March 5, 2009

The spring ritual

IN SPRING a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of hanging upside down by his toes in the hatchway as he tries to perform maintenance tasks in the rear end of his boat. It should be a crime to squeeze a large auxiliary engine into the tiny, convoluted space available in the stern quarters of a small sailboat, but scofflaw yacht designers get away with it all the time.

They put the seacocks for the cockpit drains back there. They put the stuffing box for the propeller shaft back there. They put the dipstick for the transmission box back there. And they put other stuff in there that has to be looked at, poked at, adjusted, and maintained every year before the sailing season starts.

And when I say “back there” I’m talking about a space that’s mostly filled with oily engine, an irregular space under the cockpit with sloping floors and curved walls. It’s a space you can’t even get to on most boats unless you empty an adjacent, claustrophobic, cockpit locker and ooze yourself inside. Even then, if you can find a way to contort your body so you don’t slide head-first into the murky bilgewater, you won’t be able to reach every nut that needs turning or lever that needs to be unfrozen because your arms simply aren’t long enough.

Once you’re in there you can’t turn around. When you’re done, you have to back out. People regularly get cramps and find they’re stuck in position. I know of at least man who had to be rescued with the Jaws of Life by the local fire brigade. He would undoubtedly have starved to death had he not been equipped with a cell phone to call for help.

A sailor called Charlie Brenton was talking about this much-feared annual ritual on the Cape Dory bulletin board the other day. Here are his thoughts:

“Since most of us did not purchase our Cape Dorys new, many are unaware that Cape Dory did require prospective owners to pass a specific physical examination before purchase. Original Cape Dory owners were required to be less than 5 feet 4 inches tall and to weigh less than 120 pounds. Waist size was not to exceed 28 inches. Arm length was critical. It was required that the new owner prove that he could tie his shoes without bending over. Once these requirements were fulfilled, it was furthermore recommended that an additional joint be surgically inserted in the forearm between the elbow and wrist. Many of the spring maintenance problems that skippers experience are directly related to the inability to pass the Cape Dory physical.”

Charlie, who sails a 33-foot Cape Dory sailboat registered in Newington, New Hampshire, apparently did not pass the Cape Dory physical himself, but he has figured out his own personal solution to the problem of squeezing into the black hole back aft:

“Each spring I go on a three-day fast,” he said, “then I roll myself up to the configuration of a beach ball. With the engine room cover removed, my 10-year-old kicks me around the cabin until he is able to boot me over the exhaust riser to the realm beyond. Then I know that I am ready to uncoil and go to work. He throws me a sock full of wrenches, both metric and SAE, a box of Band-Aids and an occasional beer. He then sits enthralled while his Dad adds entirely new words to the English language.”

All I can say is that Charlie’s suggestion of a qualifying physical exam before purchase is a good idea. The fact that it might produce a new race of sailing dwarfs with chimpanzee arms is neither here nor there. At least the damn cockpit seacocks will work as they should.

Today’s Thought
Nothing is so easy but it becomes difficult when done with reluctance.
—Terence, Heauton Timoroumenos

Notices we noticed:

Outside a church:
“Seven days without God makes one weak.”


Greg Ross said...

Is it permissable to discuss other then a Cape Dory here, would I qualify if I used to own a CD Weekender?
I can relate to this mishap "waiting to happen" ritual. In my case I was replacing the plastic "deck hatch" cleanout on the top of my deisel fuel tank in my "other" boat. While securing the deck ring to the top of the tank I managed to drop the screw driver into the fuel/ tank. In my (ahem!) Ericson the top of the tank forms the bottom/floor of the lazarette space. So, it was necessary to go into the lazarette head first with the right arm plunged right to the shoulder, into the tank cleanout (I had fished around with a telescopic magnet tool first with no success, honest)
So there I am, I had just had a total hip replacement and the physical manoeuvrability was definitely a limiting factor. And then into my mind, the image of the Vetinerian with the latex glove to his shoulder as he stood addressing the rear end of the cow! I started to laugh, that was the drastic tactical error, I must have settled a bit deeper over the lip of the lazarette. I was stuck. I lay that way for a minute of so imagining my bellowing not being heard. I had hold of the screwdriver and wasn't letting go. As slippery as the sloping floor of the tank was, I managed to get just enough lift to get me moving upward and was eventually able to extract myself, with a deep sigh.
Oh, and access to the (ahem) Ericsons' stuffing box, hull valves, transmission dip stick, etc. is via an Owner installed cockpit floor deck hatch-aluminum-Bomar-Hamilton Marine-on sale-a great investment.

John Vigor said...

Hi Greg, yes this is an equal-opportunity blog. It caters to all kinds of sailboats. I work for Good Old Boat magazine, remember, so there are no holds barred. I don't care what kind of boat you sail. Matter of fact, I nearly bought an Ericson myself once, a nice 31-foot cruising model. Just didn't have enough cash and ended up with an old 22-foot Santana that I converted into a "sport cruiser."
She was a joy to sail, but short on accommodation--like a fiberglass pup-tent on water.
Incidentally, A hatch in the cockpit floor is a great idea. Pacific Seacraft have them, too.
John V.