Taking boat repair to new heights

You know the phrase “cruising is nothing more than boat repair in exotic places”?   Well, to torture that phrase a bit, yesterday it was like “cruising aboard Pandora is taking boat repair to new heights”.

On my run south from CT in November the mast top tri-color stopped working, along with other miscellaneous items aboard Pandora.    As the say, “it’s always something” so I purchased a new Signal Mate masthead unit  over the holidays.  It’s a pretty elegant unit sold as water tight.   Ha!   Water tight?  When I took the old unit down it had enough water in it to actually slosh around.   Not good.

Anyway, I was lucky to have the problem crop up before I headed home from Antigua as a few days ago the integrated anchor light in the unit failed as well and as we nearly always anchor out, having a functioning mast top anchor light is critical.

I have been meaning to swap out the old unit for the last month but have continually put it off because of rough anchorages or heavy winds.  However, once the anchor light went I had to deal with it.

The problem is that the winds have been really piping up lately and the idea of being at the top of a 65′ mast in heavy winds, trying to deal with tiny screws, butt connectors and heat shrink tubing, all at the top of a mast, exposed to winds, left me a little, well, not happy.  And, add to that, the fact that I don’t like heights.

Additionally,  I had no idea of how I was going to use a torch to shrink wrap the connection after I finished the job in all that wind.

Have you ever watched a space walk and marveled at how slowly and deliberately the astronauts do their jobs, planning, practicing and planning again to be sure that they have the right tools, steps and process worked out?

No, working on Pandora’s mast top isn’t a spacewalk but it isn’t a “walk in the park” either.  By the time you get up to the top of the mast you don’t want to have to head back down because of a missing screwdriver.  And, to drop a wrench from that height would surely mean a lost tool or worse, a broken hatch.

So, every tool had to be attached to my bosun’s chair by a rope lanyard and placed in the proper pocket to allow me to do the job without tangling the various lines attached to each tool.

Brenda has pulled me up the mast many times over the years and I completely trust her.  We had worked out the process in great detail as there was no way that I could hear her response to any of my questions.

Here I am all (snug?) at the top of Pandora’s mast.  Note the extension cord for the heat gun bowing out in the wind.  The steps…

  1. prepare new masthead unit
  2. pre-attach butt connectors and position shrink wrap tube
  3. arrange 100′ of extension cord to power heat shrinker
  4. head up the mast
  5. collect self and stop shaking from the force of the wind
  6. Tip head back to get brim of hat out of face due to strong wind
  7. try not to look down!
  8. strip wires on mast cable
  9. Caulk out of pocket and remove cap
  10. apply caulk under new unit
  11. cap back on caulk tube and back in pocket
  12. try to fasten with two screws (of course, the didn’t quite line up)  try that with a screw driver attached to a lanyard where the line wraps around and around as screw is driven
  13.  try to line up second screw
  14. again
  15. and again
  16. look at hands now covered with white caulk
  17. wipe caulk off on shirt
  18. tighten screws, finally
  19. “dry test” connections
  20. Brenda turns on mast unit (it worked!)
  21. Brenda turns off unit.  Thumbs up from Brenda to confirm power off
  22. Crimp connector positioned (almost dropped crimper as knot came untied)
  23. re-tie crimper with one free hand and teeth.  Whew!
  24. crimp all three butt connectors
  25. slip shrink tube over connectors
  26. Brenda turns on inverter to power heat gun
  27. use electric heat gun to shrink covering on wire
  28. Brenda turns off inverter so I won’t set the bosun’s chair in fire by accident
  29.  Brenda begins to lower me to deck.
  30. I wave “stop, stop!”  lanyards holding tools are now tangled in backstay and threaten to pull all tools out of the pockets on bosun’s chair.
  31. Ok, all set.  Brenda lowers me to deck.
  32. I kiss deck…

Too much detail you say?  Imagine doing this in a vacuum and with no gravity?   Don’t I look comfy up there?Finally, after about 45 minutes.   Done!  Now, wasn’t that easy?

Imagine doing that in deep space in zero gravity.   It was plenty hard with so many deliberate steps but it was surely easier for me than the folks on the space station.

Anyway, cruising is surely all about fixing boats in exotic places and after yesterday I’ll surely do what I can to be sure that I do the “fixin” when the wind is calm.  Well, at least when I can.

Just to be clear, it’s not always hard.   Here’s me and Brenda enjoying the Superbowl last weekend.   And, I don’t even like football.

Speaking of fun times, we’ll be heading home to the US for a two week visit in about a week.   Can’t wait to see our family and our granddaughter Tori.  She’s getting big.  One more thing…

Tori is “expecting” to be the sister of twins in August.   (note the wording on her shirt)  Good luck to her parents Rob and Kandice.   Can you say “where’s my nanny?”

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