The Eyes have it
22 December 2017 | or 'Making a Spectacle of Myself'
The approach to Monemvassia lies behind an isthmus and consists of an open anchorage partially protected by the isthmus and two large breakwaters. Tucked into the corners of the anchorage are two well protected, but very small harbours. We headed for the northern one. About 400 metres off the entrance the steering locked solid. Good game, good game.
I rushed to the foredeck and deployed the anchor, allowing the wind to take us back until we had enough scope out. I locked off the windlass and Liz took Birvidik astern to bite the anchor in. We were now in a very vulnerable position, in an exposed anchorage with no steerage and little dragging room. I set about trying to trace the steering fault.
No job on a boat is local. Any repair or diagnostic investigation, however apparently localised, inevitably involves dismantling half the boat. So it was with the steering. This runs half the length of the boat and access involves opening up and emptying the steering locker in the saloon, the port cockpit locker, the heating exhaust locker, the hanging locker, the dressing table cupboards and all six stern cabin drawers.
Stage two is to strip to a pair of rather unsavoury skimpy Y-fronts, don a headlight and liberally grease the body with goose fat before contorting and squeezing yourself into the aforementioned spaces and attempting a close examination of the steering mechanism, trying to identify the cause of the jam.
This task is not made any easier by the loss of focussing power which develops in the more advanced-aged demographic typified by the average yottie.
In this respect I am very much the average yottie. Unaided, I can focus on anything exactly 41.3 centimetres away. No more, no less. Any closer or further away, I need glasses. Different glasses. I am therefore the proud possessor of six pairs of glasses, not counting spares. These comprise (in increasing focusing distance): reading glasses, computer glasses, saxophone glasses, television glasses, general purpose glasses and driving glasses. For really close examination I also carry a magnifying glass.
"Ah Bob, you Silly-Billy" I hear you cry indulgently, "Why don't you get yourself some varifocals?"
I did. Varifocals work fine when you still have some accommodation left. Then you've got a reasonable area of lens for each focal range. By the time you get to my state, the varifocals are covering such a range of distances that, in order to focus at any given distance, you have to ensure that you are looking exactly through a horizontal strip of lens that's no wider than a pencil lead. Doing this requires head and neck contortions that would have guaranteed getting the Linda Blair part in The Exorcist.
A good place to witness this phenomenon is in the supermarket. Let us say that our yottie wishes to replenish his supply of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies*.
The varifocalled yottie can first be identified as he attempts to home in on the right area of shelving. He walks slowly down the aisle with a peculiar slow nodding of the head. This scans the shelves through the range of focal lengths on his glasses and gives him a fighting chance of homing in on roughly the right section to find what he's looking for.
Once he gets there his behaviour changes. He now needs to read the small print. This is easiest if the item is on a shelf at about chest height as then he can look through the close range strip of the varifocals. What he wants is rarely so conveniently sited.
If he wishes to look at stuff higher up he has to tilt his head right back until he gets a crick in his neck and then make his extraocular muscles ache as he tries to look through the bottom of his varifocals. Passers-by notice this strange aspect and all stop and look at the ceiling, trying to identify whatever strange phenomenon has attracted his attention. An alternative strategy for this situation is to lean in closely and lift the glasses so that the bottoms of the lenses are in line with the eyebrows. This facilitates focus but makes him look like a particularly pompous, pedantic and supercilious schoolmaster. Which in my case is quite appropriate.
Items on lower shelves pose even more of a challenge. He can try squatting down and employing the top shelf technique but with his knees he's likely to have to call in one of the supermarket's hydraulic pallet trucks to get him up again.
Another possible technique is to bend forward with the hands on the knees and the head tilted back, thus reading through the bottom third of the lenses. While far from perfect, this makes the label at least guessable, unless it's in Greek script**. The drawback to this tactic is that it also requires the backside to be pushed out as a counterbalance. This may give the wrong message to passing aficionados of musical theatre.
If his target item is on the bottom shelf then he's going home empty handed. Reading anything at that height would entail lying spread-eagled on the floor with the head tilted right back, somewhat reminiscent of a stranded turtle. Even a yottie has some residual decorum.
By the time eyesight has deteriorated to my standard, varifocals have usually been forsaken in favour of a range of specialist glasses as described above. This arrangement, though, comes with its own set of challenges, the greatest of which is where do you put the bloody things. Many imaginative solutions to this problem have been devised but the two favourites seem to be 'Put them on spectacle lanyards and hang them round your neck' or 'Stick them on top of your head'. The former gives our yottie the appearance of a maiden aunt that has gone a bit overboard on the jewellery. The latter, meanwhile, makes him look like a gigantic wolf spider that has escaped from the Island of Doctor Moreau.
Both pose problems in the confined space of a boat locker. If he hangs them round his neck they tangle up and he gets his arm stuck through them while wriggling into the far end of the locker. This effectively hog-ties him with his nose pressed into the most inaccessible corner of the oubliette in which he is confined. The subsequent panic-stricken, claustrophobic struggles usually result in the lanyards breaking and the assorted glasses are then scattered onto the floor of the locker where they are knelt and sat on until reduced to a scree of glass and plastic.
If worn on the top of the head, they are repeatedly banged and scratched into a state of opacity but at least they don't truss you up like a turkey. I favour the latter.
Once in the confines of the locker a further set of challenges become apparent. The incompatible 3D geometries of human bodies and boat lockers usually dictate that it is impossible to look directly at the area you wish to inspect. Accordingly, our yottie ends up squinting at it through the corner of his eye or lying on his back and trying to peer myopically at the point of interest through his eyebrows. Both these angles lie outside the field of view of most glasses. To compound matters, once in this position the headlight brightly illuminates the only corner of the locker unencumbered by anything he might want to look at.
Further contortions are required. Firstly, the headlight is augmented by a pencil torch held precariously in the teeth and then the glasses are removed from the face and a ludicrously optimistic attempt is made to hold them in the direct line between at least one eyeball and the item under investigation. This is just about achievable, but if he wants to use a screwdriver, spanner or socket as well, then he's on a hiding to nothing.
Given these vexatious obstacles that life and Anno Domini delight in throwing at us, it's a miracle that jobs such as this meet with any success at all. However, in a state of unbridled optimism we just keep on keeping on and once in a while we meet with success.
So it was in this instance. After nearly three hours of sweat, contortion and no little amount of profanities I identified the problem. One of the retaining bolts for the cover plate on the autopilot drive motor had worked loose. It had then jammed between the drive sprocket and chain, thus effectively locking the whole thing up.
It only took me another hour to free the bolt, slap a dollop of loctite on it and screw it back in with the biggest socket wrench I could get into the available space.
We were on our way again.
*Fray Bentos steak & kidney pies seem to have acquired cult status in Yottiedom but why anyone should ever want to eat something that tastes mainly of piss is beyond me.
**Eyesight deteriorates so gradually with age that you don't appreciate the degree to which you are making educated guesses as to what the letters actually are. This becomes suddenly and glaringly apparent when you try to read something in an alphabet with which you are not so familiar - like Greek or Cyrillic.