Friday, August 18, 2017

Uncle

Good morning from Snead Island
I was thinking back over the last week’s worth of work, searching for something that might be of interest to write about, but the week went by void of those “you have to be kidding me” moments. I did stumble across a fat black wire that, instead of being a ground, was connected directly to the battery switch. No circuit breakers or fuses; select “1” or “2” or “BOTH” and it would be ready to add a little sizzle to your day.  But this is the “classic” boat getting a new instrument panel so finding such things isn’t really a surprise. More of a surprise would be not finding such things. In any case the offending wire went away, along with another fat black wire that carried power to the bus side of the circuit breaker panel. That one was changed to a fat red wire since I was poking around in that area anyway. The only real issue at work lately has been the relentless heat. It has been brutal enough that even the “old hands", people who have been working through Florida summers for decades, were struggling.


On the other hand, the current social and political maelstrom pummeling the US is chock full of “you have to kidding me moments.” Indeed, there have been so many since January 20th that, honestly, I stopped paying much attention. I mean, really, once you know there is a crazy uncle living upstairs in your parents house, what more is there to know?

“How’s Uncle Chester doing these days?”

“I fear he has been a bit crazier that normal lately.”
“Really, how can you tell?”

“Well, yesterday he decided that Nazis can be “good people” And that people who stand up against Nazis are "bad people".

“Yep, that is crazy alright, even for Chester. What do the doctors say?

“Uncle Chester doesn’t go to see doctors anymore. He thinks he is smarter and knows more about medicine than every doctor who has ever lived. He is also sure all the doctors are out to get him and that they are telling us nothing but lies to make him look bad. He is medicating himself on ego and hubris."

“Damn, don’t know what can be done about that.”

“Not much. We put a buzzer on the back door so we know when he goes out, and hid the ‘nukes over in the neighbor’s garage.”

“Good idea. Would you pass the salt please?”

At some point, of course, Chester is going to be a danger to himself and everyone around. Sooner or later someone is going to have to step up and move him out of the house and into a facility where he can get some help. That, or someone is going to get hurt and Chester will end up in a different kind of facility. (The US is pretty far behind the rest of the civilized world when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.)

For now the family has no choice but to bumble along wondering just how much worse Chester can get before something just has to be done. But, like families everywhere, we will put off doing anything until the last possible moment.

Hopefully it will not be a moment too late.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Taking Sides

My family was steeped in academia because my dad was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh for his whole career. Very early in my life, we moved to South America for a position he took to help establish a school of electrical engineering at a university near Valparaiso, Chile. I was enrolled in an all-girls Catholic school there where I was one of only two white girls. At the tender age of six, I experienced racial prejudice from the receiving end. I was perplexed and hurt, as I had never witnessed racial prejudice first hand.

Once reestablished in the US, our whole family attended the university annual retreat for orientation of the incoming freshmen, of which my dad was a key organizer. Even as a young girl, I interacted with the college students from many countries. Our home was frequently host to international students. My whole family was at least bilingual, my older brother spoke at least three languages fluently and understood more. Our friends were of every race and ethnicity. This was the norm for me, this understanding that all peoples are equal and intrinsically valuable. To harbor hate or disdain towards another human being simply by reason of their culture or skin color was so foreign an idea that, after adopting our biracial child, I was floored at the visceral reaction of some folks.

We are a melting pot, a country populated by the influx of immigrants from many nations, drawn to the ideals of equality. The melding of multiple races is a difficult thing, but the richness of our culture lies in the good things brought to it by all of these immigrants. But we've forgotten this.

Recently, these cultures, which have woven so much beauty into the tapestry that we call the United States, have come under attack with none to come to their defense. We've become lazy and comfortable. As long as we have our favorite brand of beer and 258 channels of inane banter, we strive to avoid any conflict that might upset the balance and threaten our comfort. I confess, I'm guilty. I have always hated conflict of any kind, striving to please in order to stave off uncomfortable encounters. But for those in this country who have lived their entire lives in peace and with freedom, a wakeup call has ensued. It's time to take a side.

If you were listening at all, you could hear the murmurings among the thoughtful over recent months. "Surely this could never happen here the way it did in Germany." "We would never allow such a man to take control of our society, would we?" Yet, the thoughtful existed in Germany and were persuaded to agree or be silent.

Holocaust survivor Primo Levi writes:
"In spite of the varied possibilities for information, most Germans didn’t know because they didn’t want to know. Because, indeed, they wanted not to know. . . . In Hitler’s Germany a particular code was widespread: those who knew did not talk; those who did not know did not ask questions; those who did ask questions received no answers. In this way the typical German citizen won and defended his ignorance, which seemed to him sufficient justification of his adherence to Nazism. Shutting his mouth, his eyes and his ears, he built for himself the illusion of not knowing, hence not being an accomplice to the things taking place in front of his very door." (Levi, Survival and Reawakening, 381)
I suspect that as the immediacy of the Holocaust waned, many thoughtful people in Germany reviewed the events in their minds, wondering how such an atrocity could take place without their own realization of the danger. They were duped, led like lemmings to the cliff. Today, the pitter patter of little lemming feet marching toward the cliff sounds again.

Some have, and indeed will again, criticize the writers of this blog for being too political in a sailing blog. But what good will it do to have a sailing blog if we no longer have the freedom to write in it or, indeed, to even participate in the activity at all?  Will you build for yourself that illusion of not knowing, guilt laid at your door by passivity, or will you see this as the time to stand and take a side? I've chosen mine. I draw the line in the sand and I denounce hatred and bigotry and choose the side of love, inclusion and community. Will you join me?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Get it to work

"Out There"
Years as a corporate and charter pilot gave me the opportunity to interact with very rich people way more than any normal person should be expected to endure. They were, by and large, pretty average folk. They didn’t work any harder than most, weren’t any smarter than most, didn’t speak with an elegance that would catch one’s attention, or exude any particular wisdom. The vast majority were second or third generation money; setting off on their adult journey with a nice head start in education, health care, and connections all bequeathed to them by parents or grand parents. It is a head start any of us would have provided for our kids and grand kids as well, so such is just an observation, not a criticism.

Most of them did have this aura of entitlement about them, as if they had somehow earned the privilege of their birth. And many of them, though they were pretty ordinary in most ways, also shared a trait not quite as common among the rest of us. Almost to a person, and regardless of the luxury of their cars, the size and number of their homes, the hangars and garages stuffed with various kinds of toys, the number of ex’s, and any current entourage of mistresses or boy toys, they eventually got around to boasting of how cheap they were. It was like a badge of honor they had to pull out and polish for all to see. I don’t know if they made the same claim to limo drivers, cooks, grounds keepers, or other hired help, but it was a claim I heard many a time while loading bags aboard some corporate jet or turbo-prop.

Oddly enough, and contrary to how they lived, it was a claim that was also, somehow, true. I remember a rich man (let’s call him…oh “John”) inviting some friends to ride along for a day trip from PA to FL. He was going to take his turbo-prop for a spin to “get some lunch”. A week later his friends were a bit incensed when they got billed for their share of the fuel burned. I wasn’t sure which was more amusing, that “John” would make such a demand, or that people rich enough to be his “friends” would balk at ponying up. It was long ago and one of my first introductions into the strange doings of the well-to-do, but similar stories became the norm as the years wore on. (Here is a free tip, if a rich person offers to “take you to lunch” for some reason, be sure to take your wallet. Unless it is a “date” they are offering to drive, not pay for your meal.)

Working as a mechanic in a boat yard has landed me at the edge of that world once again. Though I don’t talk directly to owners very often or for very long, this weird obsession with being known as “cheap” can pop up in odd little ways. One of our current projects is a brand of ‘hobby” boat; a smallish, old-school kind of power/fishing boat with lots of teak and classic “looks”. The amount of money being spent on the project must be massive; board feet of teak being refinished and a all new instrument panel. Nothing cheap about that, right?  But this is all stuff one can see. Things that can’t be seen, like the wiring disasters that lie in the bilge, those are fine. There is no VHF in the new panel, though the stereo is first class. I have been given “cart blanche” to wire the helm, but I’m not really sure what that means. We are using the old breaker panel and most of the wiring strung throughout the boat, rank as much of it is. I do have to admit that if “cheap” keeps me out of the grungy bilge and its equally grungy wiring, that will be fine with me.

“Looks” is a big part of what this project is about; ascetics more than function. Building up the new instrument panel will be an exercise in getting everything to fit as close to perfect as possible. Such is easy in a “new school” shop of C-n-C machines, laser cutters, and computer generated graphics. More challenging is getting close to perfection using only a jig saw, the odd assortment of hole saws, a barrel sander, and a measuring tape. I cheated a bit with that last one, digging out my old sheet metal mechanic’s 12 inch rule marked in hundreds of an inch. I laughed, remembering an old ditty tossed around many a fabrication shop….

“Measure with a micrometer, cut with an ax, install with a hammer, paint it to match.”

It makes, in an “old-school” kind of way, for an interesting bit of work. The boat is on the hard though, out in the open and siting in the sun. The teak work means the bimini is removed; so “interesting” includes trying to not melt in the Florida summer.

A couple of other projects I played a part in have been finished, and I was tasked with doing the sea trials, a new and pleasant experience for me. Another tech and I did two trips in the boat that got a whole new autopilot system. The first trip was a bust, the auto pilot refusing to helm the boat even though the set-ups at the dock had been completed. A reset of the rudder position indicator, even though all indications were that it was indexed correctly, and a restart of the set-up procedures from scratch, got the auto pilot up to speed. It was a fun boat to helm, though the diminutive cockpit put the end of the boom right in one’s face when standing at the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to back up compared to Kintala.

A day or so later the same tech and I took a Catalina out to set up its auto pilot. This boat had been struck by lightning, virtually every single electrical component on the boat has been replaced. Once again it took a couple of tries to get the thing working but, this time, we didn’t bother coming back to the dock. Instead we just put the boat in neutral and let it drift while doing the “dock side” pre-sets. A couple of slow circles after that aligned the compass. That last step was a thing called “auto-learn”. One turns the boat over to the auto pilot and watches it slalom the boat down the waterway. I’m not sure what the thing is learning and it makes for a weird ride while the boat slews port and starboard a total of 15 times. It took three tries to get through this step as the electronic driver kept turning the boat toward shallow water. Eventually we figured out just how much room was needed and what general direction the boat would end up going; in this case a slow arc to starboard. After the third try we got a “COMPLETE” on the MFD. A few minutes trying the various auto pilot modes confirmed that all was copacetic and we headed back in.

It was good to be back out on more open water again. The life I was hoping to live is out there. Even though this time at the dock is necessary for a lot of reasons, and I am utterly (and gladly) under the spell of grandsons (2) and grand daughter (youngest), “out there” is still the goal. Short visits out there are fun, even if they are just to get something to work.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
Ed Note:

And totally unrelated, here's a shameless plug for the brightwork that my son-in-law is doing here at Snead Island. He's an artist by trade and it shows in the quality of his work





Monday, July 31, 2017

Some Monday mornings...

Some Monday mornings are harder to take than others. This Monday morning dawned gray and wet after a night of little sleep, mostly due to the bursts of hard rain that kept hammering the boat. We had been watching a small area of storms forming out in the Gulf of Mexico during the weekend. All of the weather gurus were nonchalant about the possibility of it turning into anything more than a bunch of rain, so splashing off to work seemed like the thing to do. People were talking about the weather though, and just an hour or so into the morning’s work Deb came by to let me know that the little area of rain had become a tropical storm aimed pretty much our way. We have grandkids around and, maybe, it would be best to get them somewhere safer than on a boat in a tropical storm. On the other hand, it is Florida in the summer time; rain and a little wind are part of the life. Besides, how big can a storm grow in 50 miles and a couple of hours? Deb settled the little ones into the v-berth and cranked some cartoons up on the iPad.

The history of Emily as seen on weather.com

During first break, there was a lot of talk about the incoming weather. Some of the guys had already bailed out as nearly all outside work had ground to a halt. My project for the day was in the paint shed, which isn’t really a shed - two stories of fabric stretched over an aluminum lattice that hums in the wind. But it does help keep the rain off of one’s bald head. Still, the sky looked dark with fast moving, low level clouds racing overhead. Word soon spread that our little batch of storms, now tropical storm Emily, was picking up speed and about to crash our Monday morning work party. Not ten minutes after break had ended, the winds picked up, waves started breaking over the sea wall, and the rain could be seen boiling up over the barrier islands. So I took a few minutes off to check on Kintala and her crew of Daughter Eldest and grand kids (3).

I got there just as Deb was about to walk the two boys over to the head. Once the weather arrived it seemed a good bet they would be boat bound for a good part of the day, so a preemptive potty strike seemed like a good idea. The shower house is about 200 feet from Kintala’s dock. About 100’ into the trip the leading edger of Emily arrived. Two little kids in 60 knot winds and driving, sheeting rain. That will be a story they tell for many a year. Deb and I hustled them inside than I went back to the boat to check on the remaining crew of Daughter Eldest and grand daughter youngest.

Even in the lee of the boat house Kintala was heeled over enough to send glasses and dishes cascading off of counters and onto the cabin sole. The rain was horizontal in straight line winds that must have been over 60 knots.  Every phone on the boat started to blare, a tornado warning was issued and we were being advised to “take cover immediately”. Daughter Eldest was a bit beside herself as the last she had seen of her parents and her two boys was all of us being swallowed up in the onslaught and disappearing from sight. I let her know that all were fine but we needed to get them back on the boat, the bath house being the last place one would want to be in a tornado. Two hundred feet can bet a long way in that kind of weather, but the four of us held hands and made it back to the boat without a problem.

Just as we got back aboard, Son-in-Law and new coworker at the boat yard, who had been helping me with the project in the paint shed, showed up. He had been inside when one side of the shed had failed under the pressure, all but the two corner posts buckling in and threatening to bring the whole thing down on the three boats parked inside. As he told the story, Deb and I adjusted the lines to keep Kintala off the pilings in the shifting winds. With our boat as safe as it could be and everyone accounted for, I headed back out to the yard to help do whatever it was that needed done.

There was some scrambling going on. The wind had ripped the headsail open on a boat whose mast had gone up late last week. Its rigging had yet to be tuned, so a team of five was tightening up the rig and wrestling with the wayward sail. The sail could not be saved, but the tight rig held the mast in place. Such was not the case out in storage A. Just a few hundred feet from Kintala a mast sheared off at its base, crashing down across the next two downwind boats. Storage C saw boats lose their canvas, and just on the other side of the fence several large trees are down. A Couple of large dock boxes were, literally, blown apart, the tiny bits scattered to the winds.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, a couple of us  grabbed a length of heavy line to shore up the paint shed the best we could, using a couple of well placed trees. Two of the boats threatened by the shed were on trailers. They got pulled clear, chocked and blocked.

Power went down throughout the boatyard and isn’t back yet. The sky is still heavily overcast but the winds have died away and the water is settled. My guess is that those who live on land will be berating NOAA for being slow, then being alarmist by “naming” the weather on a typical Florida day. Those of us who live on boats, much closer to the weather, will have a slightly different take. Sure, it was a small storm. But it came basically came out of nowhere. At 0700 it was a tropical depression. By 1030 a tropical storm was pounding its way on shore, likely dragging something along that, if it wasn’t a tornado, was certainly close enough for my taste. By noon it was over and people were assessing the damage.

Some Monday mornings are harder to take than others.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A different take on stuff...

Every tribe has certain markers, common characteristics or habits shared by a majority of the members. One characteristic of the cruising tribe is a nonchalant attitude when it comes to filling one’s life with bits of this and pieces of that…stuff. The travails of downsizing from a the typical American home filled with personal items to a boat is a part of nearly every cruiser’s story. Even after the move is made, finding room for the things that were brought along is a regular challenge. As time flows by, even some of the things brought along, things felt to be “essential”, get lost in the corner of some little cubby somewhere. Months go by, the thing gets forgotten and, even though it might still be on the boat, it is one more thing dropped from life’s space. Then the boat shows up in a boatyard somewhere…and suddenly there is stuff everywhere.

Mid-project on our old boat. Stuff everywhere and plastic protecting the scratch-prone surfaces

Boat techs live and work in cubby holes. That is where the wires, pumps, hoses, and switches dwell that we run, change, clamp, and replace. But rare is the event where we can reach, or even see, those things after opening a door and lifting up a hatch. What we will see are trash cans, life vests, cleaning supplies, dishes, cookware, bedding, towels, and clothes. Getting to items needing repair often requires moving mattresses, cushions, or multiple pillows out of the way. And then the question becomes, where does one stuff the stuff that needs to be moved in order to reach the stuff that needs to be fixed? The interior of any boat getting extensive work rapidly takes on the look of a giant, 3-D, Chinese puzzle. One can’t move anything without it fowling something else and, once it is moved, there is no place to put it. It is one of the peculiarities of working in a boat yard, there is no storage space off the boat. Even if there were, think of a boat on the hard. It is the second story of a house that has no first floor, with only a ladder for getting to the street.

Working in the cockpit is only marginally better. Open any hatch and what is found are fenders, lines, deck brushes, hatch boards and more life vests. They will quickly fill a cockpit so tiptoeing around on the coaming, on that aforementioned second floor, is a regular exercise in maintaining one’s balance. Sometimes the stuff ends up on deck. In any case, at the end of the day it all has to go back in the lockers so at not to be blown around or utterly soaked in the ever present thunderstorms that frequent these parts. (I know, this stuff is supposed to get wet. But stash a wad of rain soaked life vests in a locker; close it up tight for a week or so in the Florida heat, and then be around when the owner pops the top before leaving with his boat - and after paying a rather sizable bill.)

One of my personal trials seems to be engine hatches - Catalina engine hatches in particular, though they are far from the only offender. Once the hatch, unwieldily, heavy, and dirty, is removed, where to put it? There isn’t enough floor space to set it out of the way. Even if there was, it would likely be covering access to someplace else that needs to be reached. Can’t put it on the table, hell, the table itself is already in the way. Can’t go on a counter. Engine hatches end up being a lump of inconvenience to be suffered for the length of the job. On top of that, getting in and out of the boat is now an exercise in exercise.  The hatches that swing up are, sometimes, worse. There is simply no way to get in and out of the boat with the hatch up, and the head room under the hatch is often severely limited. Banging the back of one’s head hurts just as much as any other head hit. At least the blood doesn’t run into the eyes.

Mattresses are another spiteful thing. Drag one out of the aft cabin to reach a leaking holding tank, and what to do with it? A giant, floppy irritation that is going to sag in the way no matter where it is stashed. Often, before the mattress can be moved, the bedding has to be removed. How is a sweat stained, grubby boat tech working in temps well over 100 degrees going to manage that without staining the pretty whites and, once again, where to stash them so they stay pretty and white? Sometimes, before removing the bedding, a pile of dirty clothes has to be moved. They didn’t include that in the “boat tech guide to happy living” brochure. I don’t worry about staining dirty clothes.

It doesn’t help that, when working on a boat, we generally bring a bunch of our own stuff on board, hoses, extension cords, fans, lights, and tools. The boat is already full, now it is over flowing. Getting tangled up in one’s own extension cord and thus pulling one’s own light down on one’s own bald head, followed by a cascade of screwdrivers and wrenches, is just one of the joys to be found in this profession. Try to turn to get out of the way and skin one’s shins against the engine hatch.

Sometimes we get a boat that has just recently been purchased. The original owner has removed all of the stuff, and the new owner has yet to put replacement stuff on board. A happy occasion. Last week included working on just such a boat. Only a trash can and a couple of small bins of brick-a-back stood in the way of reaching the autopilot computer. Cockpit lockers were only half full. If access was needed to the port side, everything fit in the starboard hole, and visa-versa. The lockers themselves were large enough to crawl inside and move around…some. One day it started to rain and pulling the hatch cover partly closed meant I had a dry space in which to work while hanging the ram and rudder position indicator. How cool is that? There was even room in there for a fan, so it really was cool…er.

The inside of the boat wasn’t near as much fun. The cabin was tiny! Standing up inside was impossible, being on my knees was the exact right height for “standing” at the sink. Half way along the settee, going forward, the ceiling dropped a foot or so lower. Already bent 90 degrees at the waist to move means not really looking where one is going. Ouch. I soon learned to move slowly in that boat, caring not what that meant to the labor bill.

The v-berth was already stuffed full of cockpit cushions, topped by the helm wheel. Gaining access under a settee meant piling cushions from one on the other, filling that side of the boat nearly to the ceiling. Needing to be under both at the same time was, fortunately, only needed once. On that occasion the cushion pile went on the galley counter, completely blocking the companionway. Finding a place to stash locker hatches was a constant challenge. This was a very pretty boat, with high gloss varnished inside decks and teak glowing in the sunlight. It is the kind of finish that will scratch just from brushing it with a hatch corner or belt buckle; that will nick at the touch of a screwdriver blade. Cardboard and tape were liberally applied, but had to be folded up and stashed somewhere when the floor needed to come up.

Then, of course, the floor needed to be stashed someplace as well.

Stuff…

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Getting finished...

The anchorage at Snead Island Boat Works
Finishing a task is the best part of the task. Most tasks however, get started, get interrupted, get restarted, then kind of bumble through to the end. The interruptions come in many forms, weather and scheduling among them. But waiting on parts seems inevitable.

There are a lot of old boats out there, boats built by manufacturers long out of business, who installed parts made by manufacturers now equally long out of business. Finding parts that will get the job done isn’t hard. Finding parts that will get the job done, use the same wires, have the same bolt patterns, fit in the same spaces, and fill the same holes? That is another matter. At one point last week every one of the five boat tasks assigned to yours truly was waiting on parts. A bait-well pump came in for one boat, but not the circuit breaker for its bilge pump. Mounting brackets for a TV antenna going on a mast came in, but not the associated coax cable. Lift struts to help carry the weight of the massive engine covers on a sport fishing boat are two weeks back ordered. We had a mixing elbow for a boat just surveyed, but not the associated exhaust elbow. In fact, no one has the associated exhaust elbow. That particular part for that particular engine is no longer available. But there is a different part that will work, using different bolts; and it was on the way.

The fifth boat is my “filler boat”, getting its autopilot system replaced. When other tasks get brought to a halt that one is waiting. All that needs done is to close whatever boat was being worked on, pack up tools, wind up extension cords, collect fans, load the golf cart, find a place to store parts for tasks interrupted, move, unpack tools, unwind the extension cords, deploy fans, climb aboard, and get started. Sometimes a task never does get finished, at least not by me. It isn’t the least bit unusual to get pulled out of the middle of a job, never to see it again. One might wonder how we manage the transition, making sure that everything gets done that needs to be done. In my old life there was a very definite “hand-off” procedure between shifts; and a paperwork trail that everyone involved in a task could follow. There are no such things in the marine industry but, somehow, things generally seem to work out. (To be fair, "generally seem to work out" would not be a standard most people would find comforting at 35,000 feet going 500 mph. At sea level doing 5 knots with land in sight? Different story.)

But Friday was a good day. The exhaust elbow came in. With it and the mixing elbow screwed tight to the adapter and the proper bolts, lock washers, and gasket located, I loaded up and headed over to the boat. It wasn't were I left it, a real puzzle since the engine was missing some serious bits. Turns out a paper trail might - at least once in a while - be a good idea.  And I have a new directive to "tag" a boat I have disabled by pulling parts off of it.

Boat located, along with another tech who was head down and waist deep, already in the hole where the exhaust was located. He was doing a different task. He had tools, fans, lights, and his own parts scattered around. Bolting up the exhaust would be no big deal. After all, he gets paid by the hour just like me. One task down. An easy pack up and move. (And yes, I was very careful to make sure he knew exactly what it was that needed done.)

Wiring in the new bait well pump wouldn’t finish that task, but there was hope that the bilge circuit breaker would arrive before the day was out. I knew the old pump was toast because I had jumped it straight across a battery and all I got was sparks, no spin. But the new pump wouldn’t work either. Curses. Literally, lots and lots of curses. The problem tracked to that pump’s circuit breaker being intermittently open as well. Wiggle the post to get power, wiggle it again to make the power go away. Both of these breakers are the kind that have little buttons on them, they can be reset but not opened. Poor idea on a boat. They just sit, inactive, year after year, slowly deteriorating. There are six in this boat, two are bad, the others can’t be far behind. Yes, the panel should be rewired with new, better breakers. No, no one is going to suggest or approve such a thing on a toy that is used to go fishing on weekends. Anyway, the new pump is in and secured and the two little open holes in the panel will get filled as soon as the parts arrive. Task two as far as it can go. Pack up and move.

I did think about leaving a note on the boat about the circuit breakers. But the open holes are directly in front of the helm and I talked to the owner on Wednesday, telling him we were waiting on parts. On Thursday he took the boat out anyway, with the circuit breaker for the manual bilge pump missing and the bait well pump screwed into its housing just hand tight. If he don't care, I don't care either.

The lift struts came in but that boat can wait a bit. No one is pressing to have that one finished…yet. Those parts stayed stashed behind the counter until later, but there was a new roll of coax back there as well.

Sixty six feet of it went smoothly into the mast.  A connector and a couple of clamps would see the mast ready to go back on the boat, after a quick check of the lights. Everything electrical in this mast is new: wiring, lights, antennas, and wind sensor. This often happens with lightning hits. But the quick check of the lights revealed that the deck light wasn’t working. Two wires, how could I have messed that up? But, as it turns out, the manufacturer didn’t bother to plug the light bulb in at the factory, just stuck it in the hole and put the lens on. Thank you very much. It was an easy fix with the mast on the ground, which is why I check them before the mast goes in the air. Mark this task as “done.” Pack up and move. (The boat itself is far from done, but the only monkey I have in that particular circus is reinstalling the alternator, which went out for repair.)

And with that, it was back to the autopilot install. This is supposed to be a “plug - ’n - play” job. The old system failed. Instead of fixing it, the owner decided to replace it with the new version. All of the parts are supposed to go in the same places, using most of the wiring already run. Which sounds like a really good idea, yes? (I can see some of you shaking your heads already.) Of course not all of the parts are exactly the same size as the old. The flux gate (yep that is its real name) is much larger than the original, connects to a network and not directly to the autopilot controller, and will not fit where the old one was located. The hole in the cockpit wall where the old control panel was located was cut too big for the new one to mount. It had to be filled and the mount holes re-drilled. Okay, not quite “plug - ’n - play” but not too bad. Except…

...what if the original problem is not a component failure? What if there is a jacked up piece of wire somewhere, a connector corroded, or a butt splice pulling free? What if someone ran a too-long screw into a wiring conduit while mounting a fan or something? No one really knows exactly why the system doesn’t work, and the problem is intermittent. It powers up, but that is only two wires out of dozens. There is no test box to install that will verify that signals are actually flowing from one unit to another. The assumption of a component failure is based entirely on what a guy who fixes autopilot boxes told us over the phone.  I sure hope he is correct. If he isn’t there is going to be one really unhappy boat owner, in spite of the fact that it was his call to replace the system rather than figure out, for sure, what the problem might be. We will not know until next week some time when that particular task is finished. Maybe the owner will be a happy little camper and all will be well with the world.

Or maybe there will be another task waiting to be finished.