A bit of Zen and a KISS

When i departed on this epic adventure i had pathetic little experience with hands on technical boat work. i had been blessed with working with some of the best technicians in the business so little need for me to fumble around, until i left. On the plus side i did observe these guys and watched how they worked and i knew the boats inside and out, many trips to the factory and years of dealing with warranty claims gave me a good education.

Even as a kid coxing junk cars to run i had a mentor, my best friend Turk was and still is a master mechanic. He handled a socket wrench as a maestro handles the baton directing a symphony, it was poetry in motion. Many a time i will be bashing about with a tool and think of the calm and smooth way he handled wrenches, slow down and get the job done, thanks Turk.

As i developed in the boat world i had years of hands on experience with older often poorly maintained boats and the problems they could provide. i could not fix them but i could diagnose the problem usually. Then i moved into high quality, sophisticated new boats and the world changed. For over a decade i watched as the piles of intricate systems were added to each new boat and the ensuing problems. When i equipped Furthur i kept things simple and redundant, two of most systems, back ups on the back ups.

This tact has served me well and with over 6000 hours of world wide traveling i have been relatively trouble free, that is not to say trouble free, just more so than most.

The real change has come from my trial by fire need to fix many things myself, not my natural habitat. In the first few years the troubles were small and i fumbled along, usually with great emotional angst. Eventually i learned to use my best tool, my brain, in more positive ways, less anger, frustration and panic; more analytical and faithful. Much of this change was prompted by rereading the great old hippy iconic book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The chapter on the actual application of Zen to mechanics should be printed in each engine room, read it! The other tool that is a must; KISS, keep it simple stupid, usually the solutions are the simple ones, often well hid but simple.

So armed with the mystical secrets of ancient religions into the engine room we go. We look for the simple way to test hypothesis and experiment to find the solution. Key way is simple, start simple and end simple, start confused and, well, there is no end.

A yacht is a collection of systems; there are those that transfer fluids and those that transfer electricity. Both kinds have a beginning and an end. This is worth repeating, a beginning and an end, as any problem will be found between these two places. It is essential to find the beginning, the true source to begin your experiments. in most electrical issues the beginning is the battery, often skipped. Often an electrical failure is a stumper, hours of torture only to find a loose battery connection, start at the source, where does the pesky missing watt come from?

Same for fluid systems, where does the fluid come from? Take the raw water cooling system on my generator. It is typical with a through hull, sea strainer, pump and return. When the gen ran warm and i was in litter spewn waters i did the normal, close the through hull, open and clean the sea strainer then reclose it and open the through hull. No luck still warm so i went up stream to the impellor and through entire system still with no luck. Where did i go wrong? Did not start at the source, the hole in the boat. Back at the sea strainer i opened the top and cracked the through hull open expecting a gush of water and found not a drop. After a bit of prodding i donned the dive gear and found a small tight wound fish net sticking out of the through hull under the water. After it was removed all was well. Now i crack the through hull after every time i clean the sea strainer.

Most problems come from a fluid or a watt not going where it should or going where it should not. In the boat vernacular these are A) clogs or power outage and B) leaks and shorts. See it is simple ya right. So we must find where the errant fluid or watt is going if it is miss guided, or where it stops if it is clogged.

Fluids are easier, i can see them and hear them if they leak. The elusive watt requires a testing device. Every cruiser should own a multi tester and know how to use it, and probably a spare. This is one of the essential tools. For tracking the clogged watt a few small jumper wires are handy. One short one for accessing alternative power sources and by passing sections or devises is handy and a long one for that starter test from the batter. The radio is dead, hot wire it right to the battery and you will soon see if it is time to buy a new radio or track the missing watt in the wiring. Finding it is the wiring, i start by passing sections with the shorter jumper till i find the offending link in the chain. Wiring paths often have mysterious little boxes along the path, voltage regulators, condensers and other things i do not understand, and they break. Test around them with the jumper cable, if the jump brings the misguided watt along its path, replace the whachamacallit. You do not need to understand it just replace it. On another note, whenever i find something that has failed and it is not too spendy, i order two. Anything that failed one will again. i find having the spare is the best way in insure i will not need it.

As i said fluids are easier to detect, sadly often in the worst parts of the bilge but detectable. Same principle applies, if looking for a clog, start opening sections up till you find the clogged one. The reverse is used to find a leak, start closing sections till the leak stops.

Keep in mind the Zen Master, test hypothesis until you find the solution, each one is just a possibility to be eliminated not a certainty to count on, if you keep that in mind you will find each failure as a positive step, not a knuckle busting disappointment that brings forth language so bad an exorcist is called by your neighbors.

Your travels can bring you to the most remote parts of the world where treasure abound and life experiences unfold daily. These rare gems are what we dream of and why we set sail across vast oceans. They are also places where no technical help can be found nor parts procured, you re on your own! The success of the adventure depends on how you prepare your boat, know how to solve problems and your inventory of spare parts. At first i lay at night dreading the “what ifs” viewing each one as an ultimate disaster, not fun. Now i venture through the back woods of my mind searching for the “what ifs” so i can plan the “then i dos”. Plan for the worst, prepare with plans to cope. dissect each possible problem with a plan to cope if it erupts.

It is handy to have a virtual entourage, i often email the wizards back home for help, these are invaluable aids. Keep in touch with a group of people who can help you with any part of your boat. A picture is worth a thousand words so send digital pictures of the problem. If dealing with a manufacturer try to get the model number in the picture. The cruising community is full of wisdom, remember that wisdom is gotten by achieved by the mistakes we make not being wise. Most cruisers are very helpful and knowledgeable. That is how they got so far.

So Zen Masters, free your mind of the chattering monkeys spouting doom and be one with the leaking pipe, shorted wire, or failed thingamajig. Plan and prepare for each challenge, load your boat with spares and head out for your great adventure. Make your dream your story.