Monday, July 4, 2011

Maintaining an Offshore Sailing Vessel and Home

It is said that if you think of buying a boat, you should first stand in a shower ripping up $100 bills and watching them go down the drain. If you like this then you're ready to buy a boat.
I've had the GIRI some 20 years or more.  It came to me barebones with nothing done on it that the manufacturer hadn't considered basic.  I've outfitted it for 3 major offshore expeditions.  It's also served as my home for many years,  if only for the reason that when I'm not on the boat, I like to forget about it and little work gets done. When I'm on the boat I'm forever reminded of all the big and little things that need to be, should be, could be done.
In comparison to a house, because of the nasty marine environment, all that salt and other minerals, plus fungus and such in the air , causes everything to break down or need repair in a half to a third the time a house might.  Marine toilets, called "heads", last a few years then leak.  I've replaced mine a half dozen times.  Most of these I've done myself. Usually it's just the pump mechanism.  Like a car a boat has an engine, in the case of the SV GIRI, a 26 hp Yanmar, 3 cyclinder, diesel.  I've had this rebuilt once, replaced the alternator three times, the water pump twice, the starter once, and the exhaust system a half dozen times, as well as doing the injectors 3 or 4 times.
I've done each of these jobs a couple of times myself and when I don't do it I have to hire someone.  The people I hire usually cost more than a doctor makes.  In early days it was hit or miss. Everyone charged an arm and a leg but half the people didn't know what they were doing. Neither did I.  Thanks to their arrogance, ignorance, rapaciousness and downright deeply evil best intentions I almost died on some occasions.
That said I've had some of the finest work men, tradesmen, technicians and engineeers on my boat. As I've owned it more I'm fortunate that I know enough and have enough experience that these days charlatans with drug addictions and psychopathic tendencies don't work on my boat.
That reminds me of the fellows who would come first thing in the morning, take my key, not work all day, show up when I came home at 8 from a day of work, bang about for a couple of hours and charge me for 12 hours of work, while I was putting in 12 hour days myself and not getting a break from these guys in the evening,  till a friend told me the scam they were working on me, 2 weeks later, having observed them from afar.  I won't even go on about the electrical work done, where the main power cable from the alternator to the battery was spliced under the engine so I couldn't find why my batteries died in a storm in Juan de Fuca at night leaving me without lights, engine and having to sail between tankers in high seas.  No one splices power cables on boats and only the evil try to hide an error on an offshore sailing vessel.
One of the principle reasons for doing work oneself or knowing how to is that mostly there's no British Columbia Auto Association to come to the rescue expecially in Mexico or a thousand miles out at sea. I've had to jury rig and repair whatever breaks on my own solo sailing or at anchorage in the Charlottes or some other isolated place I've been  sailing about. It's one of the reasons my boat has repair manuals for most everything I have on the boat and many times I've sat with a book and worked through the night trying to solve a problem, following wiring diagrams or whatever till I got something, usually rather important, working again.  Thanks to radio and satellite phones I've been able to get instructions on occasion as well.  Like the time Tom and I broke the mast on the GIRI coming back from Hawaii and phoned for instructions on how to Spanish rig it to keep it upright.
Again, bad workers are these days the rarity. It's a sad reflection on my mind that I remember the very few people who almost caused my life to end whereas I don't think first of the marvellous welding,  electrical work, painting, through hull repairs, shaft repairs, engine repairs that have all contributed to my safety. When I was 25 days offshore there were no failures due to any workmanship.
Vince from New Zealander set up my boat for offshore sailing and Barry the Welder from Mosquito Creek put in the bits and pieces he figured I'd need for safety. North Sails made magnificent long lasting sails.  Tom, my engineering friend, and owner of the SV Naomi, and sailing buddy, (possibly because he was going to be on the boat with me on some of these jaunts) made sure so much on the boat was done to spec and ship shape.  Eric at Pocomarine has always been a source of tremendous information, an offshore sailor himself, he was a long time with Steveston and could be trusted to advise on which product would stand up best to wear and tear.  Quality costs money.  The best are usually the most in demand.  This last year I've been fortunate to have James working on my boat.
This year I've replaced the windows, had the autopilot off and repaired, had the water heater rebuilt, had the exhaust on the engine rebuilt, replaced sump pumps, cleaned the boat from head to stern after the gargantuan job Tom did the year before tearing out the cabin so Barry could weld and repair the mast foot that had broken on our way back from Hawaii.  The area and surfaces had to be cleared completely away so that no fire would start. Tom was utterly amazing doing this job and coordinating the various parts of preparation and clean up after the welding Barry did.  It can be likened to putting a new basement in an old home.
I've epoxied the boat bottom a half dozen times over the years. I paint it with anti fowling paint every year to two. I've used a diver to clean the bottom on off years.  Sometimes I've dove with my scuba gear and cleaned it myself. I preferred doing it myself in Mexico and Hawaii.  Here I've appreciated the professionals.  Most of the bottom painting I've done. Expoxy though is done every 10 years and that's been done professionally a couple of times by the 'experts' only to have their work fail within a year and need to be redone a year later.  Tom and I have done it a couple of times and thanks to Tom's knowledge of materials and perfectionism and ordering me about those jobs have lasted better than the pro jobs.
The only trouble is I've had to take off time from work to do the work.
So often that's the bugbear. I can't work at my work if I'm working on my boat. I love working on my boat. I love my work too. It was the same with owning houses. I loved putting in decks and dry walling and doing electrical work. It was just that I couldn't work in the office if I was at home doing my work.  A doctor friend and I working on replacing our decks that one summer said how sad it was that we actually made more money doing our own construction work and labouring because labour was more expensive than we could afford to pay on physician salaries. We'd each taken a week off from our medical offices to put in decks.  Often the reason there's such a shortage of specialists in a community is because they're not paid sufficient to have them not doing 'generalist' work.
Right now Tom's rebuilding a plane wing. He was redesigning a prop not that long ago.  He says it annoys him that he has to often do the mechanical work on his car because there are so many who are charging specialist mechanic rates but don't do a decent job. It's better for both of us often to just do it ourselves.  The tax system kills us in the workplace whereas we can save so much money doing whatever work we can.  Tom has a house in the country and that's where he's usually doing the work, putting in stairwells  and things.
So many of us are handy men that way. My brother did the whole of his basement, turning it into a living room and always did the maintenance on his car. Dad was working all the time on his weekends building garages, repairing cars, building everything really.
That's me and the boat. I was working on a pump this last trip.  I took all the bits apart to get to where the air was trapped before putting it back together to have the satisfaction of a dead thing restored  to life.   Then I was doing some work on the rigging.  The boat is a home but it also has to survive hurricanes.  I made a list of the next dozen tasks and priorized them. It's a bout a years work.
Now I'd better get  to work myself so  I can pay for the parts.  It also seems to always that one has to do a lot of work to really enjoy relaxation.  Without one you really can't enjoy the other to it's fullest.DSCN9227
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