Lessons Learned – by Pat Carson
A Tribute To My Friend Gary
On July 25th the West Coast boating community lost an icon, and for me a good friend when Gary Clausen passed away. He was well known in the boating community and was founder of Twin Rivers Marine Insurance Agency, Inc. Besides providing yacht insurance, he was a broker of knowledge of all things nautical.
I first met Gary in early 2002 when I was insurance shopping for my latest yacht purchase, a 56-foot Navigator. Little did I know that that first business encounter would lead to a multi-decade friendship and ongoing business relationship.
Once you purchase marine insurance, unless something happens, you generally pay the annual premium and have minimal encounters with your agent. The next time that I spoke to Gary was when I experienced a catastrophic loss of an engine in 2005. For the Dec. 2011 Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine, I wrote an article about this engine casualty, the replacement and the role that a good insurance broker plays with any loss.
I am rerunning an abridged version of that original article in honor of Gary Clausen, and to provide a sense of how my first encounter with him influenced me, both professionally and personally.
A Sad Story With A Happy Ending
It was one of those weekends that you look forward to for weeks, a trip to the San Francisco Bay for a long four-day weekend. This was the change of watch for the International Order of the Blue Gavel where one of our local District 19 past presidents was being sworn in as the new International President. With 100 delegates from around the world, this is the opportunity to visit with local friends and many out-of-town guests, and even take some of them for a boat ride around San Francisco Bay. The weather in San Francisco in October can be variable, but the forecast for this weekend is sunny and cool with light winds. That is about the best you can hope for this late in the year. I plan the trip from the Delta with a late morning start on a favorable tide at a speed of 16 kts, which should make arrival at the Encinal Yacht Club just at slack tide at around 1500.
Five hours into the voyage everything is going per plan. As we approach the east span of the Bay Bridge we slow as the large heavy lift crane, known locally as the left coast lifter, is maneuvering into position to lift another section of the new Bay Bridge. We have been travelling at a modest cruise speed for my boat, not stressing any of the mechanicals and having plenty of time to enjoy the ride and take in the sights. I have made this trip a dozen times, but still enjoy each one. We take our time passing under the new span, and once clear I bring the throttles up so we can make the final leg down the estuary. As the engine RPMs are climbing and the boat is coming up to speed, all of sudden we take a hard left turn. No funny sounds, no warning, just a hard left turn. I glance down at the gauge cluster and see that the port engine RPM is zero at just about the same time the engine alarm sounds. It appears that for some reason the port engine has stopped. No problem, I will just restart it. Despite my efforts it won’t start. It doesn’t appear to even turn over. With a quick check of the engine room camera everything looks normal, so I have my travelling companion take the helm while I go below and try to start the engine from the lower helm. Again, nothing. Time to go down into the engine room and have a look. Even from down here everything looks normal. No fluids in the wrong places, no funny smells, no funny sounds, fuel filter is clean, so I give the signal to start the engine. Still nothing except the engine room lights dimming when the starter is engaged. I am thinking to myself, this cannot be good, but have hope that it’s something simple. But now is not the time to troubleshoot further as we are only 30 minutes from our destination and can look at the engine closer after we are secure at the dock.
You know how you get that feeling of doom? Those thirty minutes down the estuary I had the feeling that something was seriously wrong. I kept reviewing the sequence of events in my head, talking it out, postulating what could possibly have caused an engine to just stop running. I called one of our company mechanics for his input. I guess I was a little short with him as he mumbled something about it being difficult to diagnose a diesel engine from 100 miles away when I could not even provide any information about what occurred. But he did agree to come down the next day if I could not get the engine running tonight. We made our slow cruise down the estuary, and by the time we arrived at the yacht club the tide was ebbing and making docking more difficult. The port captain had a nice spot picked out for us to stern in, right in the middle of the harbor between two other boats. After a couple of attempts to put the boat where he wanted it with no success, he was a bit miffed when I elected to just bow in and port side tie at an open area near the end of the dock. When he came down to meet us at our new spot and found out we had only one engine he understood and agreed to let us remain out of position until we could move. After a bit more troubleshooting and a few more phone calls for advice and suggestions, I gave up and decided to find the bar. The festivities had already started with most of the delegates having already arrived and jamming the bar, but I needed to relax a bit and planned to wait until the morning when the mechanic would arrive before giving my engine problem any more thought.
After a pleasant evening at the yacht club, Saturday morning arrived with the mechanic knocking on the door. After we chat for a bit, we head down to the engine room where we go over everything that I have already tried. After 30 minutes or so, some disassembly and many expletives later, Tom emerges from the back of the engine with a handful of metal pieces that he fished from the oil sump with a magnet. I knew at that point it was not good. This engine is going to have to come out of the boat and get torn down to see if any part of it can be saved.
I enjoyed the rest of the weekend, minus the sightseeing trips around San Francisco, deciding to wait until early the next week for the long trip back to the Delta on one engine. After a very long day we had the boat secured at Delta Boat Works and proceeded to remove the port engine. Decking removed, the engine disconnected and the stinger attached, we are ready to lift it out. Once we had the engine in the shop and partially disassembled, it was clear that my hopes for minor repairs were dashed. As we pulled the oil pan even I could see that there was severe internal damage. After the heads came off and the mechanic looked over the internals, any hope that I had of salvaging the engine was gone and I would be looking for a new engine.
Over the next week as we did a complete engine teardown, there was a steady stream of friends stopping by to see the damage and console me. I answered the usual questions a dozen times when someone asked what the insurance company had to say. I paused for a moment and then answered that I had not even considered calling Gary Clausen. Surely my yacht policy would not cover engine failure, or would it? Well, I guess it’s worth a call, so the next day I sheepishly called to see what Gary had to say. I have been insured with this company only a few years and now I’m calling to discuss a possible claim and wondering if I should even be calling. To my surprise, Gary’s response was not what I expected. After explaining the situation and the events leading up to the engine failure, Gary suggested that we submit a loss report to the claims department and that he would get the paperwork together, make a few calls and get the process started. I am like just about everyone else, as I have insurance on my car, home, health, life, motorcycle, business liability and of course my boat. And at one time I even had the combo policy where one company does everything. I guess that is OK, but over time I have gradually migrated to using specialists in each area and have opted to use local agents instead of bundling with the online guys.
As the folks at the insurance company did whatever they do, I proceeded to obtain a new short block and all the dozens of other parts needed to get the engine back together. Whether or not the loss would be covered did not matter, I had to get the engine working either way. Prior to arrival of the short block from Sweden, we started the final teardown of the old engine making sure to take lots of pictures as we went. A week or so after my first call to Bob and Gary I received a call from the insurance company that they wanted to send one of their marine surveyors out to look at the engine and to talk with my mechanic. Wow, a good sign that the claim was just not instantly rejected. The mechanics met to look at the parts and discuss the possible causes for the failure but could not come to a concrete conclusion.
Another week goes by and the insurance company wants to send out a “forensic engine investigator” (not my words) to try and make a determination. Again, my mechanic meets with the company representative and they look at parts and also review maintenance history. I am feeling pretty good about this as I have very complete maintenance records and annual oil sample reports. Along with these records the mechanic that has done almost all of the scheduled service is standing right here and can answer just about any question regarding the service history of this engine. As these two wrapped up their nearly four-hour discussion, the investigator requested to take a few select parts with him for destructive analysis. I am assured that the company will pay for any parts destroyed as part of the discovery process. Guess these guys are serious about trying to find out what happened.
As the parts started arriving with the accompanying invoices, it’s quite clear that this engine rebuild is going to end up costing nearly the same as a small luxury car, but I am cautiously hopeful that the insurance might help out. The entire process from removal to installation of the new engine took nearly two months, most of that waiting on overseas parts shipments. During that entire time, I got regular updates from Gary on what was happening behind the scenes with the insurance claim. He seemed optimistic that I would be seeing some assistance with the cost of the engine. This certainly exceeded my expectations, especially considering that I had not even thought to file a claim.
With the engine back together and shoehorned back into the boat we started it for the first time. Pretty exciting to see that big diesel come to life after assembling hundreds of parts over the past months. Almost as important, you could now sit in the saloon and not fall out of the settee because of the starboard list. Time to enjoy a long overdue cigar and glass of port while I listened to the engine idle; music to my ears.
So, what lesson did I learn from this?
Bad things happen and boat parts break. Even when you try to do things right by not running the boat hard and by doing all the factory recommended maintenance, mechanical parts still fail. We never did come to a conclusion as to what exactly happened, but all the parties did agree that it was not gradual deterioration or lack of maintenance that caused that engine to fail. Keep good service and maintenance records, they may just one day save you some cash.
If you have insurance, make sure you have the right insurance. I was fortunate to have a good agent that put me into a comprehensive yacht policy from a company that specializes in yacht insurance. I’m not sure how a different company would have handled my claim, but these guys sure seemed to know what to look for and had the expert resources available.
Lastly, diesel engines are expensive, take care of them.
When my business, Bay Area Yachting Solutions opened its doors in 2008, Gary was instrumental in assisting me to develop a new boat owner training program and then socializing it with the various marine insurance underwriters he represented for their approval. From that time forward we spoke at least once a week, and sometimes multiple times about all things boating as well as what was going on in our own lives. Rarely did a conversation end without Gary inquiring about Leslie or her mom. Gary was a wealth of knowledge and seemed to always have a source for any question that arose. I have thought many times these last couple of weeks, I should call Clausen and get his thoughts on this or that, only to be jolted back to reality.
I have just returned from Gary’s memorial service and there were upwards of 150 California boating industry folks in attendance paying their last respects to a man they all respected. I am still struggling to get my arms around this great loss as I am sure many of you are as well.
The best I can do tonight is reflect over a glass of port and a fine cigar about the man who was a friend to many and a stranger to none.
Until next month, please keep those letters coming. Even the ones where you slam me for my oversights. Have a good story to tell, I love a good story. If you have good photos of right and wrong, please send them and I will include them in the next edition of “Is It Right or Is It Wrong.” You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org