Posted by: powellpjc | April 12, 2009

Boat Jobs


In my previous life I spent my adult years drilling but I never had to tap. It’s always sounded mysterious to me and a privilege closely guarded by machinists and plumbers. I have to tap holes in my mast for the stainless steel screws that will hold on my mast steps. There are 4 folding plastic steps to start with and then 28 stainless steel ones to go to the top. Well, 4 feet from the top. Just enough to be able to work at the mast head at chest level. Why steps?

Things jam and break. Always have and always will. You can have someone else winch you up the mast but sometimes you are alone and steps make life a lot easier. In addition, when in tropical waters, the coral heads are much easier to see when standing 30 feet off the decks and navigating is a hell of a lot more pleasant inside the reefs.

I’m using the folding steps for the start of the stairway because they fold up out of the way of the winches, cleats and other gear at deck level. Also, the plastic ones are open ended and I don’t like the idea of my foot slipping off the step when I am 50 feet up.

The plastic folding step, folded.

The plastic folding step, folded...


...and opened.

...and opened.


The stainless steps capture your foot so you can’t as easily kill yourself.

The stainless step.

The stainless step.


I went to a machine shop supplier here in Portland to buy the taps and drills for the job. The guy was a pro and he walked me through the process. I bought the gear. Went to a hardware store and bought the screws. When I got back to the mast (it is lying down on sawhorses here in the boatyard) I realized I’d bought the wrong size everything. It was 3 o’clock on the Easter holiday weekend so I raced back to the nearest (small) hardware store. Didn’t have the size I wanted. Back into Portland. Two more stores before I found what I wanted. Back to the boat.

Back to tapping.

I agonized over the first drill hole. This is the only mast I have and I was about to drill 200 holes in it. I didn’t want to fuck up. The first hole went well and the tapping business was surprisingly straightforward. I relaxed and fucked up the second hole. Luckily the step covered my error and the rest of the business went well. They look great and will work perfectly.

I drove the boat the first time 3 days ago. The yard boys needed to move me to haul out an adjacent million dollar yacht.

They were moving this guy.

They were moving this guy.



It was 8 o’clock in the morning and dead calm so I volunteered to motor out into the river to get out of their way. An expert yacht-handler offered to drive for me but I would have none of it. I’ve driven 40-foot boats before. They untied me. They started the lifting crane motor very close by and I couldn’t hear my own engine when I tried to start it (for the first time). I tried to start it a second time and now heard my starter motor bendix gear grinding away on the already running engine. Slightly embarrassing and it got worse.

I checked my rudder position—hard over—and began to reverse. The gear shift works opposite to intuition and I started going the wrong way. ‘The other reverse’ was shouted at me by the watching yard boys. Ok. Wouldn’t shift. The revolutions were too high (I couldn’t hear, remember and the tach doesn’t work yet on the boat). The throttle lever is also counterintuitive by the way. When I finally got the damn boat going in the right direction I was quite pleased. Until the current of the river grabbed my keel and kicked me sideways close to the million dollar baby. I left the helm and fended off as best I could (near miss) and actually got clear of the dock into the river. I relaxed until the motor started banging a hell of a noise. Damn, I’m going to ruin my motor in the first 5 minutes. I gave up, shut her down and through a line to the nearest yard guy. It was 8:15 and my nerves were shot. When we were safely secured again to the dock I checked the engine. The mechanic had left a large bracket loose and it was banging against the alternator pulley. No harm done except to my nerves.

Working on a boat is a hell of a lot of fun and there is a lot to learn.


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