Skills to Pay the Bills, but Maybe Not So Much to Maintain the Boat… Yet.

Of the numerous obstacles I struggle with in preparing for an eventual move to the cruising life, two of my personal biggies are 1) maintaining the cruising kitty, and 2) maintaining the boat (a boat that doesn’t yet exist). Candace and I are both gainfully employed, and the prospect of abandoning our financial security is so far off my charts that I’ve yet to truly wrestle with the implications of the former. In other words, I’m in denial. But in a related vein runs the question of whether or not we have the skills needed to satisfy the latter, maintaining and repairing our own boat.

So, what do we bring to the table? I’m 14-year a software systems veteran at one of the world’s big technology companies. This might give me some options with regard to employment once we cast off, but it doesn’t directly apply to maintaining a boat. (Although I’m well practiced in the fundamentals of methodical troubleshooting, regardless of the subject domain.) Candace is a registered nurse, with a few years each in pediatrics, urgent care and “med-surg” (insider speak for sick people in a hospital). Again, this skill-set might offer options for re-upping the cruising kitty, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of maintaining a boat (though it does bode well for maintaining the crew).

Hmmm… not so promising so far. I have an undergraduate degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences… mint condition, never been used… helpful?… not so much.

Well, I don’t think we’re totally hopeless, I do have a passable DIY resume…

  • Summer camp care-taker for a year after college… seriously.
  • Basic automotive and motorcycle maintenance: oil and filter changes, brake rotor and pad replacement, radiator fan replacement, trailer hitch and wiring harness installation.
  • Several garage door opener installations over the years.
  • Landscape irrigation installation and maintenance.
  • Tankless water heater installation, including: soldering water pipes and rerouting gas lines (and I didn’t even blow anything up).
  • 800 sq, ft. of bamboo flooring installed in our current 100+ year old home… lots of fun with pneumatic and oscillating tools.

After listing all of that, I don’t feel so bad anymore, until I think of our Big Four… the four skill areas where we’re pretty much helpless, at least for now:

  • Diesel and Outboard Engines
  • Fiberglass
  • Electricity
  • Sewing

So how to address each of these shortcomings? The usual: the Internet, formal instruction, and practice.

Given that we don’t yet have a boat to tinker with, Engines and Fiberglass will have to sit on the back burner for a while. Though given the toll that racing and general use take on the club boats, I’m sure I could offer up some free labor in trade for a bit of apprenticing; I’ll bring this up with the club folk.

Electricity and Sewing are a bit more accessible.

My history with electricity is a bit of a mixed bag.  I’ve given myself two pretty good shocks, both in college. The first was while trying to remove a very old fuse from a very old fusebox with a screwdriver… who knew you could melt a screwdriver blade so quickly? The second was in front of an audience of children at a planetarium while demonstrating the neon glow of different gases when passing a current through them… always remove your hands from the contacts BEFORE throwing the switch.

But since then I’ve had better luck: I’ve installed several ceiling fans, dimmer switches, and trailer light harnesses with no surprises. But it’s one thing to install something new with clear instructions to follow, quite another to troubleshoot a failed electrical system, especially when one doesn’t have a strong grasp of the basic principles and tools. So I’ve found a few good online resources and have gathered a collection of electrical education supplies: batteries, multimeter, and a handful of simple electrical toys to begin my learning.  We’ll see how it goes.

Kids play... using a mix of grown-up tools and kids toys to learn some electricity fundamentals
Kids play… using a mix of grown-up tools and kids toys to learn some electricity fundamentals

I’m a far cry from rushing out to buy a Sailrite, so I figured I’d start with some manual basics, e.g. stuffed animal repair. Tragically, Zippy the sea turtle fell victim to the dog and lost a fin.

Patient presented with severed flipper (bad dog)
Patient presented with severed flipper (bad dog)

Not to fear, a few minutes in my capable hands and he’s as good as new.

Post-Op Skippy... a bit of scarring, but otherwise OK
Post-Op Skippy… a bit of scarring, but otherwise OK

Bring on your torn gennakers!

P.S. Thanks to It’s a NecessityS/V DelosWindtraveler, and Sailing Totem for their endless demonstrations of ingenious resourcefulness. You guys never cease to impress.

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