Saturday, February 5, 2011

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Start a Diesel

2011 02 04
Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Start a Diesel

Anyone who has tried to rent the services of those who prostitute themselves in service to Justice will know that the title of this post is irrelevent.  What matters is not how many lawyers but how many billable hours.  By either measure there was a certain lack of cost effectiveness in evidence that particular morning.

Crossing the Gulf Stream from Lake Worth Inlet to West End Bahamas was what our friends Victor and Marilyn call "a motor job".  There was no wind.  The sea, although the Atlantic, was enjoyably pacific.  Weighing anchor at a timely 8 pm we steamed into West End Bahamas about 8 am on the morning following.  It was a stellar trip.

Most gratifying, the more so since we travelled in company with friends who had never before crossed the stream, was the accuracy of our navigation.  Our desired course was 100 magnetic.  To compensate for the northward push of the Gulf Stream we had to dial in an offset to that course.  The result was a beautiful if lopsided S curve if you tracked Meredith's track on a chart.  Leaving our anchorage we were carrying 25 degrees too much south in our course. 

At the outset this carried us well below the GPS or Rhum line track.  However as Meredith pressed her course eastward and entered the Gulf Stream we were carried Northward by that river of warm water and our track became a miles wide parabola sweeping northward from the rhum line to an elegant apogee then returning, just as gracefully to the home mark.  In the end result we found ourselves, after twelve hours of forward progress, positioned right at the inlet to West End.  It was a tremendous victory for good luck.

Power boaters and sailors lacking competence do not use traditional navigation techniques.  They plot a straight line into their GPS and keep their boat right on that line.  This costs money and time.  It also just looks so darn bad. 

Our navigation rarely ends up as accurate as it did that night but when it does it can make beautiful the most pathetic of voyages.  And we had friends watching.  Sweet.

Fate too was watching and it took little time for her to ensure an even score on the day.   The peaceful banner under which we made our way across the Straits of Florida was about to be lowered.   As we should have expected.  

Clearing in at West End was a joy.  This tiny outpost on the northern tip of Grand Bahamas Island  is our favourite place to clear into Bahamas.  (Governor's Harbour on Eleuthera is a close second. )  Facilities here are first rate: the marina is well maintained and well staffed, the customs and immigration officials are professional and businesslike and the fuel is well priced.  Clearing in was efficient.  Our passports were scanned, documents vetted, monies paid and receipted  and we sent on our way in twenty minutes.   


As we pulled away from the fuel dock we could not but notice the lack of movement on the part of our friends' boat.  Turning about in the generous slipway we made our way back to the fuel dock to lie off the beam of our friends.  Their diesel would not start.  Their engine panel was dead.  Dead and cold and dark.

Being sailors our friends remained silent as to their dilemma while they watched us depart.  They would have stood on deck as we passed out of their field of vision without once mentioning their dilemma.  The problem that faced them was theirs and the responsibility of no other.  Not for them to impede the progress of any other boat just because they found themselves impeded.

Now this was an interesting situation.  There is nothing a sailor likes more than a problem on someone else's boat.  This problem seemed simple.  The diesel lacked vitality in any measureable quantity.

Here we had a sick diesel and two lawyers.  This was not a fair fight.  I mean between us we had 70 years of experience in the practice of law.  The diesel, I was assured, was a mere neophyte at not starting properly.

Our friend opened up engine compartments and checked his battery for vital signs.  Everything was fine. 

Meredith having once had a Westerbeke diesel - we named it Beelezebub, it painted devilishly red.  My memory produced a record of our diesel being similarly stayed while we were at the fuel docks in Oswego.  A totally hidden and well disguised circuit breaker was the cause.  Seemd a good place to start.  We located the circuit breaker, determining in the process that years of practice in the dark arts had led Westerbeke to much better cloaking procedures.  We located the circuit breaker, even more cunningly misplaced on my friend's boat than on mine.  It was blown!  We reset it and prayed.    Apparently to the wrong god.

Turning the ignition key produced signs of nascient life.  The panel lit up, the fuel pump started pumping.  But when my friend pressed the "start" button the circuit breaker blew again.  Darkness reigned once more.

It was time for the lawyers to get to work.

We approached the problem as lawyers do.  We rolled up our sleeves, cleared space at the table and sat down opposite one another with a stack of documents between us.  Engine manuals, parts lists, exploded diagrams showing skeletal secrets of engine parts whose function we could only imagine.

We set about an orderly investigation.  Terms were defined: What is exactly a solenoid and to what points do all those red wires feed?  What is a fuel delivery rail?  A return rail?  Why does engine current run from positive to negative when the entire sane world knows that electrons move from negative to positive. 

Outside texts were consulted and commentaries noted and remarked.  We negotiated.  Negotiation was critical in this process as I suggested lots of mildly destructive tests which were resisted by the owner of the diesel.  Delicacy was required.

Finally our 70 years of skill in advocacy and deductive reasoning led us to question the veracity of the solenoid on the starting motor. 

My friend had a screwdriver and we shorted out the heavy power leads after first determining the function of each of the other three wires attached to the solenoid.  Lawyers hate surprises, especially while engaged in combat.  We were as prepared as we could be. 

As the screwdriver shaft closed on the two large brass contacts sparks flew.  But by God the motor turned over.  Just a little.  The short period of rotation on the initial go was due to my dropping the screwdriver when the sparks started to fly.  It scared the bejesus out of me. 

Examining the screwdriver blade disclosed a blackened tip with a big chunk out of it.  That justified my dropping the thing dignity was saved.

Well, things went smoothly after that.  Turning on the ignition key we rammed the screwdriver across the solenoid points and that old red devil Westerbeke caught. 

We motored out of West End heading for our first anchorage in paradise.  Mechanics being in short supply our friends are now cruising the Abacos every morning starting their Westerbeke with a screwdriver.  We might wire in a simple switch to make the job easier but the skipper seems quite pleased with the current solution.

By my calculation had we been billing some hapless soul for our expertise our fee for service would have topped $2,000.  Depending on how honest we were in charging out the beer drinking time.

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