Thursday, February 26, 2009

Remembering the Atomic 4 (And I Am a Big Dork)

It’s true. It’s not that I just realized or discovered this fact about myself as I have been a big dork for as long as I can remember. But there are moments in my life when this reality suddenly comes into hyper-clear focus. Moments when I startle and say to myself, “my god Mer, you are such a dork.”

Recently, I experienced one of these moments. As is often my habit, I was eating scrambled eggs at a local diner with a magazine in front of me. I was reading an article in Good Old Boat entitled, “A History of the Universal Atomic 4.”

I once had an Atomic 4 engine in my old sailboat. This giant hunk of metal and I had a long and tumultuous relationship. My Atomic 4 was temperamental, obstinate, and unfaithful. She drove me nuts, emptied my wallet more than once, and regularly bloodied my knuckles. When she was cooperating, I felt a tentative and guarded affection for her, but I was always anticipating her next betrayal. And came it always did. And then I would cuss and throw things and pull out the shop manual huffing and puffing as I began, once again, trying to discern what my cranky Atomic 4 needed now. Eventually, the old gal died, cracked her head, which is a terminal condition for an engine. I replaced her with the ever loyal and dependable Yanmar 2GM20F.

So at the diner I am sitting with my magazine when I suddenly realize that I am getting excited reading things like, “Late-model engines with an integral thermostat housing in the cylinder head…” and “…optional 180°F thermostat that raises operating temperature…” I got a little thrill thinking, “Yes, the thermostat housing! I remember it well…and the hotter thermostat modification for the freshwater cooled engines. Oh boy.”

It was then that I stiffened in my seat and thought to myself, “I am such a big dork.” I actually laughed out loud. And then I thought about how ironic it was that I was reminiscing about that old cantankerous engine that left me anxious all the time I was sailing with her in the belly of my boat. But I also reflected that there were 50,000 of these engines made and put into production boats like mine. Most folks who have been around sailboats for a while know of the Atomic 4, and oddly enough, there was something comforting about reading this history shared by so many sailors and their mechanics.

When my Atomic 4 finally died, Mike, a salty, rambling, brilliant mechanic, was the guy who installed the new Yanmar and scrapped my old Atomic 4. The day I picked up my boat and handled the paper work, Mike caught me at the door and said he had one last thing to give me. He handed me a piece of paper which read:

Certificate of Death

We have some rather sad news. This is to certify that your very old, very sick, very tired, 4 cylinder gasoline engine, that was never designed to be saltwater cooled, has finally expired. It is DEAD. Its’ soul has joined its’ many brothers and sisters in the final resting place of the internal combustion engine.

Engine Model: Atomic 4
Date of Last Exhaust Stroke: 10-17-02
Location: Richmond Boat Works
Cause of Death: Natural, Inevitable
Attending Mechanic: Mike Haley
Witness: Ginger Hobart.

The family has requested that donations be sent directly to your
local Yanmar dealer.

A mechanic with a sense of humor. Nice. Believe me, one needs a reason to laugh after spending the serious money needed to install a new engine in an old sailboat). Mike had witnessed the death of many an Atomic 4 and so much a part of the sailing world was/is this old engine, he thought it kind and respectful to acknowledge its demise after 25 years of service (with a few insults imbedded).

As I drove home from the diner I got to thinking. I learned to be a better sailor because of that old engine. I was more alert and honed my skills
because I knew that old engine was not a reliable backup and the San Francisco Bay can be a challenging place to sail. I realized that beyond my anger and frustration with the old Atomic 4, there was some appreciation. I had participated in a popular part of small sailboat history. I had been christened into the world of sailing and marine engines by my years of relating to that old hunk of engine. May she rest in peace.

So there you have it….a personified remembrance of my Atomic 4. And I think this clearly shows that I am, in fact, a big dork.

NOTE: I absolutely love my new Yanmar…she has made sailing the Bay a whole new experience. Push the button, she turns over. Sweet. We never fight and she almost always runs. She only gets cranky when her fuel gets dirty or her lines get clogged. And that’s pretty darn easy to fix (with a sigh and a smile).

1 comment:

Treva Stose said...

Heh heh. My old Coronado had an Atomic 4. I can relate.