May 24, 2012

The outboard revealed

ANYONE WHO HAS owned, driven, or perhaps even looked at an outboard motor must agree that there is no finer or truer description of this cantankerous piece of machinery than that written by John Steinbeck.

In that most excellent book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck says:

“We come now to a piece of equipment which still brings anger to our hearts and, we hope, some venom to our pen.

“We shall call this contraption, for the sake of secrecy, a Hansen Sea-Cow—a dazzling little piece of machinery, all aluminum paint and touched here and there with spots of red. The Sea-Cow was built to sell, to dazzle the eyes, to splutter its way into the unwary heart.

“In the Sea-Cow factory where steel fingers tighten screws, bend and mold, measure and divide, some curious mathematick has occurred. And that secret so long sought has accidentally been found. Life has been created. The machine is at last stirred, A soul and a malignant mind have been born. Our Hansen Sea-Cow was not only a living thing, but a mean, irritable, contemptible, vengeful, mischievous, hateful, living thing.

“We observed the following traits in it and we were able to check them again and again:

“1. Incredibly lazy, the Sea-Cow loved to ride on the back of a boat, trailing its propeller daintily in the water while we rowed.

“2. It required the same amount of gasoline whether it ran or not, apparently being able to absorb this fluid through its body walls without recourse to explosion. It had always to be filled at the beginning of every trip.

“3. It had apparently some clairvoyant powers, and was able to read our minds, particularly when they were inflamed with emotion. Thus, on every occasion when we were driven to the point of destroying it, it started and ran with a great noise and excitement. This served the double purpose of saving its life and of resurrecting in our minds a false confidence in it.

“4. It had many cleavage points, and when attacked with a screwdriver, fell apart in simulated death, a trait it had in common with opossums, armadillos, and several members of the sloth family, which also fall apart in a simulated death when attacked with a screwdriver.

“5. It hated Tex, sensing perhaps that his knowledge of mechanics was capable of diagnosing its shortcomings.

“6. It completely refused to run: (a) when the waves were high, (b) when the wind blew, (c) at night, (d) in rain, dew, or fog, (e) when the distance to be covered was more than two hundred yards. But on warm sunny days, when the weather was calm and the white beach was close by—in a word, on days when it would have been a pleasure to row—the Sea-Cow started at a touch and would not stop.

“7. It loved no one, trusted no one. It had no friends.

“Perhaps toward the end, our observations were a little warped by emotion. Time and again as it sat on the stern with its pretty little propeller lying idly in the water, it was very close to death. And in the end, even we were infected with its malignancy  and its dishonesty. We should have destroyed it, but we did not. Arriving home, we gave it a new coat of aluminum paint, spotted it at points with new red enamel, and sold it. And we might have rid the world of this mechanical cancer!”

Today’s Thought
It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.
— J. S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy.

“Sara says she ran into you for a second time at the vegetarian club.”
“That’s a lie. I’d never met herbivore.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

No comments: