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40 Maintenance Rules and some commentary

Pretty spiffy...and another metal boat!
Over at the excellent and well-written Attainable Adventure Cruising blog (although it's pretty complex for a blog), author, voyager and photographer John Harries of S/V Morgan's Cloud lists 40 rules of boat maintenance I found not just inspiring, but accurate even at this early, still outfitting stage of our own voyaging. I also found it applicable even to those contemplating a week on the hook in the Thousand Islands, which is fairly typical for here.

The 40 Rules are listed here, and I won't swipe content to such an extent as to cut and paste them all. You may read them and evaluate/apply them as you see fit. But I will, in the interests of better cruising, comment on a few of John's lucid points, which are drawn from many years and over 100,000 NM of voyaging. I will also encourage readers, at the risk of leaving off this blog, to explore that of Mr. Harries. It's very large, but amenable to browsing. It's safe to say that any "rule" I don't comment upon represents a near-total endorsement of the philosophy espoused.

Thanks to John Cangardel for sending me the link.

Rule 3: Don’t install anything new for 12 months before a long voyage. 

  • This is not always possible, but if you follow Rule 4's injunction to do a "real shake down", but in home waters, you can break stuff and then get it shipped and serviced in your own language, and if necessary, currency.
Rule 6: In the quest for reliability, time spent varnishing and polishing stainless is wasted.

  • I would say this particularly applies for exterior wood, which I like to keep down to, say, the drinks tray. My friend Alex applies the special "Nothing" treatment to his silvery grey teak decks on his 40-foot racer and likes the result. I have to concur. 

Rule 8: Never ignore a strange noise.

  • Perhaps it's because I've been near-sighted since I was a child, and (so far) retain good hearing (I get tested as I've had a few deaf relatives), but I sail with eyes AND ears. Even a small sound will alert me to potential trouble and I have enough of what I call "sailor's OCD" to want to track it down. Your ears stand watch when your eyes are closing, or so I've found. 
Rule 14: You need a work bench, no matter how small, with a vice.

  • I would add "a nav table" as well, but that might lead to a rant involving the absence of positive floor hatch locking on modern production boats and I dislike late-night mouth foaming.. The rule of thumb is "cruising is boat repair in exotic places", and for that, you need a few square feet of sturdy bench top, a strong light and secure tools, preferably sprayed with anti-rust stuff of your choice. See my previous post on stowage, tools and The Conquest of Stuff. Let's just say with the first seven feet of the boat being a well-equipped workshop, I feel good about the concept of Where the Skipper Goes to Bash Things.
Parts no longer made, but can be made from parts
 Rule 22: Replace anything for which parts are no longer made.

  • I have to debate this just a touch. I've hauled out and replaced/repaired/rebuilt three Atomic 4 gas inboards. They stopped making them in my early 20s, 15 years before I even got my first boat. Parts are no longer made explicitly, but there is a thriving aftermarket in equivalent gear (mainly NAPA stuff, old Chevy parts and stock accessories for elderly tractors) and I can cut gaskets and fashion shims. I also have a sideline in reconditioned Atomic 4 parts (I've made $300 over the years for alts, oil pans and other obscurities). I prefer to carry a newer spare and/or duplicate a part or (these days) device. For instance, I have a functioning fluxgate compass, a venerable KVH AC 103. It works. I'm not going to chuck it unless it breaks. Because I dislike the Star Trek approach to MFDs, integration and proprietary linkages, and because I have a dry pilothouse, I will see if I can use it until it dies. I approve of spares and drop-ins and will carry loads of 'em, but I don't feel the need to update old, functional equipment if it performs well and I can fix it.

Rule 26: Do routine maintenance yourself. You will see problems developing before they get critical. Rule 27: Delegate the grunt work—bottom painting comes to mind—so you can focus on the important stuff.
Rule 28: Delegate highly skilled tasks you don’t do often.

  • These three are interlinked and I couldn't agree more. I would add, however, that sometimes if you are hiring someone to do the highly skilled tasks, that it's a great opportunity to do the grunt work, because "grunt" doesn't mean "indifferently accomplished". Also, "grunt" and "routine" overlap, so you will spot things if you do jobs that cycle slowly.
  • I have saved money when hiring general contracting, which I would half-ass due to ignorance, by being the guy hauling the tools, the ladder and the lumber/shingles/bags of cement. You can see the job the pro is doing without "supervising". They are pros, ostensibly, and you hovering is a waste of two persons' time. Go paint the boat, polish the binnacle or coil rope. Make the area clean and easy for the pro, and ask a few questions. Be a good, humble client, and learn as he/she earns.

Rule 34: For couples: Split up the skills that you need to be good at between you. Aspiring to both be equally good at everything (like the magazines tell you to) is BS, a waste of time, impossible, and sets you up for acrimony.

  • True, but it is also a reality that if the "expert" goes down, the "survivor" must make port regardless. An example is coming up: I am in the middle of installing a new diesel. I have a fair bit of experience by now with boat engines and plenty of thumb-printed Big Books of Diesel Fixin'. A diesel course is coming up at the club. My wife has a biology and a teaching degree, and years of quasi-vet animal care and first aid experience. A Red Cross certificate course is coming up at the club. The solution: I'm taking the medical course and she's taking the diesel course. She is ignorant of engine mechanics and I got a badge in Cubs decades ago on how to rig a sling. We need to go 30/70 on our opposing skills sets, not 10/90. So we are going to shoot for the basics of each others' "designated areas of responsibility as engineer and ship's doctor. It'll be a Good Thing.
Rum won't fit in there!

Rule 39: Two things that should never be connected to the battery are the sails and the crapper.

  • I've been on and admired boats with electric heads and electric winch assist, pressure water, etc. But I've chosen a vacuum head (Lavac) operated with a medieval=looking pump, and my solution to the problem of halyard and sheet handling was to buy a smaller boat with bigger winches. It's a steel boat going into salt water. Our reliance on electricity will be "somewhat", but visibly less than most modern boats. That's a choice I don't expect to regret, and I can always change it later on...there's the old Flojet pump around in a box somewhere. Fine for the dock, I'm sure. But much of the time, it'll be foot pumps, hand pumps and bog pumps. Even the "last resort bulge pump", a massive and apparently never used Patay underdeck pump, is hand-operated. I have found that the assumption that something will happen at sea when a switch is flipped to be, if not false, not to be relied upon exclusively, and Plan Bs should rate higher than a bucket plus fear.

If a pump can possess beauty, this one is Scarlett Johansson's backside.
Check out the entire list: It's a great entry to the rest of the very good blog entries.


One off the wrist: Garmin's new autopilot watch

Ben Ellison at reports on the new Garmin Quatix, a watch you can steer by, among (many) other things::

If you oversteered, would you cling to the strap?
Hmm. Just as I prefer APs to steer to a course and not to a waypoint, which encourages a process of observation and corrections for set, drift and other variables, I'm not sure this is a great idea. I like the concept of some kind of COB integration with a watch: imagine the "traditional" lookout pointing at a COB who is periodically vanishing behind a swell. The lookout could point with some kind of verification of bearing based on some sort of Lifetag PLB  My wife and I were discussing this in the context of losing dinghies on flat seas, never mind crew: Objects behind the boat vanish with amazing rapidity even in good conditions. Local (10 NM or less) beacons make sense in the same way as GPS-based anti-theft devices make sense for burglars dumb enough not to stash a car in an underground parking lot.

But AP through a wristtop thingie, plus GPS, plus baro, plus anchor watch function, plus tide calculator, plus time? Too many eggs, not enough basket, I think. The COG/SOG functions are nice, but not really necessary for the cruiser. Maybe for a small boat racer, sure. I just find the idea of so many functions packed into something that gets banged around so easily to be problematic, along with the fact that any transceiver, such as a GPS, is going to eat battery power rapidly (see GPS-equipped VHFs left on with the GPS working versus "just a radio"...big difference in working life off the charger). Also, this is one more gadget that demands eyeball time perhaps better spent observing the water and things in it, rather than digits representative of reality.

A helm station redesign for Alchemy? Not bloody likely. Well, maybe the comfy chair.

Maybe I'm wrong on this, however. I'm no Luddite: I have a venerable Suunto Vector that I consult regularly for its compass and particularly baro features, but its battery lasts 9-12 months, not days to mere hours. I also think it would be a special kind of connector to charge every day at sea and not turn into green slush.

I would, however, like to hear more when more is known. Price, obviously, is a factor (I'm guessing "not cheap, plus add in all the black boxes, etc.), but so are the degree and limits of both integration and functionality (it's probably not going to work as well on a steel boat, for instance).

Why, yes, according to these apps, I am enjoying my sail.
Yes, I know we are entering a world where tricked-out iPads can act as plotters, APs, and places from which you can update your blog whilst tacking, but I think the jury's still out on whether this is a better world. There's some question in my mind as to whether the average sailing human may be the weakest link in the fabulous possibilities of integrated, multi-function gadgets pumping streams of data at baffled brains.

Amazing what you can get done on a sunny winter's day

Yesterday, I took advantage of some sunny, slightly above-freezing weather yesterday to make some progress. Boat fixing really does consist of long stretches of tiny changes, elaborate planning and contemplative thumb-sucking before bursts of visible activity. We are in the visible activity phase, it seems.

Helping to manifest said activity was the presence, aid and abetting of Matt Phillips, a very knowledgeable steel boat skipper and the person most responsible for me getting into sailing back in the late '90s. Matt has done his own repower on his handsome Bob Wallstrom-designed 1979 ketch Creeation and suggests that mine will be easier and less reliant on non-Euclidian geometry, lasers and lube. He is giving me a much-needed boost of confidence in the "not crazy" portion of Alchemy's refit. Of course, I own two boats in the first place, so "overall crazy" is still in effect.

Very nice, and this was before the paint job.
 Part of the struggle in refitting is getting the order right. This is why Matt's help was invaluable. In order to make the template for the thrust bearing that will carry the AquaDrive that will mate with the coupler that will spin off the have to pull the shaft.

So you have to remove the coupler:

Coupler jobs down here.
Not shown: the removed coupler and stuffing box. According to Matt, who actually folded himself in place to do this bit while I attacked the hydraulic end, everything came off pretty easily. I actually had a crack at this part previously, which may have helped. The "bilge pit" paintjob is holding up, I see.

A fresh eye on the engine stringers, currently topped by lumber as standoffs representative of the height of the "soft" engine mounts that will support the engine, confirmed that the engine is more or less "in the zone". A future post will document the process of measurement, thrust bearing template making, and subsequent welding/fabrication.

I think I should have another crack at painting this area as it is a little thin.
Still shiny, but could use a dusting.

Discussion has centered on making an oak riser topped with sheet metal, or simple HDPE blocks to get the necessary height for the motor mounts. These will be through-bolted to the steel plate stringers.

Some grinding remediation might be necessary here, but we won't know until templates are made
When the engine's in place, I need to order a water lift muffler, which I would prefer, if possible, to keep outside of that deep bilge. It's been suggested I could fill that with lead, but I'm thinking "wine cellar". We'll see. Under the engine is another tank I wish to make my 40 gallon third fuel tank.

Next came the hydraulic steering arm or ram, which is more than just a anagram of "arm". As this device is fairly carefully positioned in order to work at the correct angles without rubbing a bigger hole in the stern than is necessary, it became clear that the best method was to unbolt the entire plate. Thirty 4 mm Allen key operations later, some grunting and a frank admiration that the job was done with dressed threads and mere gasketing and NOT the 5200 that glued the roof down and gave me so much grief in the past, the plate was off.

There are robust pins and "cuffs" already stashed away here, but it's a pretty strong method of steering.

This area will be cleaned up, as will the slightly corroded threads, and the HDPE plastic "sandwich" will be replaced with Starboard, which is more UV-resistant. Care will be taken to replicate the snug, angled passage through which the ram (or arm) passes. I will also use 4200 and butyl tape or some similar combination of sealants/gasketing to keep as much sea water as I can.

It turned out to be a two-person job using a two-foot breaker bar and a 1.5 inch deep socket and using the entire rudder as a lever. The upside was that the rudder is lighter than it looks and we lifted it pretty easily off its mounts.

The rudder was next. Freed from the ram, it made a handy lever: the breaker bar and socket were held against the stern, and the stubborn, fairly corroded nut was turned by clocking the rudder itself. That threaded pin will be cleaned up, and a new nut will be through-drilled (as will the pin) to take some sort of cotter pin to keep the nut in place. It's a notable miss on a generally well-built boat that this simple sort of "keeper" was not present in the first place.

Will be cleaned up, clearly. I'm going to do the entire hull before launch.
Think it's robust enough? I do.
The bottom pintle features more Delrin washers that act as bearings. The top pintle/gudgeon seems to be short a 1-inch spacer, so these will be made.
Also an opportunity to paint otherwise inaccesible areas
I like this bit: a massive Delrin insert in the bottom of the rudder. As it sits on another Delrin ring, everything goes smoothly, something I noticed hand-steering via tiller with the hydraulics bypassed.
Together for the first time: important parts of Valiente (mast) and Alchemy (rudder).
The small hole in the top of the rudder blade is to let in water; there is a similar threaded hole in the bottom. This is in part for draining water that would enter through just being in the water most of the time, but also can be used to deliberately flood the rudder. I'm going to make plugs in order to see how a nominally "empty" rudder steers. I also may have to enlarge the aperature for the new prop, which would involve aluminum welding and yet more measurement.
Behold the naked stern!
Lastly, the original fixed, three-bladed 18 x 13 prop came off, thanks to a bit of fiddling with a prop puller I acquired at some hazard to life and limb by cycling out to North Etobicoke by bicycle last year. Like the great big socket used to remove the pintle nut, it's a single-use tool that is worth the price for that single use. Took about a minute and two swings of my biggest crescent wrench, another rarely used...but absolutely needed...hand tools. I'll keep the old prop as a, God forbid, spare.
After the bris, the lox!
Fitting the new prop will happen in the next few days, along with confirmation that it fits when full feathered (I already know that zinc has to go!), after which I'll pull the shaft to check for length and trueness, which I believe means finding a perfectly flat really big tabletop and rolling the shaft to see if there's any sort of wobble. Finally, however, a properly productive day. Sailing is peanuts next to time management.