Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Learning the curve

One of the challenges of going cruising was climbing the learning curve. Open water, navigation, tides and currents; it was steeper than expected. Not insurmountable, just steep. Turning to anything new requires a learning curve.

I expected changing from vagabond boat wanderer to on-the-clock marine mechanic would involve yet another learning curve, but not much of one. Fixing things is fixing things. Electricity, internal combustion, refrigeration, air conditioning, fiberglass works the same in a garage, hangar, or boat yard. The bits are arranged differently, RADAR is usually mounted in the nose of an airplane, not hung off of a mast. And there are some things noticeably different, there are not a lot of turbine engines found in sailboats or roller furling headsails on Citations. Still, I expected to be able to find my way around pretty quickly. And for a little while, at the end of last week, I was starting to feel like I was hitting my stride.

And then came Monday.

All of the technicians in these parts keep several different jobs going at the same time. When a project hits a stopping point waiting on parts or some approval from an owner, there is another project whose parts just arrived or whose owner decided which way a project needs to go. It has to be that way. Those of us who work here expect to get 8 hours of pay each day. Those hours have to show up on a bill somewhere if there is going to be money to make that pay, but you can't bill for waiting on parts or decisions.

Sometimes a day gets filled with jobs that just pop-up, jobs that have to be dealt with A.S.A.P. It may be a resident boat limping in after a weekend jaunt with something broken, something needing attention before the boat can go out again. It may be a boat undergoing a survey being shepherded in with gentle nudging from Towboat US. (Just last week. I guess that survey didn't work out so well.)

Even hip deep in Island Packet wiring and Tug repairing, Monday started with an easy pop-up job; testing the galvanic isolators on a newer Catalina. Boss New had a picture of where Catalina claims they are mounted and sent me off to do a quick check while he started putting out the week's fires, which were already filling his day. The access ladder was leaning against the starboard side (which detail will play into my excuse) and I drove in from that side. Yours truly climbed aboard with tools and meter in hand, removed the indicated panel and, voila, no isolator.

Not a big surprise. Galvanic isolators are not small units and I had not really expected to find one behind the DC control panel at the navigation station, regardless of what Catalina might say. Just to be sure the AC panel next door was removed as well, still no isolators. So I went looking where such things are normally found, near the shore power plug. (The isolators purpose in life is to keep stray electrical currents out of a boat's AC system, thus preventing them from eating up parts of the boat.)

This particular Catalina's shore power plugs were in the bow, at the top of the anchor locker. I had never seen a boat set up this exact way before but hey, I'm still new at this and, well, that whole learning curve thing. But I searched all around and still no isolators. The starboard side lazarette sported no isolators, and the port side actually opened up into an aft cabin. At a bit of a loss I climbed back down the starboard side ladder, found Boss New juggling two or three other problems and tossed him another one. His new boat tech couldn't find the supposed isolators, not behind the panel claimed nor anywhere around the shore power plugs.

“Leave it for now” he said, and sent me back to working on the Island Packet mast. But just minutes later, while I was setting some ¼ inch stainless steel rivets into a replacement RADAR mount, he came by. (Having spent decades fixing airplanes, riveting things together is definitely NOT on my learning curve.)

“I found the isolators in the aft lazarette mounted at the stern. Check them when you get the chance.”

Mounted at the stern? The shore power is in the bow. Boss New had said or done nothing that indicated I had done something dumb, he just pointed me in the right direction. But I got a feeling that boat had something going, something that would make me look silly. I snapped the last rivet in place, gathered up my stuff, loaded it onto my cart, and drove over to the Catalina...approaching it from the stern.

Where, mounted in the bright daylight for everyone to see, two additional shore power plugs sat just above the swim platform. They were big, bright, shiny and damned near impossible to miss; but I had managed. As promised, inside a lazarette located aft of the starboard side helm sat two galvanic isolators, eager to be checked. My guess is it took Boss New all of 30 seconds to find them; and that included climbing up the ladder.

I had not looked that far aft since the boat was plugged into shore power at the bow; one of two choices on that boat. Having both is actually a good idea – making it kind of a surprise that a boat manufacturer thought of it. Having never seen a boat that had shore power access at both ends, it never occurred to me to look at both ends.


I suspect Boss New was a little surprised that I couldn't figure it out. I also suspect he knew I'd be pretty embarrassed when I did, and saw no reason to rub it in.

Then again...

Next morning's unexpected pop-up job was to install a new toilet in the tiny head of a Pacific Seacraft sitting on the hard out in the sun, just down wind of another boat getting new holding tanks and head plumbing. I enjoyed the ambiance wafting off of that job all day long as I struggled to fit 8 pounds of...stuff...into a three pound bag. It took some doing.

I'm not saying that one thing led to another. The Pacific Seacraft needed a head that works, it isn't like it can go to sea without one. But the next time I will look a little closer for the galvanic isolators, or at least be smart enough to walk all the way around the boat with my eyes open.

Some parts of the learning curve are not too bad, so long as one doesn't climb them twice.

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