Iâm 60 years old, have lived aboard for 53 of those years, and have never, ever paid anyone to work on my boat. Iâm the ultimate do-it-yourselfer.
When I say stuff like that, many people jump to the conclusion that I know what I am doing as both a shipwright and marine engineer. I do not. Plus, I am a crappy craftsmen at best. In fact, my marine work is as sloppy and ill-thought-out as my writing â¦ if thatâs possible.
As far as carpentry and marine cabinetry goes, Iâm a wood butcher. My fiberglass repairs look like Iâve smeared the vessel with dried snot. Nor are my metal working skills any better: my welds look like poodle-poops, at best.
Still, Iâm an avid DIYer. Why? First off, Iâm so cheap I squeak. I can squeeze a penny so hard that Abe cries. Another factor is: since most âmarine expertsâ do crappy work and I do crappy work and neither of our crappy work actually works in this crappy world we live in, why not have the joy of screwing up the whole project myself?
Frankly, I find incompetence unacceptable in others, and completely understandable in myself. âDonât beat yourself up over it,â I say Zen-fully as the mast I just re-rigged falls down, or the chainplates pull up or the mast track rains rivets.
How was I supposed to know that, while checking your keel bolt nuts, the actual keel would fall off â¦ or that you werenât suppose to do this at sea?
There was no government warning label on those nuts â no little USCG sign/placard tipping me off that the keel was, like, really really heavy. Some faceless bureaucrat screwed up!
Of course, the Arts of a Sailor are constantly changing. It used to be trimming kerosene wicks, Cuprinoling the cedar bilges and tarring the hemp anchor rode were an everyday part of the Sailorâs Arts. Now, installing pirated copies of C-map are more the norm. Yes, todayâs sailor is as much sea-going electrician as anything else.
Iâm learning-as-I-go. For example, in order to maintain proper voltage, your batts have to be full of juice. So I check mine regularly. I remove the battery caps and (careful to make sure Iâm not smoking any herbal medication at the time) peer inside the individual cells. Any idiot can do this. If they are full of juice, they are full of juice â and donât allow any egg-head âmarine electronic expertâ tell you otherwise.
Nor are âelectronicsâ a mystery either. You know these âSea Talkâ instruments? You know what theyâre saying? (Mostly FU, to be honest.) For a long time I didnât have AIS aboardâ¦because I thought it had a capital D in it too! Silly me!
Nowadays, a sea-going yacht is totally wired. For example, my Raritan toilet is interfaced into my Pactor Modem (which goes through my Icom 710 SSB) so that all my Facebook friends know if I just went #1 or #2! Now thatâs the social-media interconnectivity we crave, eh?
Since weâre on the subject of marine electronics â have you noticed those big balls in the rigging of mega yachts and super sailboats and super super sailboats and super-to-the-ninth-power sailboats and more-money-than-god hyperyachts? We certainly have. If there are two of âem, by wife Carolyn screams, âThat guyâs has TWO BIG BALLS!â Mostly, theyâre for TV reception. Two balls means the male mega-yacht owner watches reruns of the Three Stooges while his trophy wife gazes upon reruns of the Partridge Family. (Three balls usually indicate the kids are into porn.)
Of course, not all these giant lofty balls have wires going to them. Some are, of course, just stuffed with illegal drugs (which isnât really illegal if you are a 1 percenter â¦ but then nothing is, right?)
Sailmaking shouldnât be off-limits to the DIY either â not when rolls of duct tape and tubes of Crazy Glue are so cheap.
Which brings us to the subject of propulsion in terms of marine auxiliary engines. Example: the diesel engine of my yacht was running poorly, so I decided to change my spark plugs, replace my coil, and adjust my points.
It turns out diesel engines donât have any of these parts. I didnât understand this, so I interviewed an off-the-record marine mechanic on the subject, and he said, âYachts are weight sensitive. Thus, whenever we eliminate an engine part, we charge more and more and more. Thatâs logical, isnât it?â
Iâve always felt vaguely conflicted about the whole âuse plenty of underwater sacrificesâ thinking. I try to comply. I have a dozen of âem draped over the side of my boat on a grounded cable. Zinc ones, aluminum ones, rotten wood ones, pieces of fiberglass-with-blisters onesâ¦
Perhaps, I went too far â at least as far as my Puritanical wife was concerned. âDamn it, Fatty, return that virgin immediately,â she scolded when I showed up with the willing-but-inexperienced PADI-certified chick from We Go Down Divers, Limited.
Actually, there are only two laws I abide by â make it three, including gravity. One is Murphyâs Law, and other is one is about being promoted to your level of incompetence.
Example: I recently screwed in a light bulb â¦ successfully! I was so taken with myself, I decided to repower my vessel. Why should that be any different? Why not toss in a new engine? Just slip one in? Throw one? Or just fling one aboard? Doesnât that sound easy?
Itâs not, especially when you randomly pick a replacement engine, which is too big for the beds, the exhaust system â¦ hell, too big for the engine room itself! In order to accommodate my new engine, basically Iâve had to âcut away and discardâ such unimportant thing as my vesselâs interior.
Last night, when my wife rolled over in our aft cabin bunk, she was, like, âWow!â â¦ Until she remembered I had routed our new 3â exhaust in mid-mattress.
Thinking âout of the boxâ is important. Why sound-insulate the entire engine compartment when you can just wear a one-cubic-yard piece of foam rubber stuffed in each ear! Simple, eh?
Propulsion engineering can be complicated too. Iâm loath to admit it, but I replaced my exhaust siphon break three times before I realized the siphon was supposed to be broken! (Yes, this stuff is simple if you read the CliffsNotes.)
Back pressure has nothing to do with your back or butt or shoulders. You want it low and the siphon break high â not easy to accomplish with my mid-intelligence.
Strangely, there are two fuel lines required: a supply line and a return line. Evidently, diesels are greedier than gas engines, and constantly demand more fuel than they can possible use. Sort of like politicians, I guess.
They donât call saltwater âsaltwaterâ when it gets close to a diesel, they call it, crudely, raw water. In any event, it is important to never confuse your raw water with your water-water, which is mostly anti-freeze anyway, even in the tropics.
Nor is it easy to keep track of all the oils, either. A diesel burns diesel oil, true, but that goes in the fuel tank not the crankcase. That oil â in the crankcase â is called lube oil, and yet has absolutely nothing to do with KY. Even weirder, the trany oil isnât called oil, it is fluid.
And a diesel mechanic is often called a grease monkey â even though there is no grease involved.
Hint: Never use engine oil for a massage, even if the oil is warm and you are in Thailand. (Nor do you want to partake of the alcohol in the coolant water and learn what âblind drunkâ really means.)
It gets weirder! My engine has âmultiple alarms,â I assume to scare off thieves.
Even the power ratings are confusing. My new Perkins M92B is called such because it develops 86 horse power at 2400 rpm. Does that make sense? I think this means that the engine can pull as much as 86 Clydesdales spinning at the same speed â which doesnât seem too difficult to me. But, even if you can grasp the fact that a 92 hp engine produces 86 hp â¦ youâre still wrong. Because the transmission eats some and the alternator eats some and the engine panel illumination eats some,Â so you are always, in reality, left with a lot less horsepower than you want and think you paid for. (Then thereâs BHP. Thatâs Break Horse Power, I assume â¦ when the engine breaks and quits.)
My vessel requires 16 hp to push it at five knots, which is why I correctly purchased an engine which produces over five times that amount.
The main difficulty with my installation was that the engine wouldnât ârest on its bedsâ even though I wanted it to primarily work on its beds. Or mattress. Or futon. Whatever!
This required we discard the old engine beds we had, and glass in new ones.
How do you âglass in new ones?â
Well, you mix up some West epoxy, smear it in your hair, on your face, and under your armpits â then wrap yourself in fiberglass cloth â and roll in your bilge where you desire the engine beds to re-appear. At least, thatâs what we did.
The main skill you need during a new engine installation is long term financial planning. This is something weâre not good at. Example: our engine installation is now complete, perfectly complete. We think. We assume. We hope, because we spent so much money on it that we now canât afford to buy diesel fuel!
Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander are still in the Caribbean but looking towards Panama with longing.