by CHRISTOPHER GILL
Have you ever had a breakdown while transiting a busy channel, or out in particularly nasty weather? It's no fun. Breakdowns happen, but we can minimize them with a little preventative maintenance. I remember motoring our family dinghy in Port Jefferson Harbor (from the cove behind Mount Misery Point into the bay behind Old Field Beach), crossing the channel to where our boat was anchored. As I approached the channel, I came upon a fellow club member who’d also sailed over for the weekend. The handle on his dinghy's outboard had snapped right off, and the only way he was able to proceed was by rowing. That would normally be fine, except the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry was fast approaching the channel, and the last place anyone wants to be in a 9-foot rubber dinghy is in the path of a 200-foot steel passenger vessel. To this day, I remember his comments (as I took him under tow) about noticing the corrosion on the handle, but thinking it would make it through another weekend.
I certainly understand the mentality of squeezing as many days of ‘worry-free’ boating in as possible between maintenance, and the last thing I want to do when the weather is warm and the days are long is work on the boat. That’s what spring and fall are for, right? Well, the only thing worse than dealing with mid-season maintenance is dealing with a mid-season breakdown! Are you willing to take that chance? Not me.
Many of us forget about the preventative part and only focus on what’s failed during the season, or what may need replacement at season’s end. But maintenance of your rig, sails, engine and systems is integral to the continued enjoyment of your boat. For me, the maintenance of the boat’s battery bank is especially important. I constantly think of how much power I have available for lights, electronics, entertainment, etc., and the more efficient my battery usage, the more time my family and I have to enjoy the boat in between charging.
For years our family boat lacked a proper battery bank, and therefore needed constant charging, even with little draw from the systems. I recently replaced the batteries and added one to our house bank. This has improved life on board dramatically. In order to keep chugging along with maximum voltage to allow for the ever-increasing draw from added electronics, a more powerful stereo and speakers and additional lighting, I also replaced the alternator belt and serviced the alternator. Returning the batteries to full charge and maintaining proper charge levels is vital to the health of the system, and this simple preventative maintenance lets me relax aboard. Most importantly, I am comfortable knowing my bilge pump will go on when needed, even if I am not on board. Check out the article about alternators on page 26. The information about charge capabilities certainly helped me, and I hope you’ll find something new too!
That one bit of preventative maintenance has given me an added sense of security – just think what a full mid-season maintenance regimen will do for my level of enjoyment while cruising this fall. Knowing the sails will furl properly, the mast and rigging are secure and the engine will start will certainly make cruising more enjoyable. They say a little preventative maintenance goes a long way…let’s hope my plans for a fall cruise will allow me to do the same!
See you on the water.