10 May 2010

Infernal Machines

I have a love/hate relationship with machines. I get this from my father, and probably my grandfather.

My grandfather was a serial inventor. He died in the depression, when my father was still young, so we don't know that much about him, but the few artifacts that my family preserved over the years include patent applications for all sorts of odd mechanical devices, such as a self-sharpening can opener.

I could have used one of those last night, in fact, but I diverge...

There's no record of any of these inventions being produced, but knowing my father and myself, I doubt this bothered this earlier John. The gadget itself is its own reward.

My father was obsessed with gadgets and mechanical things. He also started out as a mechanic, fixing bikes and lawn mowers, and building go-carts for weekend races. In later life, he made big money that allowed him to give full reign to his gadget obsession. My mother indulged him, but as a teen, I found this behavior irritating. My father seemed to believe that if he could find the perfect gadget, he would find true happiness.

Of course, as a teenager in the 60s, I was irritatingly sure he was wrong.

But I had the gadget bug in my genes and so got into Ham Radio in my high school years, and went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for electrical engineering. When the 8080 microprocessor chip set first came on the market, my friend Ken acquired a set (I didn't ask how) and we built a simple computer, etching the circuit board in a tray of acid in the bath tub.

And for a few years, I followed in my forefather's footsteps, on the quest for the perfect gadget.

Fast forward 30 years, through a lifetime of messing with computers and gadgets of all sorts. I mostly hate them.

There are a few exceptions. I love my Apple laptop and iPhone. I like my simple Garmin 72 GPS. I have a really nice flashlight that I like. But mostly, mechanical things and I don't get along. I'm not fascinated by most gadgets anymore. I just want them to work. And when they don't work, people with delicate ears or sensibilities should stand back 20 paces or more.

This is a long way of getting around to saying that I am ready do drop my engine to the bottom of Lake Okeechobee. Yesterday, I was half-way across, motoring into a northeast wind, and it died on me. Just like that. No warning, no nothing. One minute it was puttering along sweetly, the next minute it was choking on it's own fumes and stalling.

There was no way I could beat the rest of the way across the lake before dark, and the wind was turning nasty, so I had to turn tail and sail back to Clewiston, where I'd started the day.

I'm now anchored outside of Clewiston, waiting for a mechanic to come out and take a look. I'm very, very frustrated with this %&#&@(@&$@ engine.

Leaving that aside, the Okeechobee Waterway has been been the surprise delight of this trip. I did not expect much from this leg of the voyage, but it has really been an interesting change.

The Waterway cuts through the heart of rural Florida, and gives you a feeling for what the proverbial 'old' Florida must have been like.

I'm coincidentally reading "Huckleberry Finn", which give traveling on this inland river added meaning to me. I almost feel like Huck with scenes like these...

Morning on the Okeechobee Waterway
photo jalmberg

Notice the small tarp... handmade by Helena. Saved me from the sun!
photo jalmberg

The Huck Finn Tree
photo jalmberg

Adding spice and excitement to the voyage are the many locks on the Waterway. You have to be quick on your feet to do them single handed, and I must admit my heart beats a bit faster when I see one looming around a bend. They seem to have been built for a bigger age, and for bigger boats...

Lock entrance
photo jalmberg

But really, you just need to have a bit of courage, be light on your feet, and keep your wits about you.

I tried to do this and haven't had any big mishaps, yet. I did, on the other hand, get to see something really remarkable.

These Okeechobee locks are pretty simple. They just open the doors and let the water flood in or out. Check out the picture below. If you click on the picture, you'll see a larger version of it...

Lock opening
photo jalmberg

The water outside the lock is about 3 foot higher than the water inside the lock. You might wonder what happens when the lock door is opened about a foot. What you see is a wall of water, about 3 foot high, and a waterfall as it flows into the lock.

I don't know why I find this amazing, but I do... I've never seen anything like it. Two levels of water, with nothing in between them. Amazing!

Wall of water
photo jalmberg

This photo shows it even better... This water is not falling over a cliff or low wall... The water outside the lock is just 3 foot higher.

Have I been out here too long, or does anyone else think this is amazing?!?!?

Well, enough fun. I need to deal with this engine.

Gadgets.... Grrrrrr.

>>> Next Episode: Okeechobee Angels

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  1. I do feel your engine pain...SO VERY FRUSTRATING! But I enjoy that you are finding beauty and still amazing things along the way. yes, it is the "small" things that are amazing in this journey. whenever I have travleled on the ICW it is the nature and technology that I see which I do not see in my "normal" life. I do wish you well.

  2. Wow John! Great pic's especally when they are blown up. I have never traveled a water way like that.
    It looks like you are the only boat in the lock.
    Great blog,

  3. John,
    I tremendously enjoy your blog, please keep posting. You probably don't remember but I was the one that suggested you consider the lake route when you were starting out. It is spectacular, the keys are too but you had run out of time. Please listen to me again. Bite the bullet and buy yourself a dependable motor. You have too far to go to fight this uncertainty. IT WILL RUIN YOUR TRIP to always be concerned about your motor.
    again wishing you fair winds and calm seas...........

  4. Engine Update

    This time it is the fuel pump and the impeller.

    There is a small plastic nipple on the fuel pump that the fuel line attaches to. A crack developed in the plastic that allowed fuel (under pressure) to escape. Enough fuel got through the line to keep the engine running badly.

    I'd also noticed that the engine was running hot. The impeller -- a little paddle wheel that moves water through the engine to keep it cool -- was old and the blades were slightly curved. This prevented the blades from 'scraping' the cylinder that it turned in, thus lowering the water pressure.

    I've considered dumping the engine in Lake Okeechobee (just exaggerating, FL Fish and Wildlife Service!), but both mechanics who've looked at the engine say it's basically sound. It's just been neglected for a few years.

    I'm hoping I'll eventually find and fix all the problems. Yes, I'm an optimist!

    -- John

  5. ....keep the motor, fix it, sounds like it just needed a round'robin by a mechanic. How's the Staph? That's what I would be worried about.

  6. The infection is all gone. Thank goodness. And i've resolved the motor issue. Details tomorrow!

  7. I was thinking about that ride up the Thruway with your car struggling along at well under 40 miles per gallon. As I remember it the gas tank was full of flakes of something.
    Taking Huck and Jim and the raft along with you is just perfect.
    I was up by your old Burden Lake house a few days ago. Looks much the same. I remembered the barbecued white and yellow perch and old days.
    Nothing like what you are doing, but the old aluminum canoe with kayak paddles and a clamped on comfortable seat delights me these days. No bluegills yet but I put golden stren on my ultralight reels yesterday so I'm ready.
    Also have a new poker buddy with a pontoon boat on Galway Lake (no gasoline engines allowed) who is taking me pickerel fishing soon.
    Hey, enjoy.
    Don't get lost in any fog.

  8. Get some MarineTex, a high-temperature tolerant epoxy filler. When the exhaust elbow on my Mercedes diesel sprang a leak in the Bahamas, Marinetex allowed me to repair the part and keep cruising. It might have sufficed to repair the crack that bedeviled your old engine.

  9. If you think three feet difference in water height is interesting, you wanna come and lock in/out of the marina where I berth, the tidal range we get is 7.5meters (24ft) (HWS, vernal equinox), the level in the marina stays within about three feet of HWN, but there's still a *huge* wall of water then they open the gates.

  10. I am reading this in 2019. I too thought, "Oh, he should just buy a new motor!" I checked, and a new 15 hp outboard motor is a whopping ~$2,500 (2019 price).


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