July 7, 2013

Getting to grips with the engine

IT WOULD BE HARD to imagine a worse place for an engine than the aft bilge of a sailboat. The builders bolt down a bridge-deck and cockpit floor an inch or two above it. Then they seal the whole thing off with bulkheads and companionway steps, as if it were leprous. Thus, even if you can remove the steps, you still have no access to some of the most important parts of the engine unless you’re built like a daddy-longlegs.

Sailboat engines are poorly maintained because you can’t get near them. I couldn’t even see the oil dipstick on my engine on a previous boat. It was underneath, around the corner, at the back of the engine in the pitch dark somewhere. I had to grope for it and find the oil level by Braille. Getting the dipstick back into its little hole was a nightmare. I was terrified of dropping it into the bilge under the engine, a little festering hellhole where no man had been before.

I blame yacht designers for this. Few of them give serious thought to engine maintenance. It ought to be possible to use hinged or removable panels to provide access to your engine, even if you have to swing the whole galley over your head or something. Good engine access is vital. It deserves much more attention.

Pacific Seacraft and some other boatbuilders provide a removable watertight hatch in the cockpit floor, which gives splendid access to everything you can reach from the top, but I have often wondered how long the hatch will stay watertight. I guess, though, that it’s not a big worry.  A few drips of water won’t bother a diesel engine any unless they fall steadily on the alternator.

In boats that have quarterberths, it would be handy if you could cut an access panel or two in the engineroom bulkheads. You might have to wriggle head-first into the berth to find the dipstick, which is not great news for those who suffer from claustrophobia, but it sure beats climbing into the cockpit locker or reaching around oily corners for fittings you can’t see.

Today’s Thought
Architecture begins where engineering ends.
— Walter Gropius

Tailpiece
“Now that you’re a famous violinist, tell me — what was your motivation for practicing so long and so hard when you were a little child?”
“My mother.”
“Your mother? How lovely!”
“Yeah, she said if I didn’t practice she’d break my arm.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

John Rushworth said...

Or you go electric to get round the problem. This is my personal installation replacing a 10hp Volvo. http://on.fb.me/1a5ei6A It is easy to get at compared to the old IC engine. I kept a timeline of my build here. https://www.facebook.com/ElektraYachts