Wednesday 26 August 2020

Evinrude...which yacht is yours?

All boat mechanics are called Mike. In fact anyone who has to do with the running of things in the boating community is called Mike. They have to be: there’s Mike who runs the Bliss Marina in Catskill where we park/moor/dock the boat (never sure of the correct term), there’s Mike the boat mechanic at the Hop O’Nose marina, and there’s Mike across the creek at the other marina.
Then there’s Larry - he’s obviously the exception that proves the rule. But he’s down near Poughkeepsie where the rules are probably different. One day, when his time isn’t taken up with delivering the posh Closer-To-New-York-City boating crowd from disasters like having their floating gin palaces sink due to the batteries that drive their bilge pumps going flat in the wake of torrential rain storms, Larry is going to sell me a reconditioned Johnson Seahorse outboard. He just needs to find the time to recondition it. 
In the meantime Mike the mechanic twiddled with the motor last Friday resulting in a weekend of boat trips up and down the creek and out onto the utterly terrifying Hudson river. It was all quite wonderful but Monday evening came around and it became evident after thirty or so pulls on the starting cord that the Evinrude is settling in for a week off.
I think the two stroke ratio is off. Everyone says 50:1 - that’s fifty parts gasoline to one part two stroke oil. If I was ploughing up the creek at a forty-five degree angle
 with the motor on full throttle, terrifying myself and everyone else, the ratio would probably be fine, but I hardly ever push it above a steady five mile an hour chug so the plugs keep oiling up.
The guy I bought the motor from told me 100:1 is the correct ratio and there’s a sticker next to the fuel intake that says 100:1, but I bowed to the superior knowledge of men called Mike because the guy I bought it from was called Scott, so what would he know? 
I’m thinking Scott might be right.
I took a can of gas down to the boat and diluted the mixture. The damned thing almost started up but it gave up and so did I. So it’s back to Mike the mechanic. He’s promised to drop by and have a look at it. I think he’s impressed by my tenacity.
Amy and I went down and took a sedate row across the creek. As we paddled slowly alongside a large moored up yacht a man looked down at us:
“Outboard not working eh? Which boat is yours?”
I didn’t immediately understand what he meant but Amy caught his drift straight away.
“This is it” she said, “we don’t have a real boat, just this.”
He thought we were using it to row out to our own massive yacht. He looked slightly taken aback and went back to what he was doing, which was attending to a barbecue.
Amy asked him what he was having for dinner.
Hamburgers, he was grilling hamburgers.
“Imagine,” I said, ‘having a boat large enough to grill hamburgers on.”
We sloshed away in our tin tub with its defunct outboard hanging off the back.
The dismal sound of the same four chords being played over and over on a ukelele wafted across the creek. It appeared to be coming from the house that until yesterday had a large banner hung off its balcony that said Get Aboard The Trump Train 2020. Today the banner is gone. Perhaps they watched the Republican Convention. Or heard our latest track: 

Sunday 23 August 2020

Smoke On The Water

I keep writing stuff and not posting any of it - vast tracts bemoaning the state of the world, the UK government, the horrific US administration, police and my interaction with them since the age of thirteen when I was a juvenile delinquent, being beaten up in police custody, racism, sexism, injustice, the virus... and I realize more and more that there are other people much better qualified than I am to write about these things in a way that might inspire people and bring about a change. All I’m going to do is preach to a small congregation of believers and bring people down.

I think about what we want to achieve and the conclusion I come to is that we want to see an end to basic human misery. Ok, it’s an impossible goal but I’d prefer to be part of the solution than part of the problem. I’m still in a fairly precarious state of health and I’m certainly not ready to man any barricades but people seem to be uplifted by my Instagram and Facebook posts about my exploits owning a small tin dinghy with a somewhat unreliable Evinrude outboard. So I’ve decided that for the most part I’m just going to write about that instead. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or that I’m oblivious, please don’t think that. 

I bought the boat with the money I was going to spend on getting the transmission repaired on the car I use for touring, a 1997 Buick Le Sabre with an interior that smells like an old auntie and the best sound system of any car I’ve ever owned - Concert Sound System it says under the speakers. It doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere for a while so it’s got to go.

Here are a selection of random posts: 

July 22 

Lowering the tone at the difficult end of Catskill's most charmingly shabby marina. Now the Evinrude's working again other motorboat people actually wave at us which is something I'd prefer to discourage. A man with a yacht got very snippy when I pulled alongside to let him pass. "That's my berth" he said without moving his mouth. Really squire? I'm not a bleeding clairvoyant, and anyway I can't hear you over the noise this here motor's making... 

But I did get a compliment on my rowing from a fellow motorboat-ist when the motor cut out and I couldn't be bothered to restart it to get the twenty yards or so to my own decidedly un-yacht-worthy berth at the unfashionable end of the slip near the portaloo.

August 5th 
I haven't been able to start the Evinrude for a couple of days but I went down and fiddled with it this evening and it started on the third pull. It must have heard me negotiating a trade-in for a rebuilt Johnson Seahorse. 

I called Amy and she rushed down to the Bliss Marina. As soon as she came in sight the Evinrude stalled. I think it's bashful - it's not a natural performer. I gave it a minute and it restarted on one pull. We chugged up the creek, went under the bridge, turned around and chugged back down again. The water was a dark muddy brown after the recent torrential rain storm. There were no boats out on it which was strange because there was twice as much water as there normally is, so you'd think that people with boats would want to take advantage of that but it seems not. I imagine they were fearful that the post-storm muddiness might soil the pristine, semen-white finish of their expensive plastic pleasure craft.
We chugged and racketed our way past our mooring with the sun at our backs, past big green buoys on our right (did we go the wrong side of them?), past oyster-shucking diners at the Port O'Call restaurant on our left, and out into the vast waters of the mighty River Hudson. We became fearful, executed a U-turn and headed back into the safe familiarity of the Catskill Creek. 

But for a moment we were intrepid. 

August 6th

I think I've discovered a trick to starting the Evinrude - take the lid off and let the air get to it for a few minutes. I stumbled on this idea because the catch that holds the lid on became loose and was in danger of vibrating off in mid-voyage and being lost at sea, or creek more likely, seeing as how we're usually too timid to venture further than the eddying and shapeless weirdness of the creek flowing into the Hudson. 

I made the repair, secured the lid and started the motor with three pulls on the starting rope. I quickly untied and made a real hash of setting off from the dock. Fortunately I've moved to the far end of the slip where no one can see me making a spectacle of myself. The downside is that by the time I've walked from the gangway to this far flung outpost of patched up pontoons I often feel a little queasy with motion sickness and it's a relief to get into the comparative unwobblyness of the boat.

I puttered up the creek, performed a wide sweep and headed off towards the river past Mike, the owner of the Bliss Marina, who has a new found respect for me: 

"You never told me you were a rock star..."

I mumbled something suitably British by way of a reply - "Um, well, yes...ah..."

"Guess it never came up eh?"

"Hmmm" I thought as I wobbled down the pontoons, "it must be pretty damned weird being me."

Seems he has a son who reads my posts. 

If you're reading this one: hello Son of Mike - please don't laugh at my abberational boating skills! 

It was a glorious afternoon and I made it all the way down to the Point which used to be an island belonging to native Americans who swapped it for a pile of blankets when Henry Hudson came sailing up the river in 1610 or whenever it was. I may have got my facts wrong there but history was never my strong suit - I'm almost better at boating than I am at history. 

I chugged and puttered back up the creek and tried for an effortless berthing that went very wrong. I slammed the motor deftly into reverse and pulled it back into neutral, but something was off with my deftlyness and the boat never left forward gear leaving me sailing past the berth and on up the creek. I cut the motor and rather sheepishly rowed back to the mooring. 

I had to rehearse with Karen Schoemer late of The Schoemer Formation for a show Karen and I are doing together in the socially distanced parking lot at TSL over in Hudson.

After the rehearsal I dragged Amy and Karen back to the boat and repeated the whole exercise, this time with a crew. 

Amy drank wine while Karen gazed around in wonder. 

August 7th
It was overcast and humid and it had been raining half the day. The rain had stopped in the afternoon so by about seven o’clock I thought I should go and bale out the boat. I wobble-bounced along to the far end of the slip and sure enough there was almost a foot of water in the back of the boat. The half full gas tank was floating in it. I’d been clever this time with the bilge pump, made sure I’d left it on the dock side of the boat where I could reach it rather than having to lasso it with a mooring rope or climb into the boat to get it, ankle deep in cold rainwater. 

It isn’t easy operating the manual bilge pump from outside the boat but for me it’s preferable to getting my feet wet. I’m afraid I'm not much of a mariner - I can’t stand cold water and I hate walking around with wet feet. If I’m not careful I end up slapping around in sodden footwear because taking my shoes off and then having to put them back on seems like too much of a project. So there’s something you know about me now - I’m not just unsuited to marine living, I’m lazy as well. 

But not when it comes to the bilge pump - I had the boat pumped out in no time at all. I’d had the foresight to take the cover off the Evinrude so the air could get to it - I think it suffers from condensation. I got in the boat and primed the pump thinking I was probably wasting my time seeing as how damp it’s been, but I had to try.
It started on the fourth pull. 

I untied and probably because there was no one around to see, cast off perfectly. I chugged off up the creek into the sinking sunlight and had to steer a course around a large, white plastic yacht that suddenly appeared from behind the promontory. A woman and two small children were reclining on the prow. They gave me a joyful wave across twenty feet of open water, blissfully unaware of the near collision which had just taken place in my mind. I imagined a dad, masterful, authoritative and alone in the wheelhouse. 

But do those things have wheelhouses? More likely a seating area, high above the water, all white pleather and big beverage holders with a dial-encrusted panel and a chromium steering wheel as a centre piece. Not like my old river cruiser, the Desert Star - thirty-five feet of seasoned and rotting mahogany, adorned with leaded lights and Art Deco features, car tyres for fenders and a four cylinder Perkins diesel motor below. Now that had a wheelhouse. 

I took a couple of turns up and down the creek and tied up with the sun going down. A family were fishing off a boat moored further back up the slip. A little girl caught a catfish. She looked thrilled and astonished. Her dad got the hook out of its mouth. She held it and just as another dad took a commemorative photo it slithered and jumped out of her hands back into the creek. 

August 8th 

Amy’s daughter Hazel is here for the show at TSL - Hazel is the opening act, TBHQ. What better way to start the day than with a boat ride? It was already too hot by the time we got to the marina. Everyone got aboard while I set about starting the motor with all the confidence of a man who thinks he’s got it down with the Evinrude. I primed the pump, pulled out the choke, set the throttle and pulled the start cord until I was exhausted. I re-primed the pump, fiddled with the choke, verified the throttle setting, took the engine cover off to get some air into the thing, sprayed Quick Start Miracle Outboard Motor Starter Spray into the carburettor, pulled a few more times, put the cover back on, pulled again, and again, and again... and finally gave up. It was too hot out there anyway.

We did the show at TSL. They've built a stage outside the front door next to the parking lot with a big screen for projecting movies. The screen is actually big sheets of plywood supported by a wooden frame and painted white. It's all quite ramshackle and I'm in rapt admiration of their pioneering spirit.
Chairs are arranged six feet apart in all directions on a grid, each chair placed on a yellow spray-painted X. The PA system is somewhat underpowered but it's a parking lot in the middle of a residential area so I'm happy to take what we're given. 

Setting up and soundchecking in the heat of the blazing sun was a living hell that I could have done without but what can you do? Nothing's ideal, we have to work at it, do some reinventing. It was a fairly sparse turn-out - it would have been good to see some of the people who bemoan the lack of live music but I imagine they were at home watching a Zoom concert in air-conditioned luxury. The show went well and I'm glad we did it even though I was wiped out afterwards. 

August 9th 

I tottered down the pontoons determined to bring the Evinrude back to life. It was a beautiful evening down there on the creek if a little hot and humid. Perfect weather to cruise up to the bridge and back. I took the cover off the motor to let the air circulate, tightened up the catch that holds the cover on, replaced the cover and took the neccessary steps to prepare the motor. It almost fired up on the first pull. Except it didn’t. I gave it several more pulls and there was the occasional splutter but mostly it was barren, impotent, infertile and thoroughly disappointing. 

I gave up before I wore myself out and did a bit of rowing instead. But rowing isn't much of a thrill once you've experienced the open-throttled roar of the Evinrude, and anyway it was way too hot and I was tired so I rowed back, tied up and sat in the boat content to be bobbed about by the wake from the occasional homebound yacht.
Two large white plastic pleasure cruisers were weaving up the creek. They appeared to be lashed together. The idiots on the boats had a police siren and were shouting abuse at other boaters through a megaphone. They shouted something at me that I couldn’t quite hear but I definitely caught the word asshole

A mean looking man in a motorboat asked me if I knew them. I told him I didn’t and he said he was going to go after them because they’d been harassing him and he was going to mess them up. He roared off up the creek, a man on a mission. I was quite pleased about this but he needn’t have bothered because I have a truck in the area and the crew are already taking care of it. 

Let me explain…

A few years ago I was booked to play at a wedding in Glasgow. The PA was being supplied by the Ceilidh band who were also supplying the disco - they were that kind of Ceilidh band: professional entertainment. They didn’t seem to care that I was also booked to play even though it had been agreed in advance that I’d be using their PA and would have certain requirements and stipulations of my own. They arrived late, set themselves up and then gave me no help whatsoever with the PA system except for a directive that I mustn’t change anything on the mixing desk and that I should use Kevin’s microphone to sing into. 

Somehow I struggled through. Weddings are tough - the bride and groom usually love you and that’s why they’ve booked you, but it doesn’t really occur to them in the excitement of planning the thing that this is not going to be Great Aunt Muriel’s cup of tea. And why would it? It’s their special day after all. There are also brothers-in-law, best friends from school, best friends from uni, mates from the pub or the rugby club, and always a squadron of small boys being aeroplanes. And quite often a five year old in a party frock who’s just been sick, standing in front of you with her fingers in her ears wearing a just been sick expression and yelling at you to shut up. 

There are variations on the theme but that’s generally about it. The best thing I could do in these situations is to somehow make Whole Wide World last for thirty-five minutes. That’s what Norman Greenbaum did with Spirit In the Sky - no one was interested in his other stuff so he just did Spirit In The Sky for forty-five minutes and then another five minutes for the encore. Spirit In The Sky lends itself to that kind of treatment, Whole Wide World unfortunately doesn’t. Wedding guests don’t want to hear songs about Sysco trucks, or songs with broken fridges and burned-out cigarettes in them, or songs that ask quite simply how the fucking hell did I get here? So I’m a bit stuck, but I do the best I can when these occasions come up, and at least the bride and groom are usually happy.

At this particular wedding the Ceilidh band didn’t even wait for me to pack up before they were back onstage. One of them made an announcement: And Now Back To The Entertainment! And they were off, dashing the white sergeant and stripping the willow, kicking up a regular penny whistle din while I crawled around their feet gathering up my cables.
I saw a set of Irish bagpipes laying on the floor waiting to be deployed into some sort of shrieking hell, and it occured to me that I could fuck this lot up very nicely with a can of expanding foam.

I resolved to always travel with a can of the stuff. Just a squirt here and there…
Flutes: no problem!
Bagpipes: silenced!
Exhaust pipes of the promoter’s car: sorted!
Hotel plumbing: fuck you!

I could run riot with this stuff.

I went to have a look at a house that some friends were considering buying. The owner had a foam insulation company and every timber in the attic and basement was covered in layers of the stuff. I’d already decided I was going to buy a twenty-four can contractor pack but when I saw those timbers that idea fell by the wayside. What I needed was a truck, a foam insulation truck with a tank of the stuff on the back and a hose that could be unrolled and shoved through the letterbox or catflap of - let’s say - the headquarters of a particularly odious record company. Fill the building with expanding foam, that’ll fix 'em! 

Then I thought well why stop at that? What I need is a fleet of these vehicle - don’t fuck with me or I’ll send a truck… 

So if anyone pisses me off that’s just what I do. In my mind I have an expanding foam insulation business with a large fleet of trucks. Anyone upsets a friend of mine I say: "Don’t worry, I’ve got a truck operating in the area…" 

I’d send my trucks down to Washington DC to attend to a certain address there but it’s not a practical proposition so Amy and I have made a record instead. A troll has already berated Amy about it on Facebook before anyone has even heard it. He called it a juvenile rant. We know you’re going to love it. Here’s what we need to do: