Monday, June 03, 2013

A Handy-Person Aboard Makes Cruising More Enjoyable

Internet and elbow grease - recipe for successful DIY'ing on a boat!
In my case, it's a handyman who keeps us afloat.  I'm sure there are plenty of women cruisers out there who can swing a wrench with the best of 'em, I'm just not one of them.  Patience was not a skill I was blessed with, and when you are diagnosing problems in a stinky engine room while sweating like a pig and dealing with manuals written in hieroglyphics patience is what you need. Thankfully, Scott has this in spades.

Don't get me wrong - Scott and I are a team - and there are plenty of areas where I excel and he excels slightly less.  I am very good at research, water-schlepping, deductive reasoning, looking at the big picture, keeping our boat OCD tidy and finding creative ways to get our baby to eat her veggies, among other things... But when it comes to keeping our systems running - and I mean actually functioning - he's the guy who gets first prize.

We get a lot of email from folks out there who are dreaming and scheming of a similar journey to ours, and many times they wonder "will we enjoy it?".  I have written on this subject before, but after meeting countless cruisers, I have learned a couple of things about what it takes to enjoy this life.  I am nothing if not an observer, and over the course of this three years we have been living on a boat, I can say now with absolute certainty that cruisers who are successful DIY'ers usually enjoy this life more than those who don't.  Why is this?

Well, the main reason, I think, is self-sufficiency.  There is something incredibly powerful about self-reliance.  Remember when you saved your allowance and bought your very own pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards?  Or maybe you saved up and bought your own jalopy in high school? It might have been a beater, but it was your beater that you earned.  Maybe you trained for an Ironman, worked and paid your way through college, remodeled your own kitchen, or survived alone in the woods amongst a pack of wolves for a week... Whatever the case - when you do something on your own - it's way cooler than if someone else does it for you.  There's a lot of power in that.

Second, it's about money.  Most cruisers are on some sort of budget and hiring out workers to do boat work is not only very expensive - but can be risky business as well.  Of course we all do this from time to time - sometimes because of a problem that's over our heads, sometimes in the interest of time, but it's an area where we should tread lightly.  Too many cruisers (us included!) put unlimited trust in "marine professionals" and - because their little name tag reads "expert" - we believe that they will take care of our boats.  This (we have learned) is a mistake.  If humans are fallible, humans who work on boats are infinitely more fallible and there are countless tales from cruisers out there who hired a "professional" to work on something only to completely and utterly eff it up, and at a hefty price no less.  No bueno.  Not to mention the fact that relying on someone else to fix things usually means being on their schedule, which is almost certainly on "island time".  People who fix things themselves usually get moving again a lot quicker than those who have to source, then wait for, someone to fix their issues for them.

Lastly, it's about confidence.  People who can keep their own boats afloat gain aplomb as they build new skills, learn their boat inside and out, and understand the intricacies of each system.  A healthy dose of confidence is a good thing at sea (note: there is a big difference between confidence and overconfidence aka: being a wanker).  But it get's better!  Not only does DIY'ing give you assurance as a former office worker turned: plumber/electrician/rigger/cruiser extraordinaire...etc (note: the first problem you solve will have you so happy you will seriously consider alerting the media), but you will gain more confidence in your boat as well, and this is huge.  Trust in your vessel is a gift and one that grows over time, much like trust in personal relationships.  It doesn't happen overnight, but working on your boat definitely speeds up the process.

What is important to remember, though, is the simple fact that most of us out here are completely self-taught, usually because we do something stupid and then have to un-do it.  We learn by doing out of necessity.  Do NOT be deterred if you are not Mr. or Mrs. Fix it.  No big deal!  Just be willing to learn and be ready to blow one or two head gaskets in the process.  If there is at least one person on board that is a) equipped with an almost inhuman amount of patience and b) the willingness to roll up their shirtsleeves, hit the internet (what did cruisers do without the interwebz?!) and get down and dirty - then you will probably be okay.  Nobody leaves the dock knowing it all - but if you can learn as you go and solve your own problems as they arise - you'll enjoy life on the high seas just a little bit more.


Robert Salnick said...

Not to mention that the "Master Card Wrench" only works when you are close to shore...

Mike M. said...

So true what you say about doing it yourself!

I pride myself on being able to DIY as much as I can. Not only does it save money and give confidence that the job can be done without outsourcing, it also helps you become even that much more familiar with the equipment.

Good stuff!


Anonymous said...

'note: the first problem you solve will have you so happy you will seriously consider alerting the media'

I laughed so hard about this - it's so true!

Steve said...

Great article. And refreshing to hear an American use the word 'wanker' - very rare, and a bit risqué.

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