Learning from the Best

Headmaster Bob has some old-school words of advice.

Steve Haefele illustration
“Bob is old-school, and it’s hard to dream of another boat without his help.” Steve Haefele

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I’d been dreaming of a new ride and asked my pal Bob for his opinion. Bob had kept dreamers’ dreams alive—including a few of my own—in his boatyard for years.

“Dream or nightmare?” I asked about this new ride. “Coyle,” he said, “with just a bit of hands-on rehab, she’ll be factory-fresh. You can do it!”

Bob is an eternal optimist. For 40 years, he managed his crew of craftsmen like a headmaster, and treated his customers and their dependents (boats) with the finesse of a family counselor. While the customer is always right and the boat is always perfect, when Bob called with an update, boat owners listened. This was about their loved ones.

I had suffered less-attentive headmasters. I’d survived a botched cockpit-ectomy to install mufflers (backward). I’d been charged 12 hours of labor to replace a 60-cent seal because the technician (we called them mechanics back then) was not aware of the access hatch the builder had provided. Another technician spent a day weaving a 40-foot transducer cable through the boat before coming up a foot short at the helm. Yet another plunged a drill bit into the boat’s expensive, albeit primitive, brain.

To achieve financial sustainability, I secured a spot in a cluttered corner of Bob’s boatyard to “experience reality,” as he called it. “If I could design ’em, I could fix ’em,” I told Bob.

He smiled.

I dug into my leatherette owner’s bag and found a decent service manual for the diesel engines and generator. I uncharacteristically cracked the boat’s manual. As I expected, it read like a children’s encyclopedia, each paragraph beginning with “warning.” In the bag’s bilge, I found a collection of brochures for the dozens of components that builders screw onto boats.

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Unlike cars and major appliances, boats don’t have inclusive shop manuals. I eventually learned how the variety of mechanical and electrical components fit into my boat’s design matrix; maze is perhaps a more appropriate description. The marine industry has made great strides with plug-and-play system components, but factory-trained technicians can still be driven to insanity by an unfamiliar boat’s eccentricities.

If you’re investing in a new boat, it is wise to have a discussion about the builder’s service capability and your options for warranty service beyond its reach. If you’re beyond warranty, then try to find a boatyard that has experience with your boat or the particular repair. It’s also wise to consider the service options for major components such as engines, generators and stabilizers.

Bob is old-school, and it’s hard to dream of another boat without his help. When my dated anchor windlass melted down in the Dry Tortugas, I limped home and asked Bob if he had anyone who might recall how to repair it.

“I’ll put my best man on it,” he’d promised. When I stopped by the yard the next day, I found Bob in the machine shop repairing the winch himself.

They don’t build ’em like that anymore—winches or headmasters.

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