I am 60 years old, have lived aboard for 53 of those years, and have never, ever paid anyone to work on my boat. I’m 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 – if that’s possible.
As far as carpentry and marine cabinetry goes, I’m a wood butcher. My fiberglass repairs look like I’ve smeared the vessel with dried snot. Nor are my metal working skills any better: my welds look like poodle-poops, at best.
Still, I’m an avid DIYer. Why? First off, I’m so cheap I squeak. I can squeeze a penny so hard that Abe cries. Another factor is: since most “marine experts” 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. “Don’t beat yourself up over it,” 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 – or that you weren’t supposed to do this at sea?
There was no government warning label on those nuts – 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 Sailor’s Arts. Now, installing pirated copies of C-map are more the norm. Yes, today’s sailor is as much sea-going electrician as anything else.
I’m 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 I’m 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 – and don’t allow any egg-head “marine electronic expert” tell you otherwise.
Nor are “electronics” a mystery either. You know these “Sea Talk” instruments? You know what they’re saying? (Mostly FU, to be honest.) For a long time I didn’t have AIS aboard – 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 that’s the social-media interconnectivity we crave, eh?
Since we’re on the subject of marine electronics – 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 ’em, my wife Carolyn screams, “That guy’s has TWO BIG BALLS” Mostly, they’re 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 isn’t really illegal if you are a 1 percenter – but then nothing is, right?)
Sailmaking shouldn’t be off-limits to the DIY either – 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 don’t have any of these parts. I didn’t understand this, so I interviewed an off-the-record marine mechanic on the subject, and he said, “Yachts are weight sensitive. Thus, whenever we eliminate an engine part, we charge more and more and more. That’s logical, isn’t it?”
I’ve always felt vaguely conflicted about the whole “use plenty of underwater sacrifices” thinking. I try to comply. I have a dozen of ’em draped over the side of my boat on a grounded cable. Zinc ones, aluminum ones, rotten wood ones, pieces of fiberglass-with-blisters ones.
Perhaps, I went too far – at least as far as my Puritanical wife was concerned. “Damn it, Fatty, return that virgin immediately,” 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 – make it three, including gravity. One is Murphy’s Law, and other is one is about being promoted to your level of incompetence.
Example: I recently screwed in a light bulb – 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? Doesn’t that sound easy?
It’s not, especially when you randomly pick a replacement engine, which is too big for the beds, the exhaust system – hell, too big for the engine room itself! In order to accommodate my new engine, basically I’ve had to “cut away and discard” such unimportant thing as my vessel’s interior.
Last night, when my wife rolled over in our aft cabin bunk, she was, like, “Wow!” Until she remembered I had routed our new exhaust in mid-mattress.
Thinking out of the box 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. I’m 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 – 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 don’t call saltwater “saltwater” 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 in the crankcase is called lube oil, and yet has absolutely nothing to do with KY. Even weirder, the trany oil isn’t called oil, it is fluid.
And a diesel mechanic is often called a grease monkey – 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 â€˜blind drunkâ€™ really means.)
It gets weirder! My engine has multiple alarms, 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 – which doesn’t seem too difficult to me. But, even if you can grasp the fact that a 92 hp engine produces 86 hp, you’re still wrong. Because the transmission eats some and the alternator eats some and the engine panel illumination eats some, so you are always, in reality, left with a lot less horsepower than you want and think you paid for. (Then there’s BHP. That’s Break Horse Power, I assume – 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 wouldn’t “rest on its bed” 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 glass in new ones?
Well, you mix up some West epoxy, smear it in your hair, on your face, and under your armpits – then wrap yourself in fiberglass cloth – and roll in your bilge where you desire the engine beds to re-appear. At least, that’s what we did.
The main skill you need during a new engine installation is long term financial planning. This is something we’re 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 can’t afford to buy diesel fuel!
Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander are still in the Caribbean but looking towards Panama with longing.