Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Worst Engineer

Big day on Galactic yesterday.  We finally got the windlass reinstalled.

The windlass is the gizmo that pulls up our very heavy anchor for us.  You might remember that it has been broken since Penrhyn, in the Cook Islands, which is a very very long way back up the track.  So we've been pulling the anchor by hand for a very long time (without, I should mention, a decent manual backup on the windlass).

A lot of effort went into replacing the faulty electric motor on the windlass.  We put time into ordering the new motor, and taking the windlass off the boat, and getting a machine shop to help with getting the old motor off the gear case, and then drilling / countersinking / buggering up the holes for the new mounting bolts for the new motor, then bolting and sealing the motor to the case, then looking all over town for the proper grease for the gear box, then giving up and ordering some from New Zealand, get the picture.

Finally, it was a huge pain to bolt the very heavy gearbox and motor back to the underside of the deck.  And then the moment of truth.  I flipped the switch.  And nothing happened.

The old motor broke on us four times during this last Pacific crossing.  The first three times I was able to fix it (I now know all about sticking brushes on electric motors).  But on the fourth breakdown I just couldn't figure out how to get the motor going.  And now I know that was because the motor wasn't broken.  Something had gone wrong with either the foot switch or the solenoid or the wiring between the two.  (Not to get too technical!)   I had gone over all those things exhaustively when the windlass first broke, and ruled them out as the problem.  But by the fourth breakdown I "knew" that stuff was fine, and neglected to check them again.

So yesterday, as I turned the windlass on over and over again and watched it doing nothing at all, I had to quickly get used to the idea that I had spent days and days of my limited time replacing the windlass motor....for nothing.  

And then I was revisited by the old feeling that I just might be the worst marine engineer in the world, a hapless humanist sort of person who fell for the dream of sailing the world and finds himself stuck in a life devoted to the mundane, and brutally materialist, tasks of keeping a traveling boat in working order.

Alisa no doubt wondered why I was so grumpy after we got the windlass remounted.  I still don't think she figured out that we hadn't needed to go to all the trouble of replacing the motor at all.  And I couldn't bring myself to tell her.

I suppose she'll find out here.

Passing along dubious mechanical skills to the next generation.


  1. Your next book: "Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance." Put me down for a copy.

  2. No darling, I knew. But i realized that due to the sticking parts and the first 3 breakdowns, the motor probably needed to be replaced sooner or sooner. Signed: your loving wife and biggest fan.

  3. Don't feel bad. Alisa (anonymous) has backstopped you on this one with the pragmatic position that the motor will need to be replaced anyways. It is entirely forgivable to go down a "sailboat" rabbit hole once in a while.
    PS - Hope you saved the old motor as spare.

  4. I know how you feel better then I ever want to know. Tuning motors on a CNC Router and ending up putting oven foil around some of the wires to shield a motor from RF noise. You did well, make notes in the log and in your list of things to check and you come out on top. Good on you for being able to learn, there is a huge part of our human races that refuses that gift.

  5. you guys are all too kind. I suppose the bright side is that I now TOTALLY understand the dang windlass...