It’s safe to assume that you are reading this because you like boats. Maybe you like the atmosphere and that feeling of being an important part of the crew; or perhaps you enjoy the engineering side or the challenge of cooking up a storm in a pitching galley. But I’m pretty sure, whatever particular joy you get from being afloat, you like boats.
Well, me too. One of my favourite things about boats is how each yacht is unique, whether it be motor or sail: each with their differing systems, equipment, layouts, and inventories. It’s this character that shines through and wins our hearts the second we step onto a boat which has that magical ‘something’.
But one thing remains the same: boats break. All the time. Even the best maintenance schedule won’t prevent something going wrong, and that’s when we fall out of love with the floating paradises we so easily come to cherish.
As I write this article, I can see a white board out of the corner of my eye. It displays a carefully compiled list of tasks that need undertaking, things that need fixing, and equipment that needs installing.
In marine engineering circles, there’s a well-known headache when it comes to working on boats. Everybody knows that it's not necessarily the actual maintenance task or repair job that is difficult –anyone with a socket set can change a filter – but rather the access that makes it impossible to get to the job that needs undertaking.
A few years ago, I decided to remove the davits from my sailing ketch. The bowsprit made the boat a few foot longer, and the davits sticking out of the transom added another few foot which I was pretty reluctant to pay extra for in marina berthing fees. So, I had to contort myself and squeeze my way into the cockpit lockers to access the nuts to remove the davits bolted onto the stern. Imagine if the locker shut behind me and trapped me inside – I’ve heard of that happening before – shudder!
Another simple repair job onboard was also hindered by a lack of access. This time, I was trying to get access to the steering cable junction box (the boat had two helm positions) under the saloon cabin sole. One of the cables had seized and needed replacing. Simple job, if it weren’t for the fact the junction box had been built into and under the floor. I have visions of lying flat on my stomach over the engine bay, reaching one arm as far as possible under the floor, desperately trying to get at the last bolt that needed removing. It took about an hour.
Yet another tale involves a two-hour struggle to remove the last bolt when trying to replace an engine starter motor. Same story – engine compartment had practically been built around the engine, so access to the starter motor mounted right at the bottom was almost impossible. And no matter how big your boat, it seems there is always an awkward space that needs squeezing into somewhere aboard.
This photo was taken last night on a considerably bigger boat, and involved diving headfirst into the engine bay bilge as we were making some modifications to the boat’s bilge pumping systems. There was literally no other way to gain the access we needed other than balancing over the alternator and hoping nobody was going to come along behind you and tip you off balance.
Ah yes, practical jokes… that’s one of the things I love about being on a boat. Just not when the joke is on me trying to undo that last inaccessible bolt.