Dave Drops his Battery and Sneakers Overboard


Ok, this was not one of the crowning achievements in my boating career. This incident ranks right up there with forgetting to put the plug in before launching the boat. It was probably made worse because I let my emotions get the better of me. But that's what makes the whole thing funny in retrospect. At the very least I can be fair and lampoon my own mistakes as well as the next guy's....

It was 1984, and I was keeping my 1970 Westwind down in Barnegat Bay New Jersey, at a marina known then as "Bob's Bay Marina".  From the very beginning, this boat was the poster child for jury-rigging, and Rube Goldberg engineering. My good friend Art was amazed that I even managed to have the engine rebuilt and running in the short amount of time that I did. The fact that I succeeded in getting the boat into the water and running, was a testament to persistence. It's just a shame that my limited funds forced me to take so many shortcuts.  With that in mind, it's no wonder that I never ventured far from home port.......

One of those chosen shortcuts that I decided to take, was to forego a good battery box. The stock battery originally mounted underneath the engine, in the tight engine compartment.  The battery that I had was too big (at least I didn't skimp on battery capacity) to fit in the space provided, so I used to simply bungee it down to the deck along side of the engine box. I also carried along a spare battery so that those long nights camped out at anchor, with the anchor light on, didn't leave me with an engine that wouldn't start the next morning. The problem with my setup was that the batteries were exposed, both to the elements as well as to wandering eyes and thieving hands.  So to both protect and secure it, I would remove the spare battery every weekend and bring it home with me (Where it got a fresh charge). So part of my weekly ritual was to retrieve the battery from the dock behind the boat when I got there, and place it back on the dock when I was ready to leave. This particular Friday evening started off like most others. My soon-to-be-wife Kimmi and I arrived at the marina along with our "stuff" for the weekend and began to load it onto the boat. Along with the rest of the stuff, I placed my fully charged spare battery on the dock behind the boat, so that I could later retrieve it.  Like I said before, this was a regular routine, one that was repeated every weekend.  But today there were a few factors which were about to combine to drastically affect the outcome of what was about to transpire.  For one thing, the tide was low, necessitating a greater stretch to reach the battery up on the dock. The other factor was that it had recently rained and the boat deck was still somewhat wet.  Normally either one of these conditions would not, by itself, have made much of a difference, but together they proved to be disastrous (at least for me).

Anyone who has taken a simple class in physics has undoubtedly studied, at some point, the principles of levers, fulcrums, and weights.  Simple things, like how a 30 Lb weight, mounted 6 feet away from a fulcrum, can exert an equivalent 60 Lb force to a weight 3 feet on the other side.  It can make for some interesting reading if you're a mechanical engineer, or if you're a hopeless insomniac.  But in any case, physics was certainly not on my mind on this fateful day as I reached out over the transom of the boat to grab the battery from the dock.  Due to the low tide,  I had to stretch a little farther than normal when grabbing the battery.  Normally the balance point where the weight of my body kept me from falling over the transom was just below my waist level, and I was still safely above that point. But when I grabbed the battery, the sudden increase in weight at the end of my outstretched arms suddenly changed all that. The sudden increase in upward force on my feet was now too much of a match for the reduced friction that the wet deck was supplying to my sneakers, and the next thing I knew, I found myself starting to flip over the transom, heading for a close encounter with the murky water, and worse yet, the protruding outdrive. In the instant of panic that accompanies such a predicament, I let go of the battery.  No longer saddled with the extra weight supplied by the battery, my body righted itself and I avoided a plunge into the water. The battery, unfortunately, was not so lucky, as it disappeared below the surface with a huge splash. Fortunately, the water was no more than 3' deep at low tide, and I could see that it landed upright. 

The drama should've ended right then and there and I should have just blamed myself for taking such a chance, or maybe reasoned that the laws of physics were against me.  But what did I do? I blamed it all on my "lousy" sneakers, which I felt should have gripped better. So in a brief fit of rage I ripped  my sneakers off of my feet, one after the other,  and unceremoniously chucked them across the marina and into the water.  There! Now those worthless sneakers can become some fish's home.  Art took a double take when he saw the hapless projectiles flying by, as this was his first hint that something had happened.  But after I calmed down, I came to the realization that I was now barefoot, with no other footwear to put on, and two more days to go.  Rather than concede to the foolishness of my move, and in typical guy fashion, I was fully prepared to stubbornly "make a go of it" barefoot for the rest of the weekend.  Kimmi tried to show me the foolishness of my stubborn attitude by reminding me that any eating establishment that we might want to patronize, would not allow me in without shoes. Knowing all too well how to appeal to my rational side, she succeeded in changing my mind, and she then went to the local grocery store to pick me up a pair of cheap "Bo-Bo's" to cover my feet.

With the drama now out of the way, my attention turned to the chore of recovering my battery from the bottom of the harbor. The solution came by way of Art's friend Rich, who had a clam rake. With it, we were able to grab the battery and bring it out of the water. Initially the battery seemed no worse for the wear, but even this brief immersion in salt water had a terminally damaging effect on it.  The salt water must have gotten into the cells and was reacting chemically with the electrolyte.  In a few days it started emitting a foul sulfur odor, and within a week or two it was totally dead.

Lessons learned? Well for one, don't reach further out than your body can balance. Also, that fish seem to like Converse All-Stars for their habitat. And, while going barefoot may be stylish if you're a 1960's throwback, it becomes problematic when you want to sample the local cuisine. And finally, that lead-acid batteries do not work well after being immersed in salt water.