Chance Encounters

Michael Robertson takes a humorous look at the different approaches to boat projects by some well-known cruisers.

April 2, 2013

Del Viento- Oregon

On a trip this week to the Oregon coast, we found this challenging harbor entrance in Depoe Bay. Despite the narrow passage and strong tidal currents, there are 50-foot fishing boats inside the small harbor. Michael Robertson

I stepped off Del Viento, headed for the trash cans at the end of the dock, a bag in-hand filled with the greasy detritus of my efforts down below.

“Looks like you’re doing a bit of boat work.”

The British lilt from behind belonged to our new neighbor aboard Nada. I turned to greet him, “Morning Nigel. Yeah, I’m struggling with a couple projects today. On the engine, I can’t for the life of me loosen a couple bolts attaching the oil lines to the oil cooler. And up forward, there are gremlins in the wiring causing a reading light to flicker.”


“I can probably help you solve both those problems,” Nigel offered.

“Oh, I couldn’t…”

“I don’t mind. I’ve got a few minutes and can probably steer you in the right direction; I know my way around motors and electrics.”


Five minutes later, down below, Nigel shook his head. “All of these traditional hardwired circuits…” he closed his eyes and exhaled before continuing, “You should tear out all of your wiring and start over with a distributed power system, it’s the only way to go—everything should be powered via nodes these days.”


“Of course. After your batteries, nothing is more important then wiring. What kind of batteries do you have anyway?”


“Six-volt AGMs, I installed them last year.”

“Oh, no—that technology is 10 years old,” he cringed. “You need a bank of lithium-manganese-ion-kryptonite cells, with Kevlar insulators and fuses—make sure everything is fused.”

I nodded. “Thanks for the info Nigel, any thoughts on the motor? I just need a way to loosen…”


He was already turned around, staring at my silver Yanmar. “Well, you could spray penetrating oil on the offending bolt heads, tap them with a hammer, and then wait overnight before turning your fists into bloody pulps trying to remove them. You’ll curse like a sailor, get nowhere, and probably break something else.” His head hung low and his voice got softer. “I don’t recommend it.”

I took the bait, “What do you recommend?”

He brightened, “Your future is a hybrid pod-drive system, why wait? Ditch the Yanmar and get a bio-fuel diesel genset supplying 48 volts to an all-electric engine powering a pod drive that swivels 360 degrees—with a joy-stick control at the helm.” He paused, “That’s the ticket.”

Before Nigel left, he invited us to tea aboard his Nada the next day. “We’ll kick around some more ideas!”

I was just getting back to it when there was a knock on the hull. I stuck my head out of the companionway, “Oh, hey Fatty! How are things?”

“Couldn’t be better! Do you guys want to drop by later and see our new ketch?”

“We’d love to.” I said. “You’re sure in a good mood.”

“Of course I am! I’m mainlining the most powerful drug in the world man, Freedom! Carolyn and I have an unlimited supply. And I can never be busted because the dirt dwellers don’t even know this drug exists.” Fatty paused, “But you seem kind of down, what’s going on?”

“Just some boat trouble: engine, wiring, typical stuff.”

Fatty scratched his beard, “You know, I saw a whole heap of wiring in the marina dumpsters up in the parking lot. I left it, but pulled out a couple halyards with thousands of miles left on ‘em. I’ll tell ya, if it wasn’t for the wealthy sailors among us, we’d be in a heap of trouble!”

I nodded, “Thanks. Any ideas for loosening a couple stuck bolts on my engine?”

“That’s easy: a party. Get enough folks aboard and start dropping hints, doubting anyone will have the strength or smarts to loosen your bolts. Invariably, several folks will take the bait—you only need one who proves stronger or smarter than you.”

“Fatty!” came the call down the dock.

“Oh, gotta run, there’s an Italian bombshell looking for me. I love that woman!”

When Fatty left, I looked up at the clock. My day was slipping by and nothing was getting done. I decided a break was in order and walked up to the marina office to see where I could dump used motor oil. On a bench out front, a woman sat hunched over a laptop, working intently on a complicated-looking spreadsheet on her display.


I stopped, “Oh, hi Beth, I didn’t recognize you, your head was down. How’s Evans?”

“He’s good, how’s Windy?”

“She’s fine, she took the girls out to the park so I could get some work done, but I’m not making much headway.”

“What kind of work?”

For the third time today, I explained the two issues I was focused on.

“Hmmm, good luck with that. Hey, let me ask you a question: as a cruiser, would you classify yourself Simplicity, Moderation, or High-Life?”

“Well, I guess I’m in between simple and moderate. Why?”

“Just a project I’m working on. Let me know how it turns out, will you please?”

“Sure, take care Beth.”

The office was warm and smelled like fresh coffee. I greeted the woman behind the desk, “Do you have a place I can dump used motor oil?”
She pointed to a shack across the parking lot and I turned to head out, thanking her.

Before I grabbed the door, somebody outside pulled it open for me, “After you!”

“Hey, Lin and Larry! When did you guys get in?”

“We just dropped the hook this morning, we were hove-to outside the harbor in that storm all night.” Lin said.

“Yeah, glad I wasn’t out there—but I couldn’t have been, boat problems.”

“What kind of problems?” Larry asked.

I told them what was hanging me up.

“Paraffin and mahogany are what you need.” Larry said.


“What he means,” Lin explained, “is forget electric lighting. Do you really need the bother? A pair of nice oil lamps casts a much prettier light and they only need a bit of paraffin oil to operate reliably.”

“Exactly!” Larry beamed, “And as for your stuck bolts, a long piece of solid mahogany will do the trick.”

“What, for leverage?” I asked.

“No! You’re gonna carve it into a handsome sculling oar, that’s all you should ever need. You said it’s a sailboat, right? What do you need an iron jenny for? Haven’t you got a Dacron one? Go simple, you’d be out there now!”

“Well, yeah, I know what you’re saying…”

“Good, good. If you need planers or any other woodworking tools, I have them aboard, just swing by.”

“Thanks Larry, thanks Lin, see you later.”

I walked slowly back to Del Viento, two ideas taking shape in my head. First, that the cruising community is one of the truest forms of community out there, with another cruiser always ready to help. Second, that we’re all out here alone, bound to the boats and systems we have and responsible for ourselves. I picked up my wrenches and multimeter, refreshed and ready to tackle my problems anew.

Happy April Fool’s Day!


I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


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