Rediscovering the Craft of Maintenance

For those who follow me on social media, you have no doubt discovered that I purchased a sailboat last winter, a 2003 Beneteau 331. I have been sailing for many years but reached a point where renting sailboats, especially cruisers, was unsatisfying. If your goals include sailing any day the wind is good or crossing Lake Michigan for the weekend, then taking the plunge into boat ownership is essential.

Not having unlimited cash on hand, I bought the nicest used boat I could afford. This necessitates a certain amount of minor maintenance. So, when I’m not enjoying a day on the lake, I’m on the boat repairing or upgrading everything that will provide me with a project.

Eventually, working with my hands surrendered to the concept of economic specialization. Click To Tweet

As a kid I never hesitated to learn as I went. After I got my first car I installed a stereo, amplifier, and new speakers, boldly cutting holes in the dashboard and rear deck to receive the new equipment. I wired new fog lights. I upgraded the driver’s seat (this was the late 70s, after all.)

Eventually, working with my hands surrendered to the concept of economic specialization. I began a career in Information Systems and paid other people to do the wiring and the plumbing. By the time Ikaros arrived at its new home in Belmont Harbor, my confidence to perform a lot of the maintenance needed a boost.

Choosing what seemed to be the most straightforward task, I decided to rebuild my winches. Depending on the amount of use, winches need to be rebuilt every year, so it’s something I needed to learn. During the sea trial two of the four were performing poorly, which made me think it had been a long time since they had been cleaned. One morning I sat down with my coffee, searched YouTube, and watched a Lewmar video on cleaning winches. I downloaded the manual and ordered a parts kit. I thought I was ready to go.

The first snag I encountered was finding the right degreaser. Lewmar recommended the use of white spirit, and no matter where I went no one had heard of it. The day was slipping away as I got back to the house and sat down at the Google machine. It was with a bit of chagrin that I discovered white spirit to be the British term for mineral spirits (Lewmar being a British company.) Laura and I had a laugh at my expense over cocktails that evening.

The next day I got the job done. By the time I reached the third winch I was moving like a pro. The work was really nasty — it had clearly been years since the previous maintenance — but things went back together cleanly and quickly. My winches are now good as new.

Gross and gunky

Clean and smooth

While it seems like a simple task, it got me excited to tackle the pump on my marine sanitation device (toilet.) Well, maybe excited is not the right word. I did feel a sense of pride when the new pump was installed and the system was working. Along the way I learned about every aspect of the MSD, from the bowl to the holding tank vent, and every hose, valve, and gasket in between. I only hope I never have to use that knowledge while I’m out on the water.

I am not sure what it is about adulthood that breeds caution in us. Ikaros is certainly important enough to me that I could avoid using it as a learning tool for fear of “breaking something.” On the other hand, if things aren’t working there is little I can do to make them worse. If I fail to fix something I can always call an expert. Having that safety net is important to regaining my confidence in the craft of maintenance. Becoming intimately knowledgable about my boat and competent in making repairs is crucial if I want to realize my sailing goals. It is therefore important that caution be a warning but not an obstacle.

As I sail beyond the Chicago shoreline and explore the Great Lakes, I must both nurture and temper my caution. While there can be no destination I avoid, the lakes can be a formidable environment, rivaling the oceans in many cases. Gaining confidence and knowledge through maintenance is one part of knowing that I can learn to handle situations I confront on the water.