Tell Tales: No More Mr. Fix it

Being handy on a boat has made me a hero.

Illustrated by Steve Haefele.Steve Haefele

I recently attended a memorial service for a pal. He was a knowledgeable boater and a contemporary. He was good to his friends and loved his family, and all remembered him fondly as a man who was handy. He could fix anything, and usually did.

His early departure caused me to re-evaluate my years as a Mr. Fix It. As a Yachting nabob, I often focused on this theme, revealing my experiences as an enthusiast, captain and boat designer. I believed that being able to fix anything aboard a boat was an asset that could save a holiday or a marriage.

Stop the presses! Friends, being handy at sea is worse than a steady diet of cigarettes and barbecue.

Like oversize earlobes, mechanical aptitude is genetic. I never met my grandfather, yet I know he was handy as an engineer, designer and inventor. My father? Not so handy. While a loving soul and smart businessman, he had difficulty screwing in lightbulbs. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing him handling any sort of tool. I have no idea why, but certain traits seem to hopscotch across generations; ergo, I was born with the affliction.

I found confirmation in my obsession with the film Apollo 13. I believed that there was no catastrophe aboard spacecraft or watercraft that couldn’t be thwarted by scavenging, gluing and taping. While other marine journalists blathered on about eyewear, acrylic wineglasses and sure-footed deck shoes, I praised the wonders of 3M 5200, J-B Weld and WD-40. “Never leave the dock without duct tape,” I lectured. Whether it was a two-hour sunset idle in the bay or a four-week Bahamas cruise, I was always prepared. And while I scolded the unprepared for failing to drag along the local marine store, I gladly stepped forward and offered my ­inventory to any yachtsman in need. I had considered them less fortunate. Brandishing my screwdriver like a wand, I disarmed bloated holding tanks on the verge of detonation and burped the air from dyspeptic diesels.

“I have no proof, but I would bet that I have saved Dozens of boat owners from selling out and buying ski condos in Colorado.”

If I hadn’t been prepared for the unprepared, these folks would have bought a ticket home after summoning the salesman who had peddled them the pastime. I have no proof, but I would bet that I have saved dozens of boat owners from selling out and buying ski condos in Colorado. My late pal and I, and others like us, have likely saved the marine industry from collapse. I realize now that I was a rube. I may be a ­marine-industry hero but, let’s be honest, self-repair is a risky business.

My children were lucky. They got a genetic pass reinforced by memories of me sweating in the bowels of boats like a farm animal. There’s hope for the next generation; these days, the bits and pieces that keep boats in motion follow the plug-and-play model to which millennials relate.

I look forward to the day when heads (not the human sort) will have brains capable of speech: “Back away. Please call for assistance.”

But until that day arrives, it’s no more Mr. Fix It for me.