I know what it’s like to be a girl in a man’s world. I write about boats, which is still a pretty dudecentric career choice. Fortunately, my gender has never proved a handicap — unless, however, the topic is engines.
So this spring I enrolled in Yamaha University’s Outboard Systems class. My goal wasn’t to open my own shade-tree garage. It was this: to learn the basics of outboard maintenance and operation, and figure out how to speak the language. I’d be the only lady in a roomful of professional marine technicians taking the first steps of a steep climb toward achieving Yamaha Master Technician Certification.
Rolling up to class at 8:15 a.m. Monday, I could feel my confidence deflating. I’m not gonna lie: The shop-hardened, ink-covered, flannel-clad techs standing outside the Yamaha doors chain-smoking and drinking coffee were a wee-bit intimidating. Although they smiled politely and said, “Good morning” as I crept past, I knew I’d have to prove myself.
There would be 10 students in the class — nine other guys and me. Our instructor, Wayne Riddell, is a company veteran and has spent many years as a go-to problem solver officially known as a Regional Technical Adviser. He also developed the Yamaha University curriculum.
“I’ll be your entertainment for the week,” Riddell joked as we politely shook hands.
“I’ll probably be yours too,” I replied, not joking.
At first glance, the course books and materials looked fuzzy through my nontechnical lens. My classmates dealt with this stuff every day; to me, everything was brand spanking new. I thought AC/DC was a band; the only “Ohm” I’d ever heard of was a Gap perfume (spelled “OM”). And what the heck is a diode?
Our first lab exercise taught proper use of a Fluke multimeter. Two weeks earlier, I was staring down shelves of these doohickeys at Fry’s Electronics and asking my husband what on Earth they were for; today, I would use one for shorts-to-ground and resistance testing, important first steps in basic engine troubleshooting.
“What’s a boater without a fluke meter?” I started thinking to myself.
Rather quickly, I began to get the hang of things. Before long I was adjusting pole settings on tachometers, changing dipswitches and rigging fuel gauges. I could take apart a carburetor and trace trim assembly circuits, interpret and distinguish remote oiltank sensor alarms, and hook up the engine’s ECU to a laptop in the hopes it would throw a recognizable diagnostic code.
By week’s end, I wasn’t all that far behind my marinetech classmates. Sure, I lacked their field experience, but I absorbed enough to feel confident calling a dealership the next time my outboard copped an attitude.
Street cred reinstated. Sweet. But the most important lesson was yet to come.