Down East 2013 ©
By Mark Gartside
When you first move to a new place you are allowed, for a brief moment, to do the things that long-term residents view as clichés. As a recent arrival in Maine (from the UK), that means a few things: I can comment on how cold winter is and, how for Mainers, anything above twenty degrees is “shorts and T-shirt weather.” I can eat lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and, when summer comes, I can make a naïve decision about how much fun it would be to buy a boat.
So it was that $3,500 later, I was the proud owner of a seventeen foot Pro-Line, with a 1988 90-horsepower outboard.
“Runs like a champ,” the owner said, when I bought it. “Starts on a dime.”
And so she did, dropped into the water at Mere Point and taken for spin out to the Dolphin Marina for a celebratory drink. Skipping along past Harpswell, I allowed myself a pat on the back. This was Maine; Maine seen from the water. After the long winter holed up in Brunswick, new vistas hovered into view: camping with my two young boys on a secluded island, hauling stripers and mackerel aboard in the evening sun, towing a screaming teenager on a tube. Summer bliss.
“What year is the engine?” my neighbor asked when I got home, and I told him. “ ’88? You bought an ’88 outboard?” He paused to laugh. “You know what we call those, dontcha?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t. Bargains, perhaps?”
“Money pits,” he said. “Good luck.”
What did he know? When I told my friends back in England I was a boat owner, I was met with nothing but praise and envy. Living the dream, I told them. Besides, my boat ran beautifully. Okay, there was an intermittent alarm that sounded without any obvious reason why, and the oil level fell at an alarming rate, but those were the kinds of things you expected from an old engine. They gave it character. The only problem I had was naming her.
I’d heard that it was bad luck to name a boat after your wife, so that was out. Naming her after my mother seemed a bit Oedipal, so that went, too. Any other woman’s name would have given rise to some awkward questions, so they were discarded, which left me with few options. Lady Brunswick? A bit twee. Whisky Galore? Perhaps, if I was smuggling contraband through the Florida Keys, but in puritan New England?
And so she went unnamed — until last weekend.
Out I went to Whaleboat Island, where I had been told the mackerel run. Engine off, I dropped a line in the water and waited for the fish. An hour or two later, the sun was setting, the mackerel were still in their natural habitat, and I was ready to head home.
I turned the key, the engine caught, spluttered, and died.
Out of gas.
No matter: I had a five-gallon tank on board. Since the gas gauge on my boat didn’t work it seemed only sensible to be prepared. Re-fueled, I started her up.
Nothing. This time the engine didn’t even turn over.
A few tries later, I accepted the reality of my situation: I was drifting in a small boat about five miles from where I needed to be.
I called the nearest marina. “Any chance of a tow? I’m having some problems.”
Thirty minutes later, my savior from the idiot rescue squad arrived. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
I turned the key; nothing happened.
“Sounds like the battery’s dead,” he said, and then looked at the engine. “Hmm. What year is that?”
I told him, through gritted teeth.
He shook his head. “Scrap that about the battery. Could be anything with an outboard that old. You’re gonna need to get someone who knows what they’re doing to take a look. You know, you tell someone round here you’ve got an ’88 outboard, and, when they finish laughing, they’ll tell you that what you’ve got is a money pit.”
I thanked him for his advice, and a few days later I followed it. That’s where she is now: in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.
But every cloud has a silver lining, they say, and at least I got my name. When she’s back afloat, it’ll be with some letters on her bow. The Money Pit, they’ll spell.