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The Joys of Shipboard Electrics

Copyright 2009 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander

I believe a loving God gave sailors wind—and Satan gave them 12 volts D.C. to balance things out. As near as I can tell, the sole purpose of my shipboard electrical system is to bedevil me. I grew up on a boat with kerosene lamps and had an idyllic childhood. Now my modest 38 foot vessel has over 100 electric devices—and suicide is looking like a good option. (I’ll have to drown myself; electrocution isn’t a reliable method.)

I’m not the first sailor to feel this way. The term ‘marine electronics’ and ‘’frustration’ are synonyms. The problem is systemic. I mean, it is built right into the language: fuses reFUSE to make contact. Circuit breakers are so expensive you end up BROKE. Engine alternators are so undependable that you have to have two and ALTERNATE their use…

…see what I mean?

Perhaps we should start at the beginning—with our starting battery. There are different types of marine batteries. Gel cells are only recommended for sailors with kinky hair. Deep cycle batteries are best if your boat sinks often. Amp hours refer to how many hours you have to spend working on your electrical system to get one measly amp out of it. Careful of your eyes: batteries contain acid—but not the kind we used to love back in the 1960s.

…speaking of alternative lifestyles and marine electronics—most modern boats have ‘digital om’ meters to measure if their captain is Zen enough for ocean cruising. You can set these ‘om meters’ to AC or DC or both…depending on your sexual orientation. Most of them also have a continuity function—for instance, if a sailor has numerous wives but they are all named Susan… that’s continuity AND variety… a marital two-fer!

Where was I? Ah, yes. Electrical bedevilment…

I remember the good old days with great fondness—when we had only a few electric thingies which didn’t work—now we have dozens and dozens. My latest bank-account draining electro-gizmo is my AIS (Automatic Identification System)… which graphically tells me which Class A ships will pass close enough to Wild Card to be able to easily drop me new circuit boards.  

My Furuno radar also has a nifty new San Francisco ‘gay-dar’ function which blips only homosexual-oriented craft. (I thought this function was useless until I had to go stern-to the quay in Greece.)

Nowadays, with Obama and all, we have integrated circuits. I’m okay with this—as long as we’re striving for equal opportunity and not outcome.

Marine wire sizes can be difficult to understand. As a memory aid, I remember that most marine wires should be 12 gauge—which is the same gauge as the shotgun you’ll want when your circuits don’t work. Battery cables, however, use a completely different measure system because, if they’re large enough, they ‘ought’ to work.

Color-coding is important. When I was in continental America I used primarily white wire but when I moved to the Virgins I switched to black… and now in Southeast Asia I’m tossing in some red and yellow… in deference to China’s growing economic clout.

Pink wire speaks for itself.

I used to use paper charts. They were cheap, never malfunctioned and were easily understood. Thus, we discarded them in favor of a ‘nav plotter.’ These are expensive, often fail at critical moments and are almost impossible to use in an emergency—all of which is why they’re so popular on boats which seldom leave the marina.

I find wind generators VERY democratic—I mean, nobody in the anchorage can sleep when it sounds like a turbo-chopper is landing on their foredeck.

Actually, my wind generator is relatively quiet. So quiet, in fact, I can hear the reggae music in the background as its service department personnel tells me to kiss off. (Just kidding!)

Some people love ‘towed’ generators—but my wind gen snapped off all three of its blades within seconds of being tossed over the transom at eight knots—go figure, eh?

Let’s face it: most cruising wives are out-of-shape. Thus, if the lass attempts to haul up the anchor, she gets winded. So, naturally, she demands a windlass. I purchased mine in New Zealand. We call it, well, Max—because of its price.

We can raise and lower our anchor from our cockpit via toe buttons. This works well—except one time while practicing the Karma Sutra… my lusty wife and I ended up unexpectedly drifting through the anchorage during a reverse cowgirl.

Yes, shipboard living can be exciting. For example, my nav computer has a ‘mother’ board which is half of what I shout whenever it blows up.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m really intrigued with the humor of language: do you really think they’re called ‘running lights’ because of how fast they run down the battery?

Once, while a teen-ager, I took a girl to a remote anchor for a romantic evening. When she rejected my advances, I angrily turned on my ‘steaming’ light to return her to the marina. I mean, I’m not paranoid—nautical nomenclature really is screwing with me!

Perhaps I’m a tad dim—but aren’t LED lights weak? Mine barely illuminate what I’d like to see… if I had a real incandescent bulb. The brightest things I’ve seen about them is the manufacturer’s bottom line.

Of course, they get a lot of praise for being ‘energy efficient’ which doesn’t seem fair. After all, I napped for months and nobody praised me. Ditto, the mystery of what is causing global warming—which has sky-rocketed since cardiologists began recommending we baby-boomers consume a huge bowl of oat bran every morning.

Yes, they refer to this odoriferous situation as ‘green’ house gases because that’s the color my wife turns when I try to ‘stealth’ her while looking innocent. (I recently heard her tell a friend, rather callously, I thought, “Thank God for wind scoops! If not for flatulence, he’d have nothing to offer!”)

Somehow, nothing I do seems to turn out right. For example: I have a burglar alarm on Wild Card, the 38 foot garbage scow my wife and I live aboard. If a teef opens the hatch, a loud siren sounds and a bright strobe blinks. Alas, I didn’t stop there. I added a ‘panic button’ beside my forecastle bunk—so that if I hear a teef aboard, I scare them away without losing my beauty sleep. This panic button works 100% of the time it isn’t needed and NEVER when it is. Only my wife can see the bright side of this situation: “They always run away when they hear you shouting your disgusting obscenities at the panic button,” she notes, “so it DOES work, in a sense!”

I guess there’s a lot of stuff I can’t make sense of. Like why did Ms. Clinton quit being a senator so she could be a secretary? That seems dumb—even by Washington standards. Other things seem blatantly obvious to me: how an administration which has both looted the national treasury AND emptied the pockets of Wall Street might say, when realizing their ship of state is irreversibly headed for the financial rocks, “…do you think we could find some nice young colored fellow to pin the blame on?”

I’m beginning to believe I’m just too old to understand this stuff. I mean, back in the 1960s when I purchased my first boat, ‘getting lit’ had an entirely different meaning. Now I get easily confused. Example: when I purchased my new AIS unit, I thought the salesman asked me if my ship’s bridge was “humility-controlled.”

“Not really,” I said, somewhat taken aback. “Although I suppose if I could work on my modesty a bit… well, I’d be perfect. And, yes, I suppose if another man had my ego HE would be vain… but I don’t see how…”

“Fatty,” my wife butted in, “I think he said ‘humidity-controlled’ as in not-too-damp.”

Oophs. I hate it when she’s right—especially about the electro-bits. But ‘No worries, mate!’ as our Aussie friends say. If need be, I can always instantly win an argument on intelligence with her by holding up our marriage certificate.

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of “Chasing the Horizon” by American Paradise Publishing, “Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies” and “The Collected Fat.”  For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com.

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