Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gettin' down & dirty

First, get your minds out of the gutter! This is about my boat. No pictures, but you are allowed to laugh as you read (if I am able to make this funny).

About a month ago I took delivery of my sailboat--a Bristol 29.9 sailboat. It had a good survey, meaning it was in good shape, only a few things that really needed to be done, other than "cosmetic". John Wiggins and I had a glorious sail from Galesville to Annapolis, where she will live. Right now, her name is "Carpe Aurum" (seize the gold), but I will be changing it. Rhonda and I tried to go sailing the week after I took delivery but the gale force winds all day long prohibited it. A couple weekends ago, Sid (from whom I am subleasing the slip for now) spent the day with me teaching me how to dock and practicing anchoring. All of this was on the motor--no sailing. She ran perfectly.

This past Saturday, Rhonda and I planned to go sailing. I got to the boat, checked the oil, opened the seacocks so the water would cool the engine as it is supposed to, took the sail cover off in anticipation of getting on the Bay and actually sailing!

Checking the oil on a sailboat is exactly like checking it in a car. Except you are on your knees looking blindly into a darkened engine only able to see the curled end of the dipstick. The reason you can only see the curled end of the dipstick is because there is an engine block in front, a hose directly in front of the dipstick, and a hose directly behind where you are supposed to pull it out. It's not so bad pulling it out, as long as you pull it straight out, because that hose behind it blocks your hand if you don't get it juuuusssst riiigghht. And getting it back in is a lesson in how blind people navigate crowded city streets. By now, of course, my hand has some oil on it just from touching the engine block, it is hot and my hand is sweaty, I can't see the damn place where the dipstick is supposed to go back in, so I try to feel it with my fingers, drop the dipstick, have to feel around for it, push, push, SHIT, it's the wrong spot! Finally, after literally minutes of trying, I get it back in, but have to pull it back out to actually check the level. Go thru steps 1-4 again (or whatever) , and finally. Other than that, just like checking it in your car.

So, Rhonda and I are ready to sail. John Wiggins, whose boat is next to mine, and Jean show up at their boat, and I invite them to come with us. John can't, gotta work on his, but Jean does decide to come. Great! An all girl crew! I am a low-to-moderately experienced sailor, but Rhonda and Jean are a little more experienced, so we will be fine.

Getting the boat out of the slip is a bit of a trick, as there is another pier directly in front of where my boat comes out. There is a bit of wind off the port side so we unloosen the starboard side first and start to go. Unfortunately, I had a bit too much throttle and slam (gently) into one of my pilings--no harm, quick reverse, stabilize, and we're off!

Down the cove, into Martin's Creek, we are doing great! About 15 minutes out, just before we get to the markers and S-turn out, momentum stops. The engine is running, gears seem to be engaging, no movement. Thank goodness for cell phones--we call John, who walks us through some trouble shooting (after telling us to drop anchor; well, I did want to practice that some more! Altho, it was really Rhonda and Jean who were doing that). Now, I know NOTHING about engines. The only thing I know about mine is you can get to the front of it thru the salon by taking off the steps down from the cockpit, and you can only fully get to the engine thru the lazarrette (the area under the cockpit seats).

We have to take everything out of the storage area (the lazarrette) and crawl down in there to examine, oh, propeller shafts and couplings (what the hell is that?!) and other things. Now the space down there is small. Really small. I am almost 6' tall, the length of this area is about 4' (at best); the width is perhaps a butt-cheek of a small person. I'm not a small person, so call it one of my butt-cheeks (maybe). And, then when you are down there, the hull of the boat is curving, so you have to conform to that too. Oh, and you have to take the panels off that separate the engine from the storage space and of course they won;'t fit up thru the opening so they remain down there with me, taking up space. Oh, and when you finally get your full body down there, you then have to work on the engine from the side of your body. So my almost 6' body has my knees up to my boobs, my shoulders trying to fit in this small space, my whole butt trying to fit into a half-butt area, and trying to turn so my hands can actually get to things! My next career will be as a contortionist. Oh, and it was about 95 degrees outside temp, probably over 100 down in that small space.

The highlight of this episode was trying to check the transmission fluid to see if I had just run out and to add more. I took the cap off what I thought was the transmission fluid--big cap, on top of the engine (as it turned out), it was dry. So, we added about 2 quarts of transmission fluid. Turns out, that was the oil fill! Long story short--ended up having to call for a tow.

Back to the slip. John comes on board to help figure this thing out. Down he goes to examine things, but this is my big chance to start learning about my engine--my boat, I'm responsible, gotta learn one day. And, boy did I learn! I spent the rest of the afternoon down that tiny, dark lazarette trying to figure things out with John pointing out parts and telling me what to do.

Because I had put transmission fluid into the oil fill, there was waaay too much fluid and it had spewed out onto the engine and area surrounding. So, no matter where I touched, there was oil. And I was sweating like a longshoreman as well as cursing like one: why the **!#@% does that hose have to be there so I can't get to whatever part. Finally figured out (thank you John) where the real transmission fluid was supposed to go in--that cap that says "Transmission fluid only", except that it is buried in the bowels behind the engine block with 47 hoses or wires or something in front of it. I know now.

AND, you can't just screw off the lid of the transmission fluid dipstick. NO, you need a wrench. Thank goodness I had a crescent wrench. But the space is small and those *&%**!!! hoses and wires are in the way. So, in tiny increments, covered with grease and sweat all of which is sliding down onto the crescent wrench (which never screws the right way for tightening!), I work the dipstick out. Literally, this took about 7-10 minutes, maybe more. At some point, John gets his socket wrench, which I have never used, and, after several minutes of instruction and questions almost figured out. So, we got that off and it appeared to be very low on trans fluid. But, the fluid is so light colored you can hardly see it. Appears low, but we had poured all of the fluid into the oil, so could not refill. Done for the day.

Sunday: I go buy oil (lots) but could not find an oil filter. Since I put trans fluid into the oil, we have to drain the oil twice, put in a new oil filter and re-fill. Actually, draining the oil isn't so bad, because John has an "oil sucker-upper" that goes right into where the dipstick is and sucks it out with a vacuum. But for some reason, I could not get that damn dipstick back in--can't see it, trying to feel for it doesn't seem to work, it just wouldn't go in!! After a while, John came down and got it. But I am in the lazarette most of the day, trying to get that **&##@! trans fluid dipstick out to check again. John had trans fluid so we used that. Got the oil drained, ran the engine a few minutes, drained it again. Now, I can't get the dipstick back in. Now it is raining--hard. I'm still in the lazarette covered with oil, and sweat, and now rain. It's time to take the oil filter out.

John has a "tool" to help take the oil filter out because it is so tight and I am so sweaty and greasy it will not budge. This tool requires 2 hands to get it on the oil filter and tighten it in place. Keep in mind that as I am in the lazarette trying to figure out where to put my legs and butt and arms and shoulder, that my head is to the stern (back) of the boat and the oil filter is somewhere up near where my feet are. So I have to try to stretch over my entire body, over my feet, one of which is splayed forward and the other somewhere to the side between hoses, wires, and other stuff, and reach this damn thing with two hands, and it is off to my side, and try to put some torque on it to move it. Couldn't. I looked at John, up in the cockpit, and said "I'm done". My learning curve just took a dive. Couldn't to it anymore. John was awesome: asked if I wanted him to try to loosen it with the "tool", which he did, then I went back down and actually took it off by hand, spilling oil everywhere, but he gave me a grocery bag to put it in.

So I took Wed off work to finish up. Tuesday night, I woke up in the middle of the night: DAMN! I couldn't get the oil dipstick back in because there is another depression just forward of the oil dipstick spot that FEELS like the oil dipstick spot, but isn't! Sure enough, Wed morning, on the boat--two depressions, one of which is NOT the oil dipstick spot, which is what I had been trying to put the dipstick into. Whew! Hopefully, I have that down pat now.

Wed: go to Bayshore Marine, get the oil filter, some trans fluid, I am ready to rock! Get to the boat, John isn;t there, but that's OK, I know what I am doing now (sort of; at least I know where some important engine parts are, the ones that I need to work with). Down into the lazarette--thank goodness the weather is overcast and 65 degrees. I use that oil filter looosening "tool" like a pro (yeah, right) , get the new oil filter on!! Get my hand-dandy crescent wrench to take the trans fluid dipstick out--no. I work and work at it, that crescent wrench is loosening it a little bit, but it has so many turns and it is such a small space (damn those hoses and wires that it keeps getting tangled in!) that I am 10 mins into it when John shows up and offers the socket wrench. A minute later and it is off! Now I can see the fluid level better (I think because it is overcast the light color just shows up better than in the bright sun we had on Sat and partly on Sun) and it is TOO full. So, I take the handy dandy "oil sucker upper" down in the lazarette with me, contort (I am a master at this by now) myself into an appropriate position and start sucking it out. Finally get it to an appropriate level. Put the rest of the oil in the proper place and we are good to go.

Start the engine, runs like a dream (not that the engine was a problem). Put it in gear--nothing, still no movement, prop shaft still not turning. We're done.

Call the mechanic.

Aaahhh, the joys of boat ownership. But I sure learned about my engine!


  1. Obviously your are the right kind of woman to own a boat. And now you can add contortionist to your resume!!

  2. Congrats to Laura Lady of the Lazarrette!!!
    I know you'll be sailing and motoring with the best of them in no time!
    I admire your tenacity and humor and humility in sharing your adventure!
    I have just the right new boat owner gift for you... and it's not RUM!!! Although that's probably a real good runner up!!

  3. OMG! I can't believe what you went through.
    You can certainly feel good about yourself.
    I know space is at a premium-but surely there could have been a better way to design this area for better access.
    Obviously designed by men.....
    I'm sure by the end of the Summer you'll be a complete pro