Maritime Puzzler

Apr 15, 2000

RAY: This puzzler came across my desk recently. Well, actually, it was 1994... but who's counting? It arrived via cyberspace, from somebody named Dale.

Dale says, "I used to work at a marina where we had a repair shop with about five mechanics and a parts department.

"One day, a customer who had used his inboard boat for water skiing left it parked at the dock overnight. He came in to use it the next morning, and the battery was dead. He had left his running lights on.

"The head mechanic pulls the battery out and takes it to the shop for a quick charge. A while later, he takes the battery back to the boat, puts it in and tries to start the engine. The starter spins up, and he could hear the motor turn -- but it didn't engage the flywheel.

"'It started fine several times just the day before,' the owner of the boat said.

"The mechanic pulled the starter off, figuring the starter was at fault. He tested it on the bench in the shop, and everything looked okay. He put it back in the boat -- and, again, the starter spins up but doesn't engage the flywheel."

An hour later, he had figured it out.

TOM: During which time, the guy was, what? Having coffee, smoking cigars? Did he really fix it?

RAY: Yes. And there was nothing wrong with the starter motor, the engine or the battery.

Answer: 

RAY: OK. So, there was nothing wrong with the engine. The starter motor was OK. And the battery was not faulty.

TOM: No. The battery was the problem, but there was nothing wrong with it.

RAY: And the question was, what was the problem? I've never done this before, but I understand it's possible, when hooking up the battery charger, if you remember, they took the battery from the boat and brought it into the shop. And they hooked up the charger to the battery, which was completely stone dead, obviously, because he had left the lights on overnight. And when they hooked it up, instead of hooking the red connector to positive and the black connector to negative, they reversed them.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: And evidently, the battery will take the charge in reverse. And when they installed it in the boat and hooked the wires up correctly, it made the starter turn backwards. And when that happens, the little gear won't pop out and engage the fly wheel. Do we have a winner this week?

TOM: The winner is Richard Nielsen from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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