The other night, after a round of proofreading the magazine that you’re reading, I watched one of my favorite movies. In a scene from The Freshman, Matthew Broderick’s character Clark Kellogg is a college student thrust into a daunting situation after being robbed the minute he arrives in New York City to begin film school. Accepting a shady job from a would-be mafia boss in hopes of recouping some of his  loss and the web of issues it creates, Clark is clearly overwhelmed.

Finding himself forced to choose between Carmine (played by Marlon Brando), a man with whom he finds increasing affection, and a possible 2-year stint in the clink, Clark ruminates on his options and proclaims, “There’s a certain freedom in being totally screwed, because you know things can’t get any  worse.” While this notion, at least in Clark’s fictional circumstances, is romantic and humorous, I started thinking about what ‘totally screwed’ actually means.

When we’re out on our boats, ‘totally screwed’ can happen in all sorts of ways. If you’re a racer, you may find yourself totally screwed as you’re mired down in the third line of a crowded start…A nice picnic lunch may be totally screwed by a thunderstorm, or your engine may conk out when you’re miles from home on a windless day.

When it comes to boating, I think you may be truly totally screwed only when your boat is sinking beneath you as you watch your life jacket float away with your raft and ditch bag. And while I have been totally screwed during races, and had my share of cruising days ruined by weather or other hassles, I’ve yet to be truly totally screwed out there, when all is lost – and I will spare you references of how other movies work out that scenario…

So, in the everyday world of stuff happening to our boats (and ourselves) on the water, I think the sudden final wail, screech and halt of our internal combustion ‘schedule keeper’ is right up there with a blown out mainsail, or even a rig collapse. In this day and age, few of us have the luxury of waiting out a lull while squeezing in a day sail, and not being able to keep to our tight schedules is certainly a form of being totally screwed, but as any reluctant hero would do, we must adjust and adapt.

Derek Rupe, a resourceful sailor from New London, CT, has taken some of the anxiety of the prospect of being stuck without an engine by removing the diesel powerplant from his Beneteau 30 altogether. With the need for auxiliary power, the solution of installing an electric motor was deemed reasonable. The reliability of electric power is now a cost-free comfort for him, but the journey to the renewable and sustainable production of that power took some tinkering, and Derek adjusted and adapted as he went.

Removing, or at least reducing, the number of variables involved with engine failure and maintaining a source of increasingly reliable power may be a big step toward keeping yourself from being totally screwed out there. Now, with unlimited range and the knowledge to pass along to others interested in pursuing this option, Derek tells us what he learned along the way. Check out “Watts Up” to see how it can be done.

Unless we’re thrust into a situation over which we have no control whatsoever (like Clark’s choice between ratting out his friend or suffering the consequences) we are usually afforded an opportunity to learn as we go. Sometimes, however, we are lucky enough to receive guidance from someone who has been through it all before. And as we often see with our heroes on the silver screen, things usually work out in the end.

See you on the water.

Chris Gill