If I Had A Hammer

Tooling about is frustrating in a high-tech world.

March Tell Tales
.Courtesy Steve Haefele

They're like old friends. Actually, a few are progeny. I had hand-fabricated the wrench for reaching the injection pumps on Anhinga’s, our late 37 Bertram, Caterpillar 3208 diesels. Same for the odd-looking socket extension I used for screwing her old-school oil burners into the bowels. Like my old dwell meter, vacuum gauge and spark-plug wrench, these tools had been indispensable. Now they belonged in a museum!

The housecleaning began when my car refused to start. Normally, I pushed the button (keys are obsolete) and the computer greeted me with a lively image of the vehicle (on a good day). And then — nothing. In two years of ownership, I’d never peeked under the hood. What a surprise! If there was an engine in there, it was cleverly disguised by a plastic cover that looked like an engine. A few minutes later, I found the battery. All good.

My next move? Tap the starter solenoid. But it was nowhere to be found. There was no dipstick. I wondered if perhaps they’d done away with the starter motor as well. Not long ago, pride of ownership demanded you show at least an understanding of the way things worked. Even a novice understood the basics: If it was supposed to move and it didn’t, WD-40. If wasn’t supposed to move and it did, duct tape. If you cruised by car or boat beyond the range of service, owning a boiler suit and knowing how to wield a wrench were musts. We didn’t just kick tires. Hoods were always open at American car sales lots. While the engine rooms aboard European yachts were often included as an afterthought, American builders celebrated them with custom engine paint and chrome.

These days, modern engines, electronics, lighting, appliances and even toilets have all learned to talk.

Friends, I believe silicon-bred design dilettantes have stripped us of our manhood and turned us into useless drones. Why even bother calling it horsepower? There’s no jockey required. Who’d have imagined that a supercharged vacuum-cleaner motor could whip a big-block V-8 gasser in a quarter-mile? Or that a predictably unreliable outboard motor would evolve into a symphony of technology led by computer chips the size of fingernails?

If my 30 hp pull-start outboard were ever to crap out and its computer refused to tell me why? I’d have to paddle!

These days, modern engines, electronics, lighting, appliances and even toilets have all learned to talk. Have you ever wondered what they’re talking about? Friends, they’re sure as hell not talking about baseball. They’re talking about us. Toilets are now capable of determining our dietary needs and placing an order at the supermarket — forget chips and beer! If your boat’s engine is not ratting on you for serving it cheap oil, it’s delivering a dossier by Wi-Fi about your bad throttle habits. It’s not too late. There’s still hope. One special tool in my collection is still relevant in the digital age. While my search for the starter solenoid was hopeless, a single four-gauge red wire led me to the problem. I have no idea what it was, but after I gave it a solid whack, she started right up. Don’t give up your hammer!