Sunday, July 23, 2017

Captain's Log, Day 179: PANAMA

          I was working on wrestling the steering cable into position when I smacked my hand into the back of the motor. Muttering something uncomplimentary about the motor's parentage under my breath, I tried to surreptitiously check my hand for damage.
          "You okay?"
          Not stealthy enough. I made a face, wiped off the blood, and got back to work. "Yeah, I'm fine. Would you mind handing me the thingy?"
          Full disclosure; I'm not super eloquent under the best of circumstances, and, when making plans to attach a stubborn cable to the appropriate hole on the motor, even worse than normal. Fortunately, Rach was a mind-reader and handed me the correct bolt. A few minutes of tweaking later (Rach wound up holding the engine steady for me), the steering system was complete.
          "I gotta get a longer cable," I muttered.
          "So is it done?"
          I laughed. "Not even close. I still have to install the wiring for the lights, put the side bench seats in, put carpet under the bow seats, put the ceiling in--"
          She poked me. "I meant the motor."
          "Eep! I know, I was just messing with you," I clarified, relocating to the other side of the boat with a speed generally associated with supersonic jets. (Ticklish.) "Yeah, the motor's done. Want to try it out?"
          "Definitely!" she said enthusiastically.
          I gave her a thumb's-up and vaulted out. "Thanks for the help, by the way. Half the work I've done on this thing has been two-person jobs that I've had to do by myself. It's nice to get something done quickly for a change."
          "Have you had this out on the water yet?" Rach descended a little slower than I had.
          "Sort of. The first motor had a lower unit issue, so we didn't go very fast." I made a face. "The boat never got up on plane--which, by the way, is boat-speak for going so fast most of your hull is out of the water."
          "What kind of issue?"
          "It leaked. BADLY." I snorted. "The last test with it ended with us losing most of the oil, which--needless to say--let in a ton of water. The forward gear got shredded or something, so it only ran in reverse. We had to BACK the boat out of the middle of the lake."
          She giggled. "You're kidding."
          "I wish." I sighed. "Super embarrassing. That's how we found out we had a leak--running it in reverse for so long stuck the oil all along the prop casing. That was the point at which I decided to just give up on the dang thing and get a new motor." I slapped the engine cowling for emphasis. "A lighter, more powerful motor. This one's 115 horsepower."
          "What was the other?"
          "One hundred." I snickered. "And the boat's rated for 90. She'll fly when this thing opens up." I glanced down. "I'll need a new prop at some point, though. This one's a little beat up."
          Rach raised an eyebrow. "Is that a problem? The motor, I mean."
          I shook my head. "Nah, I shaved off a lot of weight when I rebuilt the boat, and this motor only weighs maybe twenty-five pounds more than a contemporary 60's ninety-horse. Plus, I reinforced the transom. She'll hold up just fine." I grinned  "Engineer, remember?"
          She stuck her tongue out at me. "Showoff."
          "Wait until this boat actually works," I returned. "Shall we?"
          "Yes," she said, laughing. "I have some boat-related bucket list items to do."
          I had to pull the boat out of my garage "manually"--the parking lot didn't have enough room to hook up the truck and still make the turn. A few minutes later, though, I was hooked up and ready to go. Rach hopped in, I googled the nearest lake, and we set off.
          Ten minutes later, I was cursing. "What kind of stupid landing is this?"
          "Will it work?" Rach asked, looking at the cockeyed trailer dubiously.
          "Not even remotely," I said disgustedly. "I mean, we could probably float the boat off just fine, but there's no way we could get it back on. They need to grade this stupid thing."
          She made a face. "Now what? Head back?"
          "Not a chance," I said resolutely. "There's another lake I know of, and that one is really popular. It's gotta have a decent landing there somewhere."
          Fortunately for my sanity, it did. I backed the trailer into the water, grabbed the keys, and hopped into the boat. "We should probably test the motor first before we take the boat know, in case it doesn't work."
          "Is that a possibility?"
          "Always," I grumbled, pressurizing the fuel line with the hand pump. Going to the captain's chair, I crossed my fingers and turned the key.
          The motor whined a little but didn't start.
          I let off the key, then cranked it again and gave it a little throttle.
          More whining. Still no starting.
          I gave it a little more throttle and tried again.
          The motor whined, sputtered, and almost started, but killed itself.
          A few minutes later, it was still not starting. I was looking annoyed. Rach tried to calm me down. "It's almost starting, anyway. Maybe the problem isn't too bad."
          "The idle's probably set too low," I complained. "I don't have the tools to fix that. What I can't figure out is why it's not sputtering anymore. It was almost there a minute ago."
          "Is the fuel line broken?" Rach asked.
          "No, the fuel line is the one thing that actually wor--" I cut myself off and dove into the back. "Wait a minute."
          "You have an idea?" she asked eagerly.
          I came back up, face probably very red. "You are a genius. And for the record, fuel tanks don't work if they're sealed. I was pulling a vacuum on the stupid thing--forgot to crack the air cap."
          "At least you remembered to put the plug in," Rach giggled.
          I rolled my eyes. "I've only forgotten once in my life, and I should not have told you about that." I cranked the engine over again. This time, it whined, sputtered, coughed...and roared into life.
          "YES!" Rach yelled.
          I bowed. "Thank you, thank you--although this is totally your win, not mine. Okay, let's get this off the trailer."
          She pointed. "Going to leave the motor running?"
          "Sure, why not?" I reasoned. "In case there's a starter problem or something. Besides, it hasn't been started in a while; let's let it warm up a bit." I hopped back out of the boat. Rach held it steady as I pushed it off the trailer and pulled the trailer away. A moment later, I was installed in the captain's chair again.
          " does this work?" Rach inquired, still holding on from the outside.
          I carefully put the boat into reverse but left it idling. "Um...just jump in. I'll back it out."
          As soon as she was in, I gave it a little throttle. The boat backed away from the dock slowly. Once I'd gotten it out a safe distance, I kicked it into forward and turned. Slowly. Really slowly.
          "Is the motor not working?" Rach asked.
          I smiled tightly. "No clue. I haven't throttled up yet. I'm just getting out of the shallows." I pointed the nose of the boat at the wide-open expanse of water in front of us and swallowed. "Cross your fingers."
          Wrapping my hand around the throttle, I carefully pushed it forward. The boat exploded out of the water, hurtling across the lake at speeds that...well, I honestly never expected it to reach. My jaw dropped and I started laughing. "IT WORKS!!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.
          Rach high-fived me. "CONGRATULATIONS!"
          I fumbled my phone out and took a quick video of the motor and the speed we were hitting to send to Dale and Skipper later. "Oh, man...this...I think I'm gonna cry. This is awesome."
          "I bet," Rach said, grinning. "It's gotta be amazing--something you've worked on for so long--"
          "You wanna know the coolest part?" I interrupted her, just noticing something.
          Rach gave me a curious look. "What?"
          I pointed down at the throttle. "We're only at three-quarters throttle."
          Her jaw dropped. "No way." The wind suddenly snatched her baseball cap off her head.
          I burst out laughing. "You lost your hat!" I patted the boat. "I guess you've earned the name Panama now." I spun the boat in a circle and headed back for the hat.
          "You don't have to get it," Rach protested. "It's old and crappy!"
          "We leave no hat behind," I declaimed, pulling up to a stop about fifteen feet away from it. We climbed up on the bow. Rach pointed to a rope. "Think that would work?"
          "Or we could work on your bucket list," I said mischievously and threw her overboard.
          She came up sputtering and laughing. "Okay, that's definitely one off the list. Where's my hat?"
          "About fifteen...never mind, twenty feet behind you," I said, chuckling. "Go get it--I'm going to duck into the cabin, grab my swim gear, and join you. My bucket list involves jumping off the bow."

The Panama
          Author's note: the Panama is a 1961 Lone Star cabin cruiser that I've been restoring for the last year. This story documents the first time she actually worked, which is the fourth time I'd had her on the water. It was also the first time I'd ever actually taken her out to have fun on the lake, as opposed to just troubleshooting various stuff. Many thanks to Rach for helping me get the new motor set up, and to Dale and Skipper for giving the boat to me to restore. 

The Panama when I first saw her

Hooking her up for the first time

The boat was a bit of a mess...

Pretty much all the wood in the boat had rotted.

Yeah, I really had to disassemble the poor thing.

Getting her back together!

I sprung for a new paint job. She needed it.

And damn did it turn out NICE.

Finishing up the cabin...

That ceiling was a pain to install.


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