Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You Break It, You Bought It

Twinkies and Hoseclamps
Twinkies and Hoseclamps
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Editor's Note: Written during our Summer Without Daddy up in Bahia de Los Angeles.

DrC has left us alone before. Twice in fact. The first time he left us for a month to work, he planted us in Port McNeil on Vancouver Island. We spent our time going on hikes, swimming in the local pool, visiting the library, and studying. Twice, we pulled the anchor and went on a brief foray over to Alert Bay. Basically, we didn't move and nothing broke.

The second time DrC was forced to work, he left us in Zihautenejo. We hardly moved the boat at all during that visit, but we were more adventurous in other ways. We explored Zihua and Ixtapa, participated in the Zihua Sail Fest '09, and became entwined in the lives of several cruisers. This is where we met Uncle Glenn, adventured with Bay Wolf to Ixtapa, and managed to get ourselves invited to just about every gringo hotel pool within 50 miles. The month zipped by very rapidly and pleasurably, though I'll grant you for the most part we didn't move and nothing broke.

This third – and final – extended period of DrC working time was completely different. For one thing, it was actually two months broken in the middle by a month spent on a road trip with daddy in the States. DrC left in June and didn't return until October. For another, hurricane season necessitated that we motor the boat a good long distance from Santa Rosalia up 130 miles north to the Bahia de Los Angeles area.

This time, we had to move. This time, everything broke. I don't know if the two issues are related. Had we moved the first two times DrC was not on the boat, it's possible everything would have stayed together. It's also possible that leaving the boat for a month then having the thing ride out Hurricane Jimena contributed to the delinquency of our minor boat. Whatever the causes, the effect was almost daily breakage – an endless series of more or less panicky mechanical crises during which I had to simultaneously fix the diesel engines and maintain my spotless nail care regime.

Okay, that last bit is a lie. I don't have a nail care regime. On the other hand, I also know precisely nothing about diesel mechanics.

Or knew precisely nothing. Now I know something. I know how to fix a frozen throttle and how to prime the raw water system. I know that the impellers can get squashed and need to be replaced regularly and that the little black belt thingie around the end of the water pump shouldn't be loose. There's a sea cock for the sail drive, and the raw water strainer has plastic fittings that break if you are not super careful. There is also a little light for the engine room that magically turns itself on and runs down the batteries, and there are two extra switches in the port which have nothing to do with the engines and are used exclusively for the water maker.

Other gems I've picked up. Salt water rusts things. Fresh water does not make the rust stop rusting. Don't get lubricant on your belts. Don't stand on the heat exchanger in your bare feet. Metal hose clamps are made of the world's sharpest metal and will shred your hands. My husband keeps all the tools in the starboard bow in a series of boxes. The item you want will always be in the box on the bottom of the pile. There are three manuals to go through every time you want to touch the diesels; Calder's will be the most thorough but completely inexplicable while the Yanmar shop manual has the most useful pictures and the most poorly written instructions.

In the cruising community, pink and blue are well established. It's not really sexism or misogyny, it's just practical. There is too much to learn on a boat so the world gets divided. Using traditional gender roles isn't much of a stretch. At potlucks, guys stand in a circle with beers in hand discussing motors, mounts, tools, and electrolysis. They remind me of scenes at the fraternities at Cal Berkeley just 30 years older and missing the signature keg. The women gather around tables and at picnic blankets. Their conversation, mind you, is just as technical but involves navigation, provisioning, timing weather, and radio nets. Those are the pink jobs. During my summer of breakage, I would shuttle back and forth all night. I needed the weather info, but I also needed to know how to fix the port raw water system.

Faced with Morning
Faced with Morning
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
In both camps, the support was profound and reassuring. The men welcomed my presence and willingly answered my basic and often quite stupid questions. The women were admiring, praising my courage. But I'm not courageous. It is not heroic. There are many single handers out here who handle all the jobs, pink and blue. There are even a few who do it with children. If I hadn't known there were a hard stop in a few weeks when DrC arrived back from the States, I don't know how I would have pulled myself together and kept going. Also, I didn't always handle the breakage gracefully. I cried one time the port raw water system stopped working. After hours of popping in and out of the transom, my back started to hurt, and I got very snippy with the girls. I'm not actually good at this.

But I did it. I fixed engines and water systems, the water maker and the outboard, the deck light, the starboard head and the port bilge pump. Every day we cleaned the boat, we finished our school, and we moved to the next anchorage. We provisioned, we made bread, and we ate it. All the work got done even without the girls' incredibly capable daddy.

So the message to the girls must be the right one. It's okay to be girly, to sigh and to cry and to get frustrated. It's not okay to be helpless.


Anonymous said...


Greylopht said...

You are very strong and I wish you had my email to ask for help. (Auto engineer and been on a few boats) But I can speak as I catch up on your blog from 0 to present. Very good job.

Oh forgot, engine bits get hot. Use mechanics gloves or Monkey feet when you wana stand on one. http://www.rei.com/product/820539/vibram-fivefingers-komodosport-ls-multisport-shoes-mens Ya can get good ones allot cheaper! But just giving a option!