The reluctant mechanic 

Ok, I admit it. Yours Truly doesn’t like the fix-it again-Jack quality to this cruising thing. I’m better at networking and finding the right guy to go to. Maybe you know the guy. He isn’t happy until he’s covered in grease and oil and with a grin on his face, has just found something else that needs some attention. Well on this boat, I’m the guy, albeit sans grin. Most jobs that don’t stop us from actually sailing get DR’ed. Deferred Repair. 

Now, dear Escapees, I freely admit that I’ve been nursing a certain button that, while not critical to sail, it is crucial when trying to leave an anchorage. But I think we can all agree that opening up a critical can of worms, the windlass up button for instance, when the anchor is buried down on the bottom of the Bay of Islands is just not done. Better left when tied to a dock or a mooring. I mean there’s absolutely no one here. Ah dear readers, my hand was forced. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been coaxing the anchor-up button to life by applying deft, experienced pressure and torque in surprising and unusual ways, just so, and holding my breath, which seemed to help, but this morning of all mornings, nothing. Nerves are always a little jangly before a rough passage and I’d say crossing the Koro sea again qualifies. I held my breath ’til I turned purple while furiously trying to find the correct magical sequence of button pushes. 

Not today Paco.

This leads me to my hard and fast number one, no excuses, rule. Never, ever try to fix anything with a spring in it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A guy we used to sail with decides to repair a 12-volt power plug while we are under sail. He cuts one of those damn blister packs open with a knife and before he can reach in, out pops a spring, BOING, making good contact with the teak cockpit coaming, BOING and I don’t think he even had time to utter one deeply satisfying swear word before it did a one and a half gainer PLOP into the ocean. He looked back at the plug and with one sure motion the whole thing was together on the bottom of the ocean. He knew that nothing works without its spring. 

It turns out that all clues to our button’s failure-to-launch points to the contacts within the switch. With steely reserve I check the terminals on the outside of the switch which serves not one but two purposes; it keeps me away from the springy bits inside and I look busy while avoiding the springy bits inside. Yeah I know, I’m good at this. It didn’t take long before my lack of progress was noticed. I smiled my best dead man walking shrug and started unscrewing the two most innocent looking screws, hoping that the switch would come off and I could pull it out where I might get a look at it. Mind you I’m hanging upside down out on the foredeck with just enough space to squeeze my head and one arm through the hatch opening. It’s not unusual, for us boat mechanics. It’s like the missionary position in the Kama Sutra. Basic stuff. 

So where was I? Oh yeah, it’s a hatch that is carefully organized and packed with, well…what we mariners call boat crap. I actually can tell you exactly what’s in there but let’s go back to the windlass switch. The next sound we hear after unscrewing the two not so innocent screws is several plastic bits hitting the bottom of the locker and — wait for it –a spring bouncing and rebounding god knows where. With my mind racing through possible workarounds it occurs to me that it may be time to refile the forward locker. 

Out came:

One pair of heavy duty neoprene gloves.

One huge rusty chain jam clearing screwdriver.

One wash down hose with plastic nozzle.

One aluminum clutch tensioning bar.

One longish length of 5/8″ line, too good to throw away.

One very long length of thick, liberally knotted streaming line.

One anchor float with line.

One 35# Bruce anchor.

Clearing all that out revealed the 1-inch hole in the bottom of the locker. 

THERE’S A HOLE IN THE BOTTOM OF THE LOCKER! Of course there’s a hole in the bottom of the locker. The bits were nowhere to be found. 

I carefully extracted first my arm, then my head out of the dark locker and said,”That could have gone better.” Marce dove in with a flashlight and found a couple black plastic bits a thick washer that I’d discarded and two springs! 

Is it comforting to know that someone has made the same mistake before me? Amazing, but of course I’ll have to take apart the previously functioning down button to have a clue how all this stuff goes together to make an up button. After all, I assured her, I know how to do it now so I guess that makes me the go-to guy for all your windlass button needs.


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2 Responses to The reluctant mechanic 

  1. Deb

    Brings back memories of wrenches flying in Naragansett, RI four years ago

  2. Glad you two are enjoying yourselves.

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