Off My Dock: Applied Field Expedience

Making do with what you have.

We determined that we needed to bypass the filter, but how to join two ends of fuel line together?Tim Bower

My friend Rich was a Green Beret and liked to remark within earshot of his daughter’s dates that he knew 10 ways to kill a man with his bare hands. Rich taught me the meaning of the term field expedience. To wit: When not properly equipped, you make do with the materials at hand.

For example, Tsunami is a 20-foot Almar aluminum skiff, my brother-in-law’s pride and joy, and a versatile boat for a ­sportsman living on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. With “Uncle Fun” we’ve beach-launched Tsunami to fish halibut on Cook Inlet, drifted the Kenai River for kings and motored to Seldovia for the Independence Day parade. My ­sister and her husband drove to Alaska the day after they were married in 1983 and never came back. Uncle Fun immediately felt at home in that wide-open place, where rules and regulations are often regarded as mere ­suggestions and guidelines.

When he wanted to add fuel capacity to ­Tsunami, Uncle Fun did it the Alaska way, securing a pair of side-saddle gas tanks from a Chevy pickup within the boat’s inwales. And so it happened that I was visiting early in the season with Spouse Number Two when old Unc offered to take us out on Skilak Lake perchance to see a brown bear along the shore. The lake was beautiful under a sharp-blue sky and a crown of snowcapped peaks, its perimeter patrolled by more bald eagles than Times Square has pigeons. And all was well until the Evinrude 115 sputtered and then quit like it was out of fuel. Curious, because the fuel tank was half full. Half full of mostly water, unfortunately. Uncle Fun had not drawn from that side since last fall, and condensation had done its thing. No prob, said Unc, the gas in the other tank is fresh. Except that Tsunami was equipped with a big fuel filter now saturated with water, and what was not on board was a spare filter element. Hmm.

It was time for field expedience. We determined that we ­needed to bypass the filter, but how to join two ends of fuel line ­together? We were both scratching our heads. Number Two was giving us the stink eye at this point, as we were clearly drifting away from the launch ramp on a lake ­surrounded by wilderness. Then Unc dug a Bic pen from the glove box, bit the tip and pulled out the guts. The pen body was a perfect fit for the fuel line. He clamped it up, and after some dramatic cranking, the mighty Evinrude fired off in a cloud of two-stroke glory. Brilliant!

“It’s like the man said,” opined Uncle Fun, eyeing my spouse, “if the women don’t find you handsome, make sure they find you handy.” She had to admit he was handy. And I’m guessing that pen is still on board Tsunami.