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Sailing With Charlie: Analogy

Graphics by Hannah Welch
Graphics by Hannah Welch

High tech systems and user friendly equipment on yachts have improved dramatically over the years. Furling systems for sails, from slab to in-mast and in-boom are an example. Electric winches and windlasses are another as well as a plethora of electronic navigation aids. But what happens when they don’t work?

Charlie once saw an in-mast furling sail on a boat that was tied to the dock with just the ragged edge of the sail protruding from the mast. Someone had cut away the whole sail, from head to tack, presumably in an emergency after it jammed.

Throttle cables are also prone to failure and potential catastrophic accidents. One day Charlie was on a large catamaran and was approaching a mooring ball in a crowded anchorage. The boat was equipped with single lever (throttle and shift) engine controls for each engine. He put the starboard engine in reverse to line up the boat perfectly and stop. The boat immediately shot forward. People on nearby boats started shouting, screaming and waving their arms. Charlie put the port engine in reverse to avoid a nasty collision and the boat immediately swung in a tight circle … backwards. The mayhem on board was intense. Charlie tried reverse again on starboard – same thing, the boat shot forward. Whilst the boat was merrily pirouetting in circles, by a miracle one of the guests managed to snag the mooring line and hook it over a cleat. Immediately Charlie put both engines in neutral and breathed a sigh of relief. It didn’t take long to discover that the transmission cable had snapped while the engine was in forward – the throttle was still working fine.

Several hours later, after a call to the base, the charter company’s mechanic pulled up alongside in the ‘chase boat’. It didn’t take long to change the broken transmission cable but Charlie suggested that the throttle cable be changed too; after all, they were probably the same age. The mechanic, though, had a different solution, “Noo mon, we doesn’t do it like dat. You see, it’s like dis. Say, in about five years you die … but de wife could last anudder ten years. Y’unnerstan’?” With a smile and a high five he was gone. It obviously came under the heading of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.

Sometime later Charlie was checking over another large catamaran just prior to leaving the dock on a week-long trip. In the engine room he noticed the oil fill cap had not been replaced after the mechanic’s fluid level check. The potential for massive oil spray in the engine compartment was irrefutable. He mentioned it to the head mechanic – but he was un-phased. “You see, it’s like dis. You go to de doctor and have a complete check up: heart, blood, urine sample and so on … clean bill of health. Then de nex’ week you drop dead of a stroke. Y’unnerstan’?” Charlie walked away shaking his head and trying to figure out the logic. It obviously came under the heading of ‘shit happens’.

Sometimes logic is a hard thing to figure out, preventive maintenance being rather rare and common sense not very common.

Charlie’s tip: Keep throttle and transmission cables well greased at all times. If the engine control levers at the helmsman’s station become stiff there’s probably corrosion. Change the cables immediately. Finally, always keep your sense of humor!

Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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