David Turner's Maintenance Vacation
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Today's blog comes from David Turner.
I just returned from the first extended (two consecutive weeks) vacation of my entire life, realizing that even off the job, maintenance is a big part of everybody’s life, every day. I went fishing in remote, isolated areas of Alaska. My only maintenance concern was that my fishing equipment was clean and ready to wrestle. I soon realized that other (service providers) maintenance practices affected not just my safety, but my ability to relax and enjoy this vacation that I’ve been saving up for, it wasn’t cheap. I found myself checking every gauge in the small planes that we used to get to the remote fish camps. I hadn’t relaxed yet.
I was pleased to find brand new, electric start, four stroke outboard motors on the rental boats at our first camp. This was a “discount” camp, in that you guided yourself on the river in boats provided, cooked your own meals, landed your own fish, etc.. It was still pretty pricey, but I had total confidence as we ventured down-river after quizzing the owner about his new outboards. I knew he understood the importance of good maintenance practices when he advised me about what speeds to run the engines at during the break-in period. A maintenance guy after my own heart. We had a great week, caught fish, never had an equipment issue and I felt totally decompressed by week’s end.
Then it was time for week two, at an exclusive and much more expensive resort. A quick seaplane ride brought us to a lake and beach where our fishing guides were waiting in outboard, jet-driven skiffs. We loaded up the skiffs and maintenance concerns quickly surfaced when the guide yanked repeatedly on the outboard’s pull-start until it finally turned over with a puff of blue smoke. Then the starter cord never fully recoiled. Hmmm and we are now deep into bear country, the salmon runs have not started and the bears are hungry. I kept my bear spray within reach.
Upon arriving at the lodge, I saw another guide sounding the bulk storage fuel tanks used to refuel the outboards. He came up with a dry dipstick and seemed surprised. I believe it was the first time he checked his fuel supply since they opened the lodge in early June. It would take a few days for more fuel to arrive, so our ability to motor to fishing spots might be limited. I’m not happy about that after paying the full bill for this stay, months in advance.
Next I learned that two of the four boats available were not operational because they were waiting for parts (a simple nut in one case). Not a concern until we crossed a 14 mile lake in a stiff chop in a flat-bottom jon boat (the one that’s hard to start) instead of using one of the more seaworthy deep vee hulls that needed a nut. I was starting to think about how a simple, organized preventive maintenance program could have greatly improved the quality and safety of my adventure. What should have been a 20 minute trip in the deep vee boat turned into an hour plus of bashing through waves in a less seaworthy craft. Now maintenance was back in my frontal lobe, where it shouldn’t be on a fishing vacation. I started to think about Maximo Ron's spring maintenance video.
We made this 14 mile (one way) trip twice during the week and I tried not to act concerned about my safety. They might think I was complaining about bouncing around for 56 miles in a boat I wouldn’t take out on a duck pond. Actually I was more concerned about the 38 degree water temperature and reliability of our jet-drive outboard, especially when we spotted the bear. Of course we had to get close for pictures, but should we really shut off the engine, the one that takes 5 to 10 pulls to start? I thought about how fast a brown bear can run, how close we were to him and how shallow the water was. I quickly calculated that we had time for one pull before the bear could easily be in the boat. Luckily we didn’t need to test my math. Yogi must have found some caribou or early run salmon, he wasn’t interested in eating us and good thing. The motor took five pulls to start.
So what’s the point here? Simple for me. Good maintenance of assets that are part of any business will improve your bottom line, customer satisfaction and cost of operation. Good maintenance is supported by good systems at all levels. I don’t think either lodge needs Maximo to keep operational, but they sure had enough equipment to be worthy of keeping some checklists.
Which lodge do you think I will never book again? Although I’m not sure I will ever visit either again in this lifetime, unless I hit the lottery, I am quite sure I will avoid any place where I don’t have confidence in the equipment so vital to safety and making the trip enjoyable.