Wednesday, October 8, 2014

It's a shit! It's a no good.

When I worked at GM, ages ago it seems now, there was this little Italian guy who never really mastered the English language. He ran an assembly line making little plastic valves for an emission system. A kind fellow, always smiling and polite he would try to make small talk with me even though I barely picked up what he was getting at. I was one of the manufacturing engineers in his department and responsible for keeping his line running when he could not. Once a week I would get a call to his line because it was down for whatever reason and little Tony needed help.
I would ask Tony what the problem was and he would reply, "It's a shit! It's a no good." Then the little bastard would walk away to get some coffee leaving me with a dead machine, a screaming foreman, and no clue as to what happened. There were some long days and nights trying to figure out what went wrong while Tony shot the shit with the ladies and added more sugar to his coffee. I would mumble to myself how just once I would like to be little Tony, sucking java and flirting with the ladies (even though most of them didn't know what the hell he was saying) and not a care in the world.

As we motor sailed down the Chesapeake Bay towards Portsmouth we saw the wind had died and our headsail was sagging. It was time to roll it up but it got half way there and stopped. A couple more tugs and it still wouldn't budge. I went up to the bow and tried to man handle the drum but realized it was no use. She was jammed. The aluminum track had slipped down over the turnbuckle and the top collar had pulled clean off the track. Crap! I had to manually wrap the headsail and because I am not ten feet tall it looked like hell. Big and puffy and loosely hanging on. I wrapped a few sail ties around it and prayed the wind wouldn't pick up tonight. Deb asked what happened. I really didn't know so I just said it's jammed and walked away from it. I might as well have said "It's a shit! It's a no good."

We dropped anchor in front of Portsmouth at hospital point or whatever it's called. I call it barely enough room to anchor. It was crowded and I felt that all the nice nice boats were looking at the sloppy headsail on the old Morgan. That annoyed me so I let out one hundred feet of chain and let her swing with the wind. I was a tad irritable at this point and I hope all they could think about in their bunks was the thirty thousand pound Morgan moving around out there.

We motored up the Lizzy River towards Great Bridge and the folks who were going to repair the furler. We were happily motoring along when we noticed the first bridge, a railroad bridge was not up. A call on the radio produced an unintelligible garble. Maybe Tony had moved and his brother got him a job with the railroad.

We circled for about forty minutes. In the distance I saw the second railroad bridge was up. Cool. A train consisting of three cars finally rolled over the bridge and then twenty minutes later the bridge opened. I called the Gilmerton Bridge operator. This bridge is directly next to the second RR bridge. The gal says she's sorry but the Railroad bridge is down and she can't open until it's fixed. Sure as shit the freeking second bridge must have closed right after we got through the first one! The Gilmerton operator says to call the No.7 bridge operator to ask about the No. 5 bridge. Really? You people don't communicate with each other? I called the damn RR Bridge dude but got no answer. We waited. And waited. An hour later a tug calls us and says he's coming through and wants me to stay clear. OK. Mushmouth gets on and says, "Sailboat cap$%^ $%^$ the bridge$%$#&^(".  I had no clue. The Gilmerton bridge operator then tells me to go to marker 22 and wait there until its clear. OK. WTF is with all the ordering around?

I get to marker 22 and there's like six feet of water and the wind is blowing me in the shallows. I do a quick circle and here comes the tug and barge. The Gilmerton operator goes "CAPTAIN OF THE SAILBOAT YOU ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY!!! I laughed and told her everything is cool. We circled around and slipped past the Tug. She didn't reply when I thanked her for the opening and to have a nice day.

The rest of the journey to Atlantic yacht Basin was a peach. We got to the marina and tied off. It then rained all night and the next day. When the sun finally came out so did the staff. "You have to take that headsail off so we can look at it." they said. Um, no. I can't. "Why not?" they replied.
Because...It's a shit! It's a no good.

Now under a crane. One that's not tall enough to get someone to the top of my fifty nine foot mast. You would think with all the sailboats on the ICW that...oh never mind. We hauled a small dude (not me) up the mast to unpin the headstay and gently lower the furler and sail to the ground. After the guys took a look at it and perused the manual I gave them, they concluded that the two pins in the drum that were holding up the aluminum extrusion had both backed out and allowed everything to slide down onto the turnbuckle. Re-seated pins and two extra pins later and we were back in business. Deb and I were directly involved in the process, from running people up the mast to lowering the furler assembly, removing the sail and consulting on the repair.

At the end of the workday the lead tech on the furler job came over to shake my hand. He thanked me for making the job fun and helping him out. He said he loved talking and working with us both and was happy everything went together so well. He also told us to be sure to write :)

I always thought little Tony had it licked. Let someone else fix it. Not my problem. I learned a long time ago that Tony had it all wrong. You can't go through life letting someone else solve your problems. There will be times when you need assistance, but you better learn from them because the problem will repeat itself eventually and your help may be a long way away.

Not sure if I could have solved this one on my own. I did learn a few things though. I learned I could loosen my backstay and drop the headstay without the rig coming down. I learned that the furling's aluminum piece can bend almost like spaghetti and not break and I can lower it with the halyard. So maybe at a remote dock somewhere I can repeat this procedure with a few helping hands.

Little Tony, I am sure you are still around somewhere enjoying an espresso and chatting up the ladies. I can tell you that those ladies would have been a hell of a lot more impressed had you bought them all a coffee at break time with your sleeves rolled up and your hands dirty from getting the line running again.

I do remember that coffee that little Tony used to make. It was a shit! It was a no good.


I want you all to know that I really liked most of the people I worked with at GM. Most were hard working friendly people. I liked Tony as well. His only fault was when he encountered something he didn't understand he was too quick to bail and refused to get training. I put up with this for years and it bothered me to no end. One day I pressed, and tried to train him on an issue. There was a moment there when I realized the problem with Tony was that he couldn't read. He also realized I had figured it out. We looked at each other and I could see his eye's watering a bit. I dropped the issue, patted him on the back and bought him some of that shit coffee.
I ran into little Tony years after he retired. He still looked good and rested and he never did improve his language skills. I'm not sure but I think he said retirement was the shit. I was all good.


  1. We now have a new saying around here. Thanks for that! Have to admit that your descriptions of the boat traffic on the east coast keep me from longing to sail there. So many boats! And I thought it was crowded here...

    1. Sorry :) That phrase has been used for many years by myself and co-workers. Happy I passed it on.

      If u time it right the east coast ICW is peachy. Just don't get caught in the migration. Chesapeake Bay south end is awesome sailing ground, north is crowded. Avoid Delaware bay like it's filled with acid. Boston to Maine you would like as it's cold water and foggy at times. Just like home :)