Good Help

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If only their motto was genuine

One of my biggest struggles since I started this voyage is that I’m not a McGyver sort of gal.  I have this persistent daydream where I whip out the manual and work through whatever problem I’m facing until I patiently resolve it and am rewarded with the heady rush of successfully making my own repair.

The reality has been more like opening a can of spaghetti and trying to ascertain which strand is broken and making my thingamajig stop working.  I stare at it in confusion, poke at it with my finger and frown in distaste at the disgusting sauce. I then decide there is *no way* I can figure this out, feel overwhelmed and guilty that I didn’t try harder and beg Rusty to help me find someone to repair it.

I think the larger problem for me is that I tackled this journey with less “know how” than is ideal.  Rusty holds the intensity of interest to do the studying necessary to tackle these projects and he’s not here.  I know it’s important that I learn these things too, but I realize I am the sort who learns by watching and doing…  So I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been aboard, but not enough to keep me from feeling inadequate.

The other problem I’ve been facing is the number of opportunistic, inept and plain con artists there are working in the marine industry.  My experience in Ft Lauderdale and Puerto Rico was devastating.  I paid multiple people for work I found out later (often during during key crisis) was never actually done.

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St Martin was a huge improvement because the guys at Custom Fit Marine work with a great deal of integrity.  It was wonderful to team up with them and have people charge a fair price for top quality work. But even they can miss things, and they did.

I left St Martin with my starboard engine supposedly working, but on arrival to St Croix found that it was still having a huge problem.  It ran very rough and was vibrating horribly.  So I came to get help at St Croix Marina.  They put me in touch with Norman, who is an amazing mechanic.  He immediately determined that it was a fuel supply issue, went through my lines and determine that Dr. Diesel, the independent mechanic (before I had Custom Fit marine look at it) had installed the wrong grade of fuel filter, so it was choking my engine.  I also asked them to check a clamp that had seemed wet and they were to go with me on a test drive.

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Starboard engine humming along like it's supposed to.

They never showed up for the test drive, but the engine sounded so good, I thought they had it all resolved. Meanwhile, I blew up our whole electronic system. I forgot to check how CFM had rewired my plug before I plugged it in, didn’t realize the outlet was higher amperage than we needed…  I plugged in to shore power and shocked the whole system with undiluted power through the wrong wire.  It destroyed my invertor charger.

Rusty said he could get me a new one by Tuesday, but the electrician, Glenn, said he had one he’d bought for himself, new in the box, been sitting around for 2 years because he’d never used it.  He said he’d bought it new for 2k, but he’d let it go for $1500. This was a little more than a new one but it got us out of here quickly, so we agreed.

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He came by Saturday morning and spent all day trying to get a machine (that looked a lot dirtier than new in the box) to work… But it wouldn’t invert.  Unfortunately, it was a holiday weekend so he wanted to talk to tech support on Tuesday.  There were a few things suspicious to me about him, some things he’d said that didn’t add up, so I wasn’t shocked when Ken looked at the invertor and found it had been manufactured in 2008. Glenn was lying about what he was selling me, and trying to cheat me. It was clearly an old used machine, in no way worth $1500, and it didn’t even work.

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Of course now I can’t get the new machine until Thursday, so we tried to get off the dock to avoid very high dockage fees, only to find that our starboard engine sounds terrible again.  I checked the clamp I’d asked Norman to look at and find it’s wet with diesel.  So Ken takes off the hose and sure enough, the clamp is broken.  We replace it and now, we can’t seem to get the engine primed.

We spent several hours trying.  I feel kinda useless that we were unable to master something so basic.  I suspect there may be an additional problem, like a failed washer or the set screw…  But I don’t know and I have that sinking overwhelming sensation of opening that can of spaghetti.

This morning I talked to Judd, the yard manager about Glenn and Norman.  I found his attitude about Glenn pretty lacking.  “I’ve had him service 130 boats and never a complaint until you.”  He said he had no one else to offer for electrical service and said he’d get Norman in for us.

I saw Glenn on my way back to my boat and told him we’d seen the date of manufacturing on the machine. He didn’t deny his perfidity, he merely asked me what I wanted to do.  I told him we were ordering a new one and would install it ourselves… He took my pronouncement with aplumb and made no effort to defend himself when I said he’d lied to me.

It really bothers me that there is so much chicanery going on in this industry.  I had no idea how difficult it would be to find trustworthy help on the boat.  It’s been demoralizing how often people have tried (and often succeeded) to cheat us.  I just wish I was less inept and Rusty was here with me.

And while I am writing this Norman showed up.  I’m happy to note his assistant *had* examined that line, they had cut out a split but he should have replaced the clamp.  They got the engine going in 5 minutes.  I think the only thing they did different was continue to pump fuel while they set the bolt loosened to release air from the system.  But I learned more today… And I was close to resolving the problem myself.  Given time, I may learn these engines yet.

3 thoughts on “Good Help

  1. It is normal. Your experience does not appear to be different from dealing with any contractor – roofing, driveway, windows, electrical. They try to cut corners and take advantage of you especially if they sense the weakness. I could go through countless stories of my own – on the water or on the ground. Need to study the subject before contacting the contractor so that you very specific of what you want and know price range and do not allow them to make decisions. But then if you know the subject why would you want to talk to contractor instead of doing it your self unless work is physically demanding?

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  2. (from Pat, part of your Bahamas to Puerto Rico crew)
    Just read your May blogs. Bummer about all the trouble with systems and people! Checked your location and I see you are in Jamaica.
    I am in Myanmar after sailing from Panama to Australia in March through July on a 53 ft Amel single hull. Now traveling on land for a while. I may return to the real world in about a month. 😉 Say hi to Annika and Fiona for me. Good luck with the rest of the trip!
    Pat

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    • Hi Pat!!! Of course we remember you (with great fondness!) And yes, the boat is in Jamaica and still not finished with repairs. It’s gotten too late to have time to make the crossing from Hawaii to Oregon, so we’re leaving her in Jamaica until the spring. And then… we’ll try again. Having to do complete engine rebuilds on both engines. 😦 Sounds like you’re having quite the adventure? Guess the work took a back seat to sailing some more! Understandable. Let me know if you’d be interested in joining us come spring.

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