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2014-07-17

Accessibility issues

Whither your cocks, sailor?

My last, feeble muttering in public was about...sad to relate...keeping the boat clean. I suppose a corollary to keeping things clean is to keep them accessible. One of the upsides of owning a custom boat is having no compunctions about sawing or drilling through a non-structural part of the interior to make an access hatch or other “points of egress” to a particular potential trouble spot, like the lowest part of the head hoses, or to making the aft cockpit sole removable to get at the transmission or the stuffing box.
Handy if you'd thought of it. Photo (c) Regina Sailing.

Of course, this demands all sorts of planning and a deep knowledge...and a good record...of what is behind the trim. As fewer cars owners can do minor repairs in their driveways, I would suggest that fewer boat owners know where some of the wire runs, hoses and vent lines actually go in their boats.
This used to be standard practice, even on "cheaper" cruisers. It's easier to do your own.

My experience of proposing such modifications of access is that owners of production boats are quite resistant to cutting holes in their “highly designed” vessels, even though it is newer, often “modular” designs that the most egregious cases of “burying” critical gear occurs.

Clearly labelled and next to a light source. (c) M/V Sea Spirit

A friend of mine thinking of buying a boat a while back had a 2011 Hanse 355 surveyed. The very good surveyor, Wallace Gouk, acting on my friend's tip, found a flexing part of the hull that was unsupported by an untabbed bulkhead. Not a failed tab...a spot never tabbed. A big freaking void I could have put my clown shoe through. Helpfully, it was adjacent about three holes cut for wire and hose runs, further compromising the strength of the bulkhead at that point. And with the Hanse's typically modern production cruiser-style of modular design, it would have been nearly impossible to rectify this issue without cutting out half the cockpit. This boat was lovely to look at and has the clean lines of a good sailer....even as I said at the time (grumpily, because I dislike the majority of production boats I've seen since about 2000) "it annoys me less than most". I got annoyed afresh after seeing some of the pictures from the survey...eek.

Expectedly, this issue of "tabbing absence" was a deal-breaker for my friend, who moved on to a much better-built 2002 Dufour 36 Classic. Of course, the guy selling the otherwise reputable Hanse had no clue what a piece of compromised junk the boat he was flogging was,  I would have wagered. My friend, on the other hand, worked for CS in the '80s and is the sort of guy who goes out in 30 knots on Lake Ontario because it used to be common knowledge that wind makes the boat go, and more wind is better, until stuff breaks, and that's probably the skipper's fault for an incomplete knowledge of physics. The baseline assumption is "I am sailing a well-found boat". Or was, once. Our materials science, when it comes to boat construction, seems to be far ahead in certain respects of the actual execution on the factory floor.

I am, with allowances made for crew and conditions, similar in spirit, and not out of some antediluvian machismo, but because it's exhilarating to sail in a stiff breeze and to feel the spray and to play the waves and run through one's hypotheticals should something go wrong.
Condofied to the max. I am unwilling to board such a boat to see what the access situation is.

My friend who probed the Hanse hadn't sailed for about 25 years when I first took him out  in my Viking 33 a few years ago, and when he saw the high boom of a modern Hunter and asked "should we help them? They've broken the gooseneck and jerry-rigged one higher!", I realized that such is the impression modern boat design can make with a sailor who's been out of the game for some years.

Funny, sad or true? All three, I think. (c) Bill Bishop/The Marine Installer's Rant

Modern boats can appear to be crippled. They can also seem underdocumented, largely inaccessible (who has seen the rudder post?), and products of committees of introverts. Clearly, this is not universal, but it's common enough to make me happy that with a wide-open (in terms of access) custom boat, I can make my own fixes...and even my own mistakes...without too much in the way of hidden and potentially nasty surprises.

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