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Lessons From an Ace Marine Mechanic

Oppornocikty and his Evinrude powered boat

An image reputed to be of Oppornockity about to go out to his private island on Lake X.

When Oppornockity worked on a marine engine, gas guzzlers became miserly fuel sippers, oil burners stopped smoking.

Oppornockity, as the story goes, was retired from the marine industry. Those who knew him well, claim the old gent had played a major role in the marinization of the small block Chevy V-8. Other knowledgeable sources say no, it wasn't the Chevy V-8 but the first 100 horsepower outboard motor, a black-cowled beast assembled somewhere in Wisconsin. Some even murmur that without Oppornockity, James Wynn would never have been able to introduce the first stern drive, the Volvo Penta Aquamatic.

Those particulars matter not in the telling of this story, which begins when the man retired from the marine industry. With nothing to fill his days, Oppornockity soon became bored to tears. So to break up the monotony, he started tuning neighbor's and friend's outboard motors and inboards. Whenever the master worked on a motor, the results were immediate and drastic. Shameless gas guzzlers were magically transformed into miserly fuel sippers. One fellow swears that after Oppornockity tuned his Evinrude 18-horse, he had to drain-off all the extra fuel that accumulated in the six-gallon tank because the engine generated gasoline instead of burning it.

At Oppornockity's hand, once doggy motors stood and growled like a tiger. Mere six-bangers accelerated a heavy boat like a big block V-8 was strapped between the stringers. One small block with a four-barrel Holley grew so powerful it kept shucking propeller blades right off the hub! As the story goes Sea Ray had to custom fabricate a titanium wheel to stand up to all the torque. Well, you get the picture.

Oppornockity was so good at what he did that it didn't matter whether he was working on an inboard or an outboard. The man was an undisputed master at accurately setting breaker point gap and ignition timing. Nobody could adjust a carburetor idle mixture as perfectly as he did. Although I never witnessed it personally, I have been told by a reliable source that Oppornockity could drop a stern drive lower unit, replace the water pump impeller, and bolt it all back together again in nineteen minutes flat. And that was when the gear case was corroded solid with the exhaust housing.

Even better than his lightning-fast speed-wrenching, the man worked dirt cheap. He only charged for the few parts needed to make the repairs. Labor was provided absolutely free. With a deal like that, Oppornockity's name became golden. Folks swarmed in from miles around wanting the man to work on their boat. He generously accommodated all the boaters he could, given the limitations of an eight-hour day.

There was only one catch. He'd tune your boat motor once and only once. Period. After that, no matter how hard you pleaded, no matter how much money you stuck in his face, no matter what you threatened, he would never ever again peek under your engine cover or cowling. One time was the limit no matter who you were, a head of state or a pauper. Predictably, not everybody got the message.

One balmy, summer day, a fellow named John showed up at Oppornockity's door. John was a pleasant enough. After all, Oppornockity had made him very happy with the tune-up he had done on John's boat. But this time Oppornockity turned down the request for a second tune-up. John, basically a spoiled man-boy resorted to begging and pleading. He desperately wanted old Oppornockity to tune his inboard just one more time. Oppornockity refused him just like he everyone who had come before him. Nothing personal you understand, Oppornockity patiently explained. That's just the way it was out of fairness for all concerned.

As I said, early on John was the kind of guy who refused to take no for an answer. In contrast, Oppornockity, was always the perfect gentleman, and he patiently listened until it was his turn to speak. Then he politely, but firmly, repeated what he had already told John. One tune-up per customer, period. But John still wouldn't take no for an answer.

Finally, after forty-five minutes of non-stop cajoling and wheedling, Oppornockity interrupted John to ask one simple question: Hadn't the young feller's daddy ever told him that Oppornockity only tunes once. . . Whether or not you find this time-worn Shaggy Dog story amusing is irrelevant. The legend of Oppornockity was presented simply to the point up to the fact that all marine mechanics have a reputation, be it good or bad, true or false.

If you are a marine mechanic, have you ever stopped to consider your own reputation? When customers pay your repair bill, do they feel like they've gotten their money's worth? Do folks come from miles around at great inconvenience because they've been told that when you tune a motor or replace a water pump, that you do it with a minimum of parts and maximum bang for their buck?

Think about it: No matter whether your reputation is good or bad, you can always improve, through attitude re-adjustment and continuing education. Who knows, maybe someday people will come from all over the countryside just to see you the master at work.