempted to have anything done at a marine shop at this point in the season, you will understand why. I had printed out the website location of several places that offered parts for this transmission hoping to save some time, something Parker appreciated. Promising to call as soon as he had a number for me, we shook hands and I left. He called three days later, apologizing for the delay, which was caused by having to make an emergency repair to a farmer’s hay baler that had ingested a rather large rock. I didn’t mind, a hay baler being down this time of year means that everything comes to a halt on that farm, and money is being lost. Parker gave me a price that while a bit high, I knew from previous experience that the work would be done properly, which made it worth the money. He explained that there was a good chance that I could find a used transmission for less than what he was charging. For me, it was a no brainer to give him the go ahead. He said he’d call. With Mustard out of the water, I thought it would be a good idea to do a few things on her hull. Mother Nature’s decision to turn up the thermostat put an end to that plan. When the temperature gets close to three digits, I become lulled into a state of do nothing and that’s exactly what I did for the next couple days. When we converted Patty O’ from casual to live aboard, one thing on the must-have list was efficient air conditioning. The master plan was to wander up and down the coast and possibly over to the islands and at some point into the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, Patty O’ has very good marine A/C. This unit is cooled by water rather than air making it very quiet. It has also provided some entertainment due to the fact that the cooling water is expelled via a thru hull fitting that is shared with the three onboard bilge pumps. The seawater intake is the same, using what is called a sea chest. This consists of one through hull fitting, feeding everything that requires sea water. The advantage being only one hole in the hull for water coming in, and one going out. On Patty O’, there are just two through hull fittings. I have had people come up to me proclaiming that the boat was sinking due to the fact that the ‘bilge pump’ was running continuously. One man in particular a few years ago, refused to believe me when I explained the situation. “There’s no such thing.” He said. “That’s your bilge pump running. You’re sinking.” A few days later, Patty O’ was out of the water to replace the rebuilt swim platform. “See?” he said walking by. “I told you that you were sinking.” There was enough inside to keep me occupied during the heat wave, not the least of which was clearing out all the clutter in my lap top, and updating all the software. Just as I finished, my phone rang. “Parker here,” he said, “it’s all ready.” “Great.” I said. “I’ll be there in an hour.” After being cooped up in A/C for a couple days it was a treat to be driving with both windows down. One nice thing about this pickup is that with the windows down, you are not beaten silly by wind. There were two other pickups in the lot when I got to the repair shop, obviously from farms. Inside, Parker gave me a nod while he was explaining something to a man in bib overalls. Another man stood by the wall. I sat down and picked up a copy of Field and Stream. It took about 20 minutes for Parker to assure both men that he could solve their problems. The first guy couldn’t understand why the parts to his 17 year old tractor weren’t available instantly at the dealer. The other man wanted to make an appointment to have his corn chopper serviced. He’d be needing that pretty soon. One thing about Parker, he listens. When you are talking with him it’s as if you are the only person in the world. He’s good. With the transmission safely tied down in the bed, I headed to Ritchie’s barn. It was late and I set the transmission into the boat and headed back to Patty O’ to get ready for dinner. Stopping at a fish market that we like, I picked up the two swordfish steaks I’d ordered. “You can read my mind.” she said. “Isn’t that great?” I replied.

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