In the course of a normal lifetime, we will all face the task of making an uncomfortable apology, perhaps to our dog or spouse, the IRS, a judge, or even our Creator. My good friend Chuck Larson was recently forced to make a public atonement from a bar stool at the Lake View Inn. It was a minor humiliation, but it got his outboard repaired.
Chuck has never been known to sail on an even keel, but he was especially agitated that Saturday evening at the bar. (Nautical note: “Even keel.” A term used figuratively since the mid-1800s, which alludes to keeping a vessel’s keel in a level position, ensuring smooth sailing.)
“I’ll never buy another Mercury outboard,” fumed Chuck as he swirled in his vodka olives skewered on a little red sword. “The Pro Kicker on my new Alumacraft is junk. Worked fine last weekend. Now it won’t start. Won’t even tease me with a little chuff skewering. I sat there in the middle of the lake for an hour and finally just gave up on it.”
“Fuel, spark and compression are the elements of internal combustion,” Wally said from behind the bar.
“Wally, I’m no greenhorn,” Chuck replied. “I checked all of that.”
From the end of the bar, Dan the Outboard Man had been quietly listening to Chuck rant. Now he spoke.
“Say, Chuck, last weekend, how far did you run your boat after you forgot to tilt up your kicker?”
Up and down the bar heads swiveled from Dan to Chuck, who sputtered in his drink and stared at Dan. “Ah, a few miles I guess. But so what?!”
“You left your kicker in the water, and it was in gear,” Dan said. “You fired up the big motor and took off at 40 miles per hour. This caused your kicker prop to rotate backward with enough force to turn the crankshaft backward, probably at about 6,000 rpm. With the engine rotating in reverse, the pistons were sucking when the exhaust valves opened, drawing air and eventually water up the exhaust tube. Water entered the combustion chamber and hydrolocked a cylinder. The flywheel had enough inertia at this speed that when the engine locked up, it sheared off its key.”
The bar was silent. Once again, everyone was astounded at the depth of Dan’s knowledge.
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“Your kicker won’t start because the flywheel shifted on the crank, and now the ignition is hopelessly out of time. I could fix it in your driveway in about 20 minutes. Just pull the flywheel and replace the key,” Dan said. “But first, you are going to stand on that stool and apologize to the departed soul of Carl Kiekhaefer and to all of the engineers at Mercury who designed a perfectly good outboard only a knucklehead like you could break.”
Chuck sulked over his drink, and then sulked over another. And then he mounted his stool and uttered a public apology that was so eloquent, it earned a round of applause from the Lake View throng. I’m not sure it would have satisfied old man Kiekhaefer, but it was enough to get his kicker fixed.