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The Canned Ham Incident, part 2

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When last we left our stalwart adventurers, the preacher with the ecumenical pirate ship had run aground at night off the coast of southern Florida, and a local had come to help him. In the course of the rescue attempt, the 600ft. towline of the preacher’s inflatable tender, plus the the tender itself, plus the tender’s Seagull outboard, had wrapped themselves up around the propeller shaft of the rescue boat. As we rejoin them, they are drifting through a cold night, towards the Caribbean.

My buddy finally brought all his faculties to bear on the problem and decided to try to get the Seagull running.  The muffler was gone, the shaft was bent in a U, two of the five propeller blades were busted off (all on the same side, wouldn’t you know), and the whole steering handle-throttle control arrangement was gone.  Not only that, but it looked like something had been snatched out of the carburetor by the throttle cable.  Only after they had taken the foot off and straightened the little square tubing thing that the Seagull factory uses for a shaft between the head and the foot, and beat the housing back into some kind of shape that would allow a little strained rotation, did they discover that the crankshaft was bent so that the flywheel was jammed against the magneto stator plate. (Y’all following all this?  Might better read back over it or the rest ain’t going to make a bit of sense.)  They finally straightened it out so that it could wobble almost clear by driving screwdrivers up under the rim of the flywheel and prying against the stator plate and the face of the core of the coil.

My buddy had five gallons of gas that he was carrying to the island for his generator, but there wasn’t any oil.  He was very proud of the integrity of the whaleboat’s own 4-108 and felt that the display of gallon jugs of Delo400 was undignified in a good boat.  They had to break the antenna off the weather radio to use as a straw to suck the black oil out of the dipstick hole of the whaleboat’s engine with their lips.  My buddy, an old mariner for real, said that that sucking business was the closest he ever cam to being seasick in his life, but he had to do it.  Luckily, the preacher was up to the job, too, so they took turns sucking on the antenna.  They mixed the oil with the gas a little at a time in a cut-off bleach-jug bailer and poured it in the Seagull’s squashed gas tank.  Then they tried to crank it while it was clamped onto one of the interior bulkheads of the whaleboat…no spark…so they turned it upside down and poured gas all up under the flywheel to try to flush out some of the water from the points and coil and all.  When they pulled the rope after that, the old Seagull fired right off…literally…those SOLAS flares were puny compared to the fireball that came out from under the flywheel of that Seagull.


So there it was running, wide open (the thing that had been jerked out of the carburetor by the throttle cable turned out to have been the throttle itself) in a pool of flaming gasoline.  My buddy said it was hard not to back up to the fire for a little while in that cold wind in his wet clothes.  Finally, the out-of–balance of the wobbling flywheel, the bent shaft, the broke propeller, and the nature of the Seagull itself combined to vibrate the clamps loose and the whole bellowing mess fell off the bulkhead into the fire, where the oxygen finally burned up enough to shut it down.  Of course, the impact knocked some of the paper towel (not Bounty) stuffing out of the holes in the gas tank and added more gas to the fire, which increased the draft so that my buddy and the preacher had to dance around quite a bit to avoid the flames that were whipped every which-a-way by the increasing north wind.  Unfortunately, they had chosen the bulkhead that the fire extinguisher was mounted on for their mechanicking.  Luckily those old surplus whaleboats are made out of fire retardant resin or their gooses would have been cooked.  Finally, all the wasted gas burned up and they were able to proceed to step two—after they had sucked some more oil out of the dipstick hole with their lips.


I’m going to try to cut this thing down as best I can, but there is only so much that can be left out…What finally happened is that they nailed the cut-bait board to the stern of the double-ended, thick fiberglass whaleboat so that it wobbled sort of cattywampus off to one side and clamped the Seagull to it and tied it off to the towing bit to help the nails hold a little longer between re-nailing and motored off into the cold wind.  It was a slow trip, but they didn’t get bored.  They found that they had a steady job sucking oil out of the crankcase of the whaleboat’s engine.  They were mixing gas by instinct and scared to death that they might starve the Seagull of oil and gall the liner and rings, and maybe even seize the already overstressed crankshaft, and then, considering the way the wind had veered, it would be the heathens of Africa for sure, so they sucked hard.  The colder it got, the thicker the oil became.  When they cranked the Diesel to warm the oil up a little so it would be easier to suck, the dipstick hole pooted little droplets of black oil right in their faces, but that was an insignificant thing in the face of the rest of all this.  Finally, in the desperate scramble to transport the open container of precious mix and pour it into the out-of-reach gas tank of the crazily wiggling Seagull, one of them bumped into the whaleboat’s gearshift, and instead of instantly choking the engine down against the fouled propeller, the old whaleboat began to motor ahead.  It turns out that all the pitching and rolling from the rough seas had unwiggled the Avon from the wheel, unwound the six hundred feet of line, and they were under way, upwind in a forty-horsepower motor whaleboat built just exactly for that kind of duty.  They hooked all forty of them horses up, pried the baitboard off the stern, let all that foolishness go to the bottom, and headed for Dog Island.  They got there just in time for the arrival of the 11:00 a.m. private ferry. “Man, what happened to Y’all’s faces?” said the wit that met them trudging up the dock.




(I’ll cut this to the bone, too.)  They went back and re-floated the Heathen’s Revenge with two waterbeds inflated in the hold by a scuba tank and sold it and divided up the revenue in an agreeable fashion.  The preacher went back to Missouri and my buddy went back to the Tiki Bar.


Rob White

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One Comment

  1. Dwight Harris
    Dwight Harris

    Loved this story Brion. I used to sail an O’day Mariner 19 between Ventura, Santa Cruz and Anacappa Islands on weekends with a British Seagull. Spent many hours, many times taking apart the carburetor and reassembly to get it going again while becalmed in the shipping lanes. Was a very intense love – hate relationship with that motor.

    June 22, 2018

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