Learning Lessons II
08 April 2006
As said previously, although having been around boats of one flavor or another since the sixties, two of them probably taught 90% of what I have retained about boating in general.
Years after the Pacemaker, an Irwin 42 center-cockpit taught a series of lessons as well. Ownership of that Irwin, generally quite acceptable vessels, was an adventure from the very beginning to the date of sale about ten years later. The Irwin was purchased from a large, reputable yard at Annapolis, a locality renowned as a sailing center. Dutifully, there was a professional survey and a sizeable contract with the yard to manage some refurbishments, bringing her back to "yacht standards" that yard boasted -- lesson: hopeful/naive skippers are easily identifiable and exploited by the profiteers or the incompetent.
Fortunately, after nearly half a year of professional refurbishments and upgrades, a delivery captain was hired to oversee the first trip down the Chesapeake Bay to the Irwin's new home in Washington, DC. The weather was mild, restful and pleasant -- thankfully. We had barely cleared port when a little jumper stay on the mizzen mast parted, essentially denying us use of that sail. Apparently, neither professional survey nor the many thousands spent in the yard had purchased much more than a once-over-lightly of a sailboats all-important rig. About half a day later, in a "full gale" of about 5-8 kts of apparent wind (yes, five) the mainsail tore along a freshly re-stitched seam while on a pleasant broad-reach, denying us the use of that sail as well. We over-nighted about halfway down the Bay, reconciling ourselves to motoring the rest of the way up the Potomac River.
Below our feet, the little Perkins diesel purred along contentedly -- contentedly filling the bilge with hot coolant water from a parted hose. This went unnoticed until the rising water shorted out a freshly owner installed electronic LP gas sensor in the galley. Now, things were getting exciting - we killed the diesel and the silence was deafening. The only functioning sail was the jib and the hired captain disappeared into the cabin to render some sort of expert first-aid to our stricken vessel. He reappeared moments later and announced that neither electric bilge pump was operating either, nor was there a manual pump. Apparently, machinery spaces are not part of professional surveys, or Annapolis "yacht standards" refurbishments either.
At that point, the professional captain seemed truly perplexed. Luckily, a smidgen of the rural ingenuity I had been exposed to, during my boyhood in a resourceful farming community, surfaced. The hose was easy enough to repair using duct tape (after years of motorcycling I seldom leave home without it) and hose clamps, but the water in the bilge was quite another matter -- and was now sloshing several inches deep over the freshly varnished interior. While the bewildered hired captain observed, and a military colleague sailed the behemoth into the mouth of the Potomac under jib alone, I attempted to close off the inlet seacock and detach the inlet hose hoping to use the diesel's intake pump to lower the water level. The hose came free easy enough but the seacock was frozen (of course - apparently Annapolis "yacht standard" only refers to varnish and upholstery, and nothing crucial like sea-cocks; I was beginning to get the picture), so I stuffed my thumb in the seacock, temporarily stopping it up, while we idled the diesel using its pump to drain several hundred gallons of water from the boat - temporarily resolving the difficulty.
We did get to Washington, and I lived aboard that ketch both there and in Baltimore for several years. The lessons learned: If you want it done right, learn to do it yourself - period - no exceptions! The majestic reputation of an established boatyard, in an internationally renowned sailing center is no guarantee they aren't better at cashing one's check than actual boat maintenance, and even reputable surveyors can miss major items leaving the skipper and hapless crew at the mercy of the moment. Ultimately, except for cosmetics even after spending nearly as much money as two cars (of that day) for professional maintenance, nearly every system on that Irwin needed further refurbishment or replacement by, guess who - despite the bullet-proof survey, despite the Irwin's then recent vintage and despite much time supposedly spent to bring her up to "yacht standard" after purchase.
Needless to say, after those episodes I learned to be especially wary of the "professional" yachting industry. Since then I've tended to inhabit the yards frequented by the working watermen, and shunned the glitzy side of the marinas like the plague, preferring to learn to do things myself (albeit at a probably less genteel standard) or do without. But that Irwin was a worthy boat -- primarily because of the lessons she taught about people, so-called professionals and that the skipper's responsibility is always 100%.