Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Learning by watching

I didn’t get to watch all the sailpast boats leave and arrive.  We watched a few of the boats leaving and weren’t disappointed by the drama.  One in particular was at the end of a finger pier with 2 boats behind him.  The boat at the end wasn’t particularly big – maybe 35 feet – the ones behind were significantly bigger (and significantly more impatient).  Evidently the guy on the end was clueless about getting away from the dock because eventually it took the crew from both boats behind him to get him cast off.  Its not that hard – you untie the lines and leave, ideally with all crew members on the boat but it is surprising how many people have difficulty with the process.

I missed most of the dock-drama because I got invited to crew on “Small Fry”.  “Crew” is maybe overstating my duties a little bit because really all I did was watch Ira do all the work.  Small Fry is a wooden dory built somewhere on the coast maybe 60 years ago now and lovingly restored by Ira Rote.  She is powered by a single cylinder Easthope engine – the kind that goes chukka – chukka – chukka when its running.  We were sitting on the steps in front of the Empress watching the drama unfold in front of us when Ira appeared and asked me if I wanted to ride along on the sail past.  I’d stopped and watched him working on Small Fry earlier in the weekend so naturally I leaped at the chance to go along and I think – in all modesty – that we were one the highlights of if not the highlight of the show.  We sure got waved at by a lot of people, including the pilot of one of the many single otters that fly out of the harbour.  He slid open his window to take our picture then closed the window, pushed the throttles home and took off. 

Last night three big sailboats arrived in Cow Bay with a bunch of kids onboard.  They are part of some kind of sailing school or more likely a glorified teenage daycare system.  The kids wouldn’t have learned much from the docking maneuvers last night or from the departure this morning for that matter.  Ever since somebody first stuck an internal combustion engine in a boat and hung a prop on its shaft people have been docking and undocking boats under power.  Leaving aside for a minute that it is possible to dock a sailboat under sail, these guys didn’t even use the boat’s own power to control it.  Instead one of them actually launched his dinghy and used it to push the stern into the dock.  I could maybe understand it if the wind was shoving the bow around so badly that they had to use the dinghy to control the bow but the stern?  There’s a great big rudder on a sailboat – its not hard to move the ass end around.

The most disturbing aspect of their maneuvers was that they seemed completely ignorant about the wind.  Last night when they arrived there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing up the bay.  The first boat came in, rounded up into the wind and let the wind stop him neatly against the dock.  No problems there but the next two were another matter altogether.  The second one chose to dock on the downwind side of the finger but his prop walk was in his favour if he had made any attempt to use it.  Instead he used his dinghy.  The last one came in on the upwind side of the same finger and then repeatedly tried to back against his prop walk when all he had to do was stop and wait for the wind to blow him down on the dock.  After 6 or 7 tries he had finally drifted down on the dock in spite of his efforts.  If one of the kids had been at the helm maybe it would have been understandable but it was clearly an adult at each helm.  Watch and learn I guess – I only hope the kids were able to learn from seeing it done wrong.

After Victoria we had a nice uneventful trip back to Cow Bay.  When we got home I phoned American Diesel and (as usual) Brian Smith answered.  I described my coolant leak and fully expected him to tell me I needed to change the head gasket at the very least and likely to plane the head at the same time.  Instead he asked me when the last time was that the heads were torqued.  I’d forgotten because you never retorque a modern engine but it used to be fairly common to retorque heads after the engine had run for a while.  The most impressive element of the call was the fact that it was the second time I’ve called American Diesel and the second time they’ve given me free advice that cuts them out of a multi-hundred or even thousand dollar sale.  Ya gotta love people like that.

Retorquing the head meant that I’d also need to reset the valves which I couldn’t do until I bought or borrowed a set of feeler gauges. On Monday I found a neighbour with a set of feeler gauges and tore into retorquing the heads.  Once I got the port side put back together it seemed to have gone so well that I decided I might as well do the starboard side as well.  Time will tell whether I accomplished anything or not.  The engines both started after I got done messing around with them so that’s always a good sign and by no means a guaranteed outcome when I’m doing the wrenching.  I did a full throttle runup on the port engine and couldn’t see any sign of a leak but I won’t be 100% confident of that until I can run it up under load.  I didn’t want to let it scream in the slip for too long for fear of annoying the neighbours so maybe all I did was get some grease under my fingernails.  Like Ken Kotowich told me years ago, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you really want.  Maybe all I got was experience.

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