Monday, November 10, 2014


If it isn't broke, don't fix it. There are a lot of people who find themselves breaking the cardinal rule. I don't know why they do it in droves and I don't understand it. I cannot count the number of times that I have been forced to reshape priorities to include an expressed desire to make something that works just fine the way it is and which has worked for 37 years, look like new even if it involves great expense, time, inconvenience and hard work. Leave well enough alone.

Sometimes the accretion of time includes the cladding of more and more onto a limited capability. The key is not to conclude that the fabric is unworkable but to consider that too much has glommed onto the infrastructure and a certain amount of judicious pruning is in order. I used to see this sort of thing a lot when I was a Chief Engineer. People would leap out of the woodwork with new technologies and new capabilities and bolt it onto the reliable old framework and they suffered a shock when the system that had, heretofore, worked perfectly, started to buckle under the overload.

Oh, the boarders were nice enough to bring along a couple of enormous circuit breakers and announce as how I had to tie them into the electrical bus in order to accommodate their gizmos but the upshot was, they didn't bring another shipboard generator to generate the additional power which meant that the normal ship's load increased by 40% with no increase in power generation.

My favorite ones brought along a new improved 'cutter' that would slice and dice the threat like nobody ever saw before but then told me and the acting CO that my poor 40 year old ship just wasn't going fast enough to demonstrate the gee-whizbang of their improved tech. The acting CO, who had zero investment in the ship, demanded more speed from me. He thought and they thought it was an easy matter of increasing the pitch on the propellors.

It wasn't. We were running at the very top of the green and that was a fact I made known to the acting CO who, just happened to be the Deputy Commodore of the Group we worked for. It was no use pointing out that "TOP OF THE GREEN" was the absolute limit of 40 year old aluminum engines. He waved it off. As well he could. He was from Seattle and we were based in San Diego. All of our counterparts in Seattle had brand new engines of a radically different design. It was no use arguing with the man. His mind was made up. "We would go faster," he said, and meet the foreign technicians speed requirement to demonstrate their incremental advancement in an 80 year old technology.

I returned to Main Control and eased the pitch up like a butterfly landing on the tip of your nose. I handled two of the engines by hand while the top watch eased up the other two. It was no use. Top of the Green for those engines was 37 inches of mercury. Anything over inevitably resulted in blown head gaskets, emulsified lube oil and a propulsion disaster. Yeah, we got that right away. We barely had the speed to recover the gear before limping home on 2 engines which were also going down. It put an end to that series of tests.

The engineers from overseas packed their gear and left. The acting CO, only required for underway operations, packed his bag and returned to Seattle and we were left with 800 man hours of engine repairs before we could get underway again.

In desperate seas we used to call this, hold what you got. When diving in the kelp forests off the coasts of California, there was never any doubt that one moved with the waves, but antipode, we moved where our whim took us because we had flippers and free will and the 60 foot long kelp did not.

Hard won lessons like that apply to everyday life. One should never bite off more than one can chew.


Buck said...

One should never bite off more than one can chew.

I learned that the hard way. Hell, I'm STILL learning it...

I think your acting CO is/was the very definition of "seagull."

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

The real problem is in that keyword, "acting."
Anyone can bark commands like, "All ahead flank."
A real CO knows what the consequences of those commands are.

HMS Defiant said...

He was universally referred to as "The Cobra." We only got him because our CO was commanding another ship in the Persian Gulf at the time and the acting Commodore wouldn't allow any officer to fleet up to command unless they had been screened by the CO screening board in DC.