Owning a home is expensive as maintaining a house demands constant effort and expense. On the other hand owning a home is vastly cheaper if you can do many of your own repairs.
This comes to mind as I have recently encountered a couple folks who had no idea how to perform simple tasks like jumping a car or very basic household maintenance. Having grown up with tools in-hand this is a concept I have difficulty with. How do you get by? Do you always call a repairman or a tow truck?
One of these people is the tenant of a friend. Since Tom is no longer on island he sometimes asks me to look in on his old house, now a rental, just a few blocks away. A few weeks ago I got a call that the garage door was stuck open. Sure enough a broken belt on the garage door opener, I texted Tom and he arranged for a repairman a couple days later. In the meantime the lady renting did not understand why it did not work despite a drive belt hanging down in the middle of the garage. She had no idea how to even open or close the door without the garage door opener.
Contrasting this are the repairs I have done over this last weekend… Last week our garage door came to a grinding halt partially open. A loud clattering announced it would no longer move.
The joys of home ownership continue, but at least not our house this time.
Walking alongside the house I hear running water so I stop and listen. The sound is obviously a bad leak somewhere, but the sound is not coming from our house. Rather it is the other side of the hedge, under Bill and Gail’s house!
I push through the oleander hedge and listen again, yup… a leak.
Walking around I find Gail home and tell her about the leak. I crawl under their lanai to find a small muddy swamp and the leak right where the main line comes in from the street. Fortunately Bill is in already Kona, a few phone calls and a visit to Lowes and he is headed home with the right part for the fix.
It takes Bill and I ten minutes to make the fix, cutting the PVC, screwing in a new fitting, gluing the old line into the new fitting right where the PVC line from the street changes to copper for the house. Bill hands me parts while I play in the mud. We spend more time chatting than making the fix, waiting for the PVC glue to cure before applying pressure to test.
No problem with the repair, it was done right from the start. A problem solved and a good start to the day.
There is always something broken. It is just a rule on boats. Usually is is more than one thing, you have a list. Just so long as nothing on the list is truly critical.
Our journey south along the Inside Passage has been documented by adding things to the list, and crossing a few off as they get fixed. Washdown pump not working? Bad crimp in the power connection. The defrost vents on the bridge… Fixed. The anchor light atop the mast? Fixed… That took some work and dismantling half the ceiling. Door latch on a galley cabinet… Fixed.
Still, the list does not seem to get any shorter.
Nothing really critical… Until we noticed the batteries were not charging.
Hmmm… That might be a problem.
I spend a few minutes poking about in the engine room. The battery circuits are fairly simple, everything is just bolted to the forward bulkhead and fairly easy to get at. There is some complication in that we also have a battery charger that runs off AC power, that adds a few more wires, circuit breakers, and other electrical boxes to the setup.
Yeah… The alternator is dead. It is putting out 2.9 volts, not 12 to 13 volts..
Hmmm… That is a problem.
Fortunately we can charge our batteries. We have to run the generator and use the battery charger. We can keep cruising, with no redundancy. Lose the gen-set or the battery charger and we will soon be dead in the water when the batteries give out.
Of course this happens in the middle of a rather large bit of wilderness, a long ways from any substantial port that would have the needed parts.
So we run the gen-set for a few hours each morning, and a few hours each evening charging the batteries. The nights are punctuated by getting up to check the battery voltages, on the panel just outside my cabin door.
Those few days of cruising allow us to get to Shearwater. This little port serves the cruisers coming up from Vancouver and transiting the Inside Passage. Shearwater offers a fairly good marine supply house and a small boatyard.
Of course they do not have an alternator for a Cummins diesel in stock. They can however fly one in the next day from Vancouver. Just $400 for the alternator and another $90 to have it couriered to the airport. The final bill is $515… Ouch. Only somewhat softened by the conversion rate to $US.
We spend the night in a very pretty little cove a few miles from Shearwater. In no hurry to run back to dock I take a couple hours to kayak around a saltwater lagoon playing tag with a family of otters. One nice result of the breakdown.
At 1:30pm the water taxi arrives from Bella-Bella with our alternator aboard. Good, this will take 20 minutes… Not.
A broken 1/2″ ratchet… Run up to the marine supply for a 1/2″ breaker bar. $20 later we can get the serpentine belt off.
We do not have a socket big enough to get the pulley off the old alternator. Run up to the boatyard where the mechanic quickly swaps the pulleys with an air ratchet. We slide him enough loonies for a round of beer.
Done. The batteries are now charging! We head south towards Queen Charlotte and a open ocean crossing with all systems good to go. Everything critical at least.
For decades I have used a Bogen 329 tripod head atop a Manfrotto 3221 tripod as my ‘heavy’ setup. This tripod has been carried for miles on hiking trails, over lava flows, and has sat in the cold winds for many a night under the stars of Mauna Kea. Heavy and solid the tripod can hold a camera motionless for hours in strong winds.
The tripod has securely held cameras, small telescopes, lights, antennas, and stranger things across the years. It has also been repaired more than once, with a leg replaced a decade back.
This old tripod has also been showing its age, the pan and tilt adjustments becoming difficult to use.
My vehicle comes to a rather abrupt stop, the front brakes lock up while pulling onto Paniolo drive, the main road serving the village. I am stuck across the northbound lanes.
Well? This is awkward.
Shut down, restart, nothing unlocks the brakes. I am still stuck in the middle of the road. Another driver gives me a quizzical look and drives around me.
With no other idea I put the vehicle in 4WD low and drag the locked front tires backwards into the side street where I can safely work on the issue, I left skid marks in the road.
In retrospect the failure was not a complete surprise… I knew the front bearings were going, making noise, but the vehicle was still driveable. Over the last week I had checked on prices and asked about with the guys about borrowed tools to do the job. I was thinking I had a few weeks before the issue was truly an issue.
One of the necessary life skills in the islands is the ability to fix a slippah. Yes, I know the mainland calls this minimal footwear sandals or flip-flops, but here they are called slippers or slippahs.
The usual failure is the clip that holds the strap into the sole,a simple plastic item subject to wear as you walk. You could say this is simple bad design, but it really does not fail often and slippahs are pretty cheap to start with.
Plus, it is easy to fix.
My wife can relate a dozen slippah fixing tricks from around the school where she works. Many of the kids wear them and teachers learn all the tricks to fixing them when they inevitably break. From putting a bread clip on the central knob, to using a paper clip to replace the little side clips.
In my case it is one of the plastic clips that has failed. I used some heavy wire a touch more substantial than a paper clip.
Some carpenter years ago thought that two nails would be enough to hold the stairs up. They did, for a decade or two, but they would eventually fail when the stringer began to split around the nails.
The stairs did not collapse, no one was hurt. On the other hand they had sunk about an inch and felt decidedly unstable underfoot. Another weekend project!
Remove the old nails to free everything up. Use the 3.5 ton floor jack to push the stairs back into place. An aluminum plate and wood glue to splice together the split stringer. Quite a few new bolts, not nails, to hold everything together. A bit of 3/8″ threaded rod on the other stringer to secure it to a joist. I think everything is secure, solid underfoot again. I just need a little paint to cover over the new work.