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No Really I meant to do that!

Don’t Panic

Maybe I have made a mistake or two in my years of working on boats, or as my ex wife referred to it “screwing around with boats.” I will begrudgingly admit I have drilled a hole or two in the wrong place. But in my defense, only once when I removed the drill bit from the hole did water come out of the hole. Ok there was that time I hit the pressure water line, but I swear there was no way I could have known it was behind there! Besides I could turn the water off, so it doesn’t count. I will admit I know the defeat of cutting a board a bit too short because I miss read the tape measure, (why do they make those little lines so small?) And I have felt the anguish of flipping on the power switch only to watch as the blue smoke escaped from the box. (The more expensive the box the greater the chest pain at the moment of said smoke letting!) Of course none of these things were my fault really; I was just the victim of miss-information based upon erroneous assumptions made within my own view of reality. Yeah I know, but it sounds good and it is my reality after all.

Ok so I’m only human and even though I’m loath to admit it, I do screw up from time to time. Yeah, yeah I know it’s hard to believe isn’t it? But it does happen. The trick I have learned, is in how you handle the screw ups.  With the right amount of “creative adjustments” and bit of style, nobody will ever know it happened in the first place. If they do find out, handled correctly, you will come off looking really good, like you meant to do it all the time and not like a kid who just dropped his ice cream cone in the sand.

I like to think of this as a “gracefully recovery from an unplanned event.” See we are already putting a positive spin on the screw up by calling it an “unplanned event” instead of a “screw up!”  See how easy that is? It sounds so much better to say “honey I just had an unplanned event and we need to haul the boat”  rather than “honey I just screwed up and drilled a hole in the bottom of the boat, quick call the yard and have them get the lift ready!” Politicians have this down to a science and we can learn from them. “That weekend in Vegas was just a “fact finding mission” and those girls were just ”research assistants” see how easy that is?

I first learned the secret of the graceful recovery while working in construction; I was assigned the task of cutting off some 8×8 posts cemented in the ground and supporting a second floor balcony deck. The posts were to be cut off to make the top of the guard rail for the balcony. The posts had already been set in cement and were supporting the deck but were not all the same height. I measured each post and proceeded to cut them all off. While cleaning up I looked back and noticed the center post was too short. I was horrified and knew that I was in deep…. well you know! I went down and told my boss who then thanked me for my honesty and reassigned me to scaling rust from an old steel I beam. A job, needless to say, that was not fun. I had been duly demoted.  The next morning when I came back to work I looked up to see there was a 12” long 4×8 with 45 degree ends placed horizontally on top of the short post. It looked as if it was a keystone type trim! It looked great and was a fast easy fix to what could have been an expensive mistake. The light bulb had come on in my young mind! That was it! Anybody can screw up but being able to recover and make it look like you meant to do it, now that was something! That is what separates the men from the boys in the world of screw ups, or as we now like to call them “unplanned events!”

Lets face it we all have unplanned events while working on and sailing our boats. Whether we admit it or not the truth of the matter is shit happens, for some more than others but I will not get into that. So with this in mind I have set up my own personal 7 step program to a graceful recovery from an unplanned event.

Step 1.  DON’T PANIC! Douglas Adams (Author of A Hitchhikers Guild To The Galaxy) hit the nail on the head with this one. Personally I think a plaque with these words in large capital letters should be on the lid to every sailor’s tool box and placed at every helm in plain sight. A good example that comes to mind is the time a guy I knew (and I will spare him the embarrassment and not mention his name) was attempting to remove the paint from a bronze fitting. He was using acetone to soften the paint but was not making much progress. So without thinking (and I can only assume he did not use much thought here) he picked up a propane torch to burn the paint off.  Well of course this just set the acetone drenched part to a nice blaze, thinking quickly (and once again the word thinking is used generously) he grabbed a rag to try to smother the flames. Only problem was the rag was the one previously soaked in acetone to remove the paint! Ok bigger fire now and panic grips our hapless worker. So without thinking (and this time I am sure he could not have been doing any thinking)  he grabs a bucket of what he later claims he thought to be water but what was really…..yeah you guessed it Acetone! Thanks to calmer souls who happened by at that moment, the blazing work bench was put out with a fire extinguisher before the entire shop went up in flames. Like I said DON’T PANIC!

Step 2.  Damage control. Depending on the collateral damage of your unplanned event you may need to get things under control.  If water is squirting you in the face, or flames shooting out of something you need to fix that right away! But once the flames are out and the water is down to a trickle you can begin to think about your recovery.   At this point you should casually look over your shoulders to see if there are any witnesses. If there are no witnesses to your unplanned event proceed to step 3.  If however you have been unlucky enough to have been spotted, say something like “damn how did that happen?” and ask them nicely not to mention this to anyone else. Bribes and free beer can be useful at this time, but you did not hear that from me. Of course any cell phone video should be confiscated and deleted immediately in case it should end up on the internet.

Step 3.  Stealth mode. This probably goes without saying, but hiding the aftermath of your unplanned event until you figure out a fix can save you some, how shall I say it, “Unnecessary embarrassment.” Now I am not talking about just sweeping things under the rug but you do need to buy some time to figure out what to do next. A carefully placed tarp or a diversion tactic such as setting your neighbor’s dinghy adrift can buy you needed time. And if the screw up..err “unplanned event” has created any smoke, loud noises, or small explosions  just keep going on like nothing happened. People may stop and look but if you are carrying on like nothing happened odds are they will not pay much attention. If somebody does ask if you are ok or if everything is alright just smile and reply “it’s all ok nothing to see here.” Running around in circles screaming like a girl is not going to be your best reaction. Be cool like it aint no big deal!

Step 4. Creative Recovery. This is where you have to use your imagination. Like the guy who builds the boat in his basement only to find out it will not fit out the door, it is time for some serious head scratching. Just do not give up hope there is always a way out and if you properly completed step 3 you have some time to work it out. If you have toasted that new piece of electronics by hooking it up backwards or drilled a hole in your life raft while trying to secure the canister to the deck you are just going to have to suck it up and return that thing to the factory. (Of course I have never done any of these things) If that is the case you can proceed to step 6 and just claim it quit working or in the case of the life raft “it was due for inspection”. Now if you have drilled the hole in the wrong place or cut the board too short there is a world of opportunity for recovering.  Amazing things can be done with carefully placed trim or adjustments in positioning parts. The trick is to avoid making your boat look like a Rube Goldberg contraption. Carefully done it is possible to discreetly cover up many an unplanned event.

Step 5. “No really I meant to do that.” If all else fails I suppose you can insist on this even though nobody really will believe you. (At least they never believe me!) Funny how it can be hard to convince someone you really meant to drill a hole in the bottom of your boat while it was still in the water! But of course this is your reality and if you keep saying it you might even begin to believe it yourself eventually. If you completed steps 1 thru 4 and have done a good job of it you might really be able to convince others of this.  Of course if you do manage to pull off a graceful recovery you can step back beaming with pride pointing to the great repair you made (Just remember not to point out you made the repair to cover up an unplanned event!)

Step 6. Deny it and demand proof.  Ok if all else fails you can of course simply claim you had no involvement what so ever. You know the old “those previous owners were real idiots; look at where they drilled this hole in the deck.” How many times have I heard that! What owner has not blamed the previous owner?  (If you bought the boat new you are screwed) After all previous owners are not around to defend themselves so where’s the harm? I have to admit I have used this one myself when someone pointed out the screw sticking thru the side of my hull. (I knew I should have found a shorter screw when putting up that shelf.)

Step 7. Just admit it. Sometimes you have to suck it up and just admit you screwed up. Like when you are working in the cockpit locker when, without warning, the lid slams closed. And just your luck the latch happens to work like it should and latches shut. Of course the latch is outside and you are on the inside……now what? The good news is you have your cell phone and can reach it, the bad news is when help arrives it is in the form of half the marina as they come down to laugh at you. (Not that this has ever happened to me) No way to hide or cover and there is not enough beer onboard to buy their silence. You could try to claim you were “testing the latch” they would never buy that one. So all you can do is suck it up swallow your pride and laugh with them. Hey we all screw up and as long as nobody gets hurt you might as well enjoy the humor in it too.

These simple steps have saved me from much embarrassment and untold explaining. I have always felt what separates a truly skilled craftsman from an ordinary one is the ability to recover from unplanned events. We all screw up it is human nature; we just need to find creative ways to recover whether they are made on or off our boats. And of course if all else fails we need to just sit back and laugh at ourselves.  Let’s face who reading this has not locked themselves in a cockpit locker or drilled a hole thru the side of your boat?  Whatever the problem, a graceful recovery will have you coming out ahead and save you the embarrassment of admitting you made a mistake…..oh right! “Unplanned event!” Now where did I put that caulk……………

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