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On Living Aboard

Oil changes for Patty O’s Cummins 4TBA-250 main engines are determined by lab testing rather than by hours thereon. We’re on a schedule that was set up based on how much our engines are used and in what manner. In summer, Patty O’ is underway most weekends and some nights and I keep a detailed log which includes hours run. The testing lab we subscribe to sends an email when it’s time to send in a sample. After testing, the company emails me a PDF (Portable Document File) that I download and print, saving it in a separate log folder. On this report a recommended oil and or filter change may be included. That was the case this time, oil and filters so on a cool Monday morning, I got set up to do the deed.

On each of Patty O’s engines, I’d installed, when they were new and before they were dropped into the boat, a ninety-degree street elbow in place of the drain plugs in each base pan, and attached to that a ball valve. To the ball valve is a length of oil resistant hose, capped at the end. The handle of the ball valve is secured in the closed position with a nylon zip tie to a bracket especially fabricated for that purpose. This is done to prevent the valve from opening due to vibration or any other means until it becomes necessary to drain the oil.

To change the oil, the plug is removed from the hose, which is clamped to the intake of a utility pump, the output secured in a container suitable for holding the 10 quarts of old oil. Setting this up is a breeze because I have performed the operation many times before.

I have to lay on my belly and reach under the engine, holding a pair of side cutters in one hand to clip the zip tie and the other to hold on to it to it to keep it from falling into the bilge. I usually do this after everything else is set up, but today my mind was on the letter I had received that morning from the IRS and for some reason, decided to clip the tie right after removing the plug in the hose. Of course, the fact that I’d have to repeat the process to open the valve was lost on me. This is an excellent example of what the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” means.

Reaching under the starboard engine, and clipping the tie went well, but then I dropped the side cutters into the bilge. The words out of my mouth were old ones. Wiggling back out from under the engine, and placing the zip tie in the trash bucket, I wiggled back under and stuck my hand down into the bilge in an attempt to retrieve the cutters. Rooting around thusly, I somehow managed to knock the handle of the ball valve open. In the usual way this operation is performed it would have been no problem; the other end of the hose would be secure to the pump inlet. Not this time. The unplugged hose was laying on the deck and I quickly felt warm oil soaking my pant leg. Quickly closing the valve, I still heard oil trickling into the bilge. Patty O’, being a wooden boat does have some seepage into the bilge, so there was already some water there, nothing the automatic bilge pump couldn’t handle with ease. I was running out of my old word vocabulary when I heard the bilge pump come on. Jumping up, I whacked my head on the exhaust manifold and saw stars for a moment. Giving my head a shake, I got to the switchboard on the forward bulkhead and shut down the bilge pump. Rushing up to the deck and peering over the side, I saw the colorful sheen of oil spreading on top of the water right around the bilge pump outlet. Running below, I grabbed a bath towel from the head. Back on deck and leaning over the side, I managed to transfer most of the oil to the towel before it got truly out of hand. I don’t know which would be worse, the ire of the Coast Guard for “Causing a film, or discoloring of the surface of the water…” in total disregard of the sign they make you “Affix in a conspicuous place in each machinery space.” or the evil eye of the Blonde, my wife, for ruining one of her good bath towels. Of course, I could have opted to use a spray of an ‘unnamed’ dishwashing detergent which, while not doing anything to clean the oil, will in fact render the sheen invisible. However, I could not in good conscious do that. The water is, after all, where we live and I like to think we are doing our share and more to help keep it clean.

Of course, all thoughts of completing the oil change were gone and I went into clean up mode. The towel went into a large bucket of warm soapy water to hopefully rid it of oil. Then, it was a couple of aspirin to poke back at the headache I now had to go along with the knot on my head. Soap and water and a hard bristle brush took care of the deck in the engine room. Next, it was crawling back under the engine to where the engine room bilge pump connects to the outgoing sea chest which connects to only one thru hull fitting. This keeps the thru hull fittings to one, instead of the four it would otherwise be needed to remove excess water from the boat.

Closing this valve and removing the hose allowed me to pump the nasty oil contaminated bilge water into a five-gallon bucket. Next, a quart of liquid dishwashing detergent was dumped into the bilge. (not the afore mentioned ‘nameless’ brand) Then, the bilge was flooded with fresh water from the dock hose. Lifting the deck boards, I was able, with a long handled brush, to scrub just about everywhere in the engine compartment. This process was performed three times and at the end, the bilge gleamed like it did the day before the engines were installed some years ago.

Based on the results of the day’s past efforts and not wanting to attempt to top the mornings adventure, I wisely decided to postpone the rest of the operation ‘til tomorrow. A cardboard sign affixed to the lower console informed anyone who might be tempted to start the starboard engine that it contained no oil.

After a shower and cleaning the towel the best I could (It was obvious that it was ruined, I made a sandwich and reread the letter from the IRS.

The letter informed me in the rather sterile language favored by government CPA’s, that I owed some $1200 on my 2012 tax return. Quickly looking in the little file cabinet disguised as an end table in the salon, I found the file for 2012. It then took about ten minutes to see the problem.

I have always done our taxes. It’s pretty easy; we don’t have any complicated financial investments, and with the Blonde being the only one with a steady income, it’s a relatively simple job. I do some consulting from time to time and the pay is by check followed by a form at years’ end that is supposed to be filed with my taxes. Seems that I missed reporting two of them, and the bill was for the back tax along with a penalty. Shaking my head wondering how I could have missed that, I fired up the laptop, went to the IRS site online, and discovered that it would be a simple matter to pay by credit card, which I did. No worries that a mailed check might be waylaid. Of course, there’s a fee for that. There are days, and then there are days.

Not wanting to give the old saying that bad things happen in threes a chance, I spent the rest of the day reading and surfing the internet.

About four, I called the Blonde at work on her cell phone and left a message telling her that a swordfish steak was on my mind and maybe a glass of wine at one of her favorite seafood spots. “Wait ‘till you hear about my day!” I said.

The Blonde took everything well, with the exception of the towel, but after thinking it over, realized that that had been my best choice. I did, however, have to agree to a whole new bathroom towel set. As Far as the taxes go, there is a good chance that I’ll be looking for the services of a CPA this coming tax season!

The following morning, the bilge was given another scrub, everything reassembled and the oil in both main engines as well as the generator, successfully changed. No hiccups.

One of the high points of summer for us is the Wooden Boat show held at Mystic Seaport, in Mystic Connecticut. It’s a three-day affair but we manage to see what we want in one long day. We visit with people we haven’t seen since last year’s event and meet new ones. This year, there were more than 100 wooden boats of all kinds on display. We’re often asked why we don’t exhibit Patty O’ in the show, or at least in the parade down the river. Our answer is always the same: Patty O’ is our home and is not truly a restoration. Many things have changed since we bought her and she is about as far from being a stock Huckins Sedan Cruiser built in 1954 as she could be. She has been repowered, her whole interior gutted and rebuilt. Very little remains of her as she was when new except her hull and superstructure. She was in exceptional condition when we bought her, having had only two previous owners before us. Bottom line, she is our home and not a show piece.

A couple of family picnics rounded out the mid summer’s social obligations. These things mostly tend to be a drag for us. Of course, the question is why bother. I think it’s because, we, me anyway, wants to show the ones on both sides who shake their heads and think we’re bereft of our senses for choosing this lifestyle and wonder how we are still happy and content after ten years of living this way. I’ve stopped trying to explain our choices. Just like the Blonde’s answer when asked about it: “It works for us.”


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