Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Worker Man

My Grand Sons (4) all play at being a “Worker Man”. They have tool belts full of plastic toys, tools they use to hammer plastic nails and turn plastic screws. They have hard hats, high visibility vests, and safety glasses they wear while at work. They will stop everything at the passing of a truck or train, and will gaze with wonder – for hours – at any crane, grader, front loader, or dump truck that is crane-ing, grading, loading, or dumping. The people who operate, repair, and build such wonders are, in the eyes of Grand Sons (4), some of the coolest and most important people on the planet. That makes me kind of happy since I am a worker man once again.

I don't work on cool stuff like cranes or dump trucks, but sailboats are an acceptable stand-in.

The first boat I tangled with, on day one, was an exercise in frustration. Boss New threw me a softball to get started: wire up a newly stepped mast. All the wiring was there, I just had to sort it out, hook it up and test it out. Sorting and hooking went a little slow as I fumbled with the parts room etiquette and searched for tools still looking for permanent homes in various tool bags. But testing? I couldn't get the lights to turn on, and went searching hither and yon for the missing voltage. It was at the switch panel but went missing somewhere between there and the mast step. Not just one light, but steaming, masthead, and deck lights all. Which was total weirdness. These are three simple circuits, battery hot to switch, switch to mast step, up mast to lights, back down to ground. How could the voltage go AWOL on all three in a run as simple as that?

That was an assumption on my part; there are few wiring diagrams on boats. Any that do exist are likely useless, the boat having been modified, hacked on, hacked up, and spooged for decades. Clearly I was missing something easy and stupid, some kind of spooge skunking away with my electrons. Near the end of the day I had to admit to Boss New that his New Guy wasn't making much progress. After a few moments of thought he remembered that boat having a second switch panel located in the cockpit, up high on the hard Bimini on the port side.

A second panel? To turn on the lights one has to go below to throw one set, then go back to the cockpit to throw the second set? Now that is some special kind of spooge there. I found the lurking panel, threw the switches, and nothing happened. I checked the fuses in the panel, all good, threw the switches again just because, and still had nothing. The search was interrupted by the end of the work day. Worker Man new (that would be me) made the short walk home with the problem giggling in the background and whispering “You are missing something stupid simple...stupid”. It was not a good way to start a new job.

This morning I let the lights lie for a bit while I traced down the VHF antenna wire, affixed a new new connector to the boat end (not sure why it was cut off, and the cutter didn't bother to mark which of the two coax cables, TV and VHF, was which) and went to check the radio. The VHF isn't located at the nav station or the helm, but on the starboard side of the companionway. Picking up the mic to test the radio had me staring directly at a third switch panel for exterior lights, mostly hidden under the mic wire hanging from the VHF.

The switch panel in the Bimini was a total red herring - double spooge if you will - taking up space but doing nothing. The switch panel in the companion way was the secret sauce, releasing the pent up potential. There was nothing wrong with the boat at all, or my work. I just wasn't pushing all the right buttons. I can fix it, but I can't make it go? Spooge.

With nothing left to do but add the TV coax connector I had this job on the run. But the boat needed to be moved so I was sent to a second mast wiring job. This one went easier since there was only one switch panel. With that done I went on to installing a macerating pump in the same boat, and while waiting on some fiberglass epoxy used to fix mounting blocks for the pump and “y” valve to cook-off, went to work sorting out the wiring to install a new house bank and starting battery. This boat was delivered to its new owner with but a single battery – so the engine could be started. Of course this “starting battery” was located in the house bank box, so there are wires running where they shouldn't, jumper wires not jumping anything at all, and a 4 gauge red wire running forward to a settee locker that just ended in bare copper, apparently lying around doing nothing.

As it turned out the other end of that wire was hooked to the main BAT switch post #2, making it about as hot as possible; an accident waiting to happen. It is gone now, the last bit of work done before day number 2 came to and end.

A day that, looking back, went a lot better than day one. I am still finding my way, the New Guy who takes lunch with the Spanish Guys, just to listen to them talk. (I asked and they don't mind.) I'm learning which doors the workers are allowed to use. (Yeah, I think it is a little weird as well. Deb can walk though the front door to order a part, but I'm not supposed to walk though it to pick the part up. The world is full of minor bits of weirdness.) The mechanic's golf carts go into a garage of their own, the last one of us in for the night pulls the big door shut. (Stuffed full of expensive personal tools, the extra security is appreciated.) There is a lot of laughing during break and lunch, the usual gruff humor of people who live in a world far removed from the air conditioned office buildings and the cubicles that fill them. A world were being bone weary at the end of a day is the cost of making a living, hands nicked and scratched, legs sore from climbing and stooping and walking. The yard is much like the maintenance hangers of the aviation world, except without walls or roof, and I think I'm going to fit in okay.

If I can't be a cruiser for a while, being a Worker Man is the next best thing.


Keith Wolfe said...

Setting the light wiring aside so your brain cells can can work on the "simple stupid" problem for in the background is a good technique to use when you get stumped. Soon you'll have a natural eye for things like 2nd and 3rd power panels, extra wires and broken connections. You will just automatically make mental notes about such things when you walk onto a new-to-you boat and magically fix things.

As for the sore muscles and daily aches and pains, I'm hoping to read in a few weeks that they have subsided. That way maybe I can have hope of the same thing as I start repairing my new-to-me boat. I don't have the boat yet but after sitting in an office for years I'm sure to have the aches and pains when I do get it.

TJ said...

Two of my brothers, one who fixes cranes and one who fixes cars, have already snagged the title of "one who can fix anything." Two might be the limit for any set of brothers, but I'll get better as time goes on. I am, after all, pretty good at this stuff even if I'm not as fast as I was in my 20s...or 30s...okay or 40s. Experience is always a good thing, and I look to get a ton of it working around here. Today, day 3, seemed to go better still, and I hope the trend continues.

Ken, the man who owns Oak Harbor Marina, was jumping into the locker of this boat when he was in his 70s, so I have some mileage left. As for the aches and pains of a 60 year old climbing in, out, and around boats...ibuprofen is your friend.

Keith Wolfe said...

I fix computer stuff, like servers, email and whatnot... ho hum.
Fixing boats... more interesting than email for sure.
Fixing cranes... I have to admit that has a high "coolness quotient" factor.
Of course, how many people can fix their own cars these days? Not many!
But fixing cranes is a cool job.

hypathia hunter said...

So glad for the diary. Your experiences will surely help all of us. If you know anyone looking for a SSB... let me know. It's still in its box.