A bit of back-story, perhaps?

A bit of back-story, perhaps?

Date: Wednesday, January 16, 2019. 1329Z
Location: 53.1631° N, 9.0760° W — Aughinish
WX: 305° (NW) at 15 knots. Clear skies. Cold. Waves: 1m

So, it’s been a while since I posted a blog entry. In my defence, there’s not much to report. I didn’t get to do much on the boat in the last few months, but 2019 is here now, and once again, work has re-commenced. I will say, however, I’m no fan of blogging for the sake of it. I’d prefer fewer updates with more data than those blogs that have to post daily even if it’s only to tell you what they had for lunch.

But, I digress. I thought I’d describe how I ended up with an Achilles 24 with inboard diesel engine. Especially as there is a small bit of news on that front, but more on that later. Also, my experiences with the horror of TODO lists.

Into The Mystic was built in April, 1973. As best as I can tell, she rolled off the production line on Thursday the 12th. She is hull #179. I bought her in 1999 from her second owner. I had raced on her once or twice and liked the cut of her jib. Achilles 24s are fast boats, more akin to a dinghy than your average keelboat. They come in two configurations; fin keel or bilge keel. Into The Mystic is a fin keel boat. One thing they don’t usually come with, is an inboard engine. The design has an outboard well in the cockpit. Lift a hatch, and drop a long-leg outboard into the well, and hey presto!

I couldn’t afford a thirty foot boat as I was building a house at the time. I didn’t want a trailer-sailer, and I was wary of outboard engines on sailboats. The reason for that wariness is because of the experience of friends who had boats like that. Galway Bay might sound tranquil, and mostly it is. But it is worth remembering that the Aran Islands shelter the bay from the worst of the Atlantic, but it’s never too far away. Small boats with outboard engines on the stern are subject to having the engine lifted clear out of the water, at the top of a wave. Likewise, the engine can get smothered in the trough. Friends have had difficult passages in big Atlantic rollers, as their outboards have failed to gain any solid purchase, alternating between revving wildly while in mid-air, and running the risk of sucking in sea-water, moments later.

Also, I am quite keen on having a proper twelve volt (12v) power source which doesn’t involve bringing AA batteries on board for the navigation lights, or for the cabin lighting. It is my fervent desire to be able to do real work from the boat, not just sit in the cabin, reading books. So, an inboard diesel engine sounded perfect.

When the previous owner wanted to sell up and move to a bigger boat, I was an enthusiastic purchaser. After a winter of odd jobs and anti-foul, she was splashed in April/May of 2000. She had a season of trips to the Aran Islands and some sporadic racing at Galway Bay Sailing Club or GBSC. Over the years, she over-wintered at the club, and swung from a mooring in Renville Bay. She was launched in 2007 for the last time, and at the end of that summer, I brought her back to the house and placed her alongside the garage.

The justification was that it was cheaper than keeping her on the hard at GBSC, but also because I had plans to do a variety of jobs and having the boat by the side of the house offered a much more attractive proposition for maintenance, over the alternative of loading the tools in the car and driving to the club. So went the theory, at least. The advantage of having your boat at a club is that there are other people around for help and advice. But more importantly, if you do load up the tools in the car and drive to the club, you’re more likely to do work, and that’s the unfortunate truth. Having the boat beside the house means that boat work starts much later than it should on a Saturday morning, and is easily distracted by other, more pressing activities. The convenience makes it seem like it’s OK not to do that particular job today, because there’ll be other opportunities.

I also discovered a couple of interesting bugs in human software. Each year, I would diligently make a list of jobs which needed to be performed on the boat. At Christmas, this list would be both comprehensive and exhaustive. As the start of the sailing season approached, the list would get modified, with various items moved to the newly-formed TO DO AFTER LAUNCH list. As we all know, little or no work gets done on the boat, once she is splashed, unless it is essential. And by essential, I mean; if you don’t do job X the boat will sink. So, the first of these little human bugs… Week after week, I’d notice that the dreaded TODO list wasn’t really getting much shorter. To find out why, I started making a second list. On the other side of the page, I would record the jobs which I had done, that day. My naive intent was to debug why jobs were obviously taking much, much longer than I had anticipated. What surprised me is what was actually happening. On any given Saturday morning, I would climb up onto the boat, mug of coffee in hand. I’d open up the washboards, and go below. I’d size up what needed to be done, and then… work on something else entirely.

I discovered this by looking at the WORK DONE list, and realising there was very little overlap with the TODO list. I was busy rewiring the cabin lights because I’d just noticed that the wiring was frayed. Even though that work wasn’t on the TODO list, and if I’d contemplated adding it, my rational brain would have immediately moved it to the TO DO AFTER LAUNCH list. So, an entire Saturday blown on a project which would not help in the slightest in my task of getting the boat ready for the sea.

The other bug was an inability to rationally decide how long it took to complete a certain task, coupled with a propensity for extending the task ad nauseum. This would manifest itself in unreasonable deadlines. I would often make a list of jobs, add “to be completed by” dates to all of them, and then watch as each deadline went whistling by. “Today, I’m going to start by cleaning and painting the bilge, and then I’m going to yada, yada, yada”. Evening emerges, and the bilge is clean but unpainted. The SMART doctrine for tasks is a good idea, especially around boats. Tasks should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

A lot of my tasks seemed to be open-ended. A simple job like “fix the navigation lights” isn’t as helpful as it should be. In reality, what you’re talking about really, is:

  • Remove old nav-light wiring
  • Add new tinned wire for the nav lights
  • Fix nav light mounting fixture
  • Purchase new Port and Starboard navigation lights
  • Install nav lights
  • Connect wire to nav lights
  • Connect wire to switch panel
  • Test the new lights

Maybe I don’t need granularity at that level, but it does make life a lot easier in many ways, because now I can add those to an application like Trello and get the immense satisfaction of moving a job to the DONE column. I can find a half-hour after work some evening to do the first step, which is “remove old nav-light wiring”. Hey presto! One task done. While at work, in a quiet moment, I can remember the Trello list and purchase new nav lights from an online chandlery.

I also find it helpful if I’m waiting for a friend or I’m sitting in a coffee shop, I can open the Trello app on my phone and make quick updates. I often add a card which states “Measure X” because so many times I have found that I want to order a particular part for the boat, but I can’t remember what size I need. Not only does “measure companionway opening” give me a quick task I can pull off one evening after work, it also means that I have the answer to that question saved as a note on the card.

Anyway, there it is. I admire people like Mads Dahke who can devote every single weekend to working on his boat, Athena. Not only does he spend pretty much every weekend, without fail, working on the boat, he will also put in a full day’s work. None of those pesky distractions which pull one away from sanding tasks. I enjoy aspects of sailboat repair and maintenance, but there are also times when they feel quite daunting. Both in terms of the complexity, but also the time required.

But, back to my earlier comment about inboard diesel engines. If you recall, I stated that my complaint about outboards is their habit of being lifted out of the water as they are at the extreme end of the boat, namely the transom. But I also started this post by saying that Achilles 24s use a cockpit well. If you put an outboard engine in a cockpit well, the propellor is in front of the rudder, which is important. More importantly, it is in exactly the same place as an inboard. A lot of the problems I have been dealing with on Into The Mystic are related to the diesel engine. At the end of the season, you can remove an outboard from the boat and get it professionally serviced. It can then while away the winter in a cozy garage. Meanwhile, the inboard diesel is outside, and if the boat isn’t completely bone dry, may be sitting in a puddle of water in the bilge. Yes, outboards are pesky beasts in their own right. You need to keep petrol on board, which isn’t the safest of substances, unlike relatively safe diesel. They are prone to cutting out, at the worst possible time. Diesels tend to run forever, if they start at all. Also, the inboard gives you the option of a deep-cycle house battery, and a permanent 12 volt supply. Some outboards do have proper alternators and can provide a charging plug. But nowadays, one or more solar panels can meet most of our onboard power requirements.

For a boat under 25 feet, I now think that an inboard diesel engine is a mistake. I would favour a long-leg outboard mounted in a cockpit well so that the propellor was forward of the rudder. Just the fact that it can be removed from the boat is a huge benefit. However, for bigger boats, the power equations just don’t work out. Most bigger boats (in the 30+ feet range) have diesel engines which put out anywhere from 30-50 horsepower on up. It’s not that it is hard to find an outboard with that output, it’s just that they’re big and bulky and the portability gains fade away. A diesel has its uses. Meanwhile, I’m off to go work on the engine, again. That and paint the bilge. Won’t be long…

Dermot Tynan's Picture

About Dermot Tynan

Part-time sailor, full-time procrastinator. Software Engineer, Writer, Film-maker. Interested in all things cloud, sailing, autonomous systems and robotic sailboats.

Galway, Ireland http://intothemystic.eu