Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dangers in Paradise

My parents are just wrapping up their two-week holiday with us here in the San Blas (boo). We have had a wonderful time eating lobster, reading, buying molas, reading, swimming and reading.

But even here amongst the palm trees and gentle waves, dangers abound. Here is a list of injuries sustained aboard Papillon during their visit. (Names are withheld to protect the clumsy. Although you may be surprised which injury applies to whom.)

-Slice along shin. (Occurred while climbing over a fabric-covered lifeline. How one generates a cut, not a cloth-burn from such an activity remains a mystery.)
-Bruised/strained thumb. (Injury extended from top to base of thumb. Sustained by slipping off the motor while climbing into the dinghy.)
-Toe stubs. (Many and as expected)
-Metal shavings in feet. (Remnants of work on the boom, despite weeks of shop-vac-ing. Bare feet make the best vacuum cleaners.)
-Knot on top of head. (Sustained jumping off the companionway and hitting head on ceiling.)
-Portugese Man-o'-war sting. (Luckily, this nasty jellyfish was only the size of my top thumb joint, or we would have been in trouble. Ammonia helped the sting, and the welt was gone in a few days.)
-Pin in finger. (Sewing-related injury. Lots of blood.)
-Bruised elbow. (Tripped over shop-vac.)
-Sunburns. (As expected. Many and varied.)
-Inner thigh bruise. (Skin caught in Ascender while going up the mast. Could have been ugly, but the skin was quickly pulled out by a helpful, spouse, and not too much was pinched.)
-Thumb flattening. (3 lb sledgehammer to the thumb. Twice.)
-Forearm bruise. (A winch flew apart, mildly injuring the person turning the winch and smashing a portlight. The captain may have been heard to mutter he'd rather the arm had broken.)
-Leg bruise. (Bumped into a rounded bench.)
-Bite. (Something akin to a deerfly. Large painful welt on back of the knee.)
-Forehead bruise. (Sustained by not properly securing the fridge lid, then leaning inside for something. Smack - down came the lid.)

So beware, friends. We may not be slipping on the ice, but even here, danger lurks at every turn! Also, delicious fish and sandy beaches.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Have You Been Missing?

Here we are, on another fine day in the San Blas islands. My parents have arrived, and we are spending quality time doing what our family always does on vacation: reading. Oh, sure, we also go swimming and eat too much, but it isn't long before two-thirds of us have a book in hand and are flaked out in the hammock or on deck. Just the way a holiday should be.

And, while we are having this relaxing time away from fixing toilets and sewing sail covers, what am I not writing about?

Amy's Rejected Blog Topics

1. We Are Slow. But you've figured that out already, haven't you? For example, the other day it took us all afternoon to fill the water tanks. That was the only thing we accomplished that day - figuring out where to get drinking water, sailing there, talking to the guys on the dock, waiting for the boat ahead of us to finish, moving the boat, filling, touring the little island, deciding it was too late to move on and putting down the anchor again. Everything on a boat takes a long, long time.

2. Concealed Injuries. Last year I broke my finger, and I never heard the end of it. Stylish and her two sets of stitches also generated a lot of mail. So when, months ago, Stylish gotten bitten by a dog, I didn't say anything. She is FINE! The wound is totally healed, and the tiny scar has been given the Grandparent Seal Of Approval. Ditto when, mid-scuffle, Indy hit Stylish on the head with a rubber mallet and Stylish kicked Indy in the face. I have photos of the two of them lying on the bunks in the salon, each with a glum expression and a bag of ice. You see? You're worried, now. These are stories that cause needless stress.

3. Hey, Something Broke! Well, you actually get subjected to this story a lot. But you would be astonished at the volume of repairs and adjustments you are not privy to. So very many smelly trips into the bilge. But I try to keep to the more interesting stories.

4. And Then We Went Here, And Then We Went There... This is not a travelogue. I'll only talk about where we are and what we're doing if I have a good reason.

And that's what you haven't been missing. Since this is my vacation, too, I'm going back to my book.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

How to Fix A Plug In Twenty Easy Steps

As you may remember from days gone by, technology doesn’t really like sailing.  Our sewing machine, an industrial Bernina my mom helped pick out, was an early victim of our difficult conditions.  We eventually bought a new machine designed for marine use, and puzzled over what to do with the Bernina.  We hit on the clever plan of fixing it and giving it to our Colombian friends.  More locker space for us, a sewing machine for them.  Perfect.

We (read: I) didn’t get around to going to the sewing machine shop.  It was far away, I wasn’t really sure where it was, I had no idea how to explain a broken presser foot in Spanish... I had many excuses.  We had time.  But suddenly our departure came over the horizon and, excuses or not, the thing had to be fixed.  Crumbs.  So we enlisted the help of the local expat technology connection.  Two weeks, one car accident (his) and a lot of phone calls (read: hails on the VHF radio), we still didn’t have the machine back.  So I trooped over to his workshop, reclaimed the machine and prevailed on the man to find a colleague who could turn the machine around quickly.  After all, it was only the presser foot that was broken... it should be easy to fix, right?  In this manner, last Sunday I made my way across town to hand over the Bernina to el mago de la tecnolog√≠a.

There are days when I am heartily sorry that I don’t have a spy camera, and Sunday was one of them.

El Mago greeted me kindly when I arrived.  I picked my way down a narrow hallway littered with electronic detritus.  Halfway along, I handed the machine to El Mago over a four-foot-high stack of boxes, shimmied around them myself and followed him into the eight-by-twelve work area.  Space had been carved out in front of the desk for two lawn chairs, but the rest of the room was filled with discarded electronics.  Fans, televisions, motherboards; all were stacked higgledy-piggeldy along the shelves and the floor.  An ancient set of huge DVD players were turned on their ends and shelved like books along the shelf by the ceiling.

El Mago gestured to the chair closest to the doorway.  I had expected to drop off the machine and return the next day, but if he was willing to do it while I waited, then I was waiting.  I sat down carefully, trying not to topple a forlorn-looking fax machine crouched directly behind me.  By my knees was an open cubby filled to overflowing with wire coils, plugs, cords and unidentifiable metal bits and bobs.  I settled in to watch the magic unfold.

Over the next three hours, I had a lesson in small appliance repair.  Rather, I had a in lesson in How to Fix Whatever Comes Your Way.  Back home, you would take your broken Bernina to your local Bernina repair shop where a Bernina master technician who studied the sewing repair arts for twenty years deep in the mountains of Switzerland would charge you the Earth to use genuine Bernina parts to fix your machine.  And somehow we think that is normal and right, and deny we have wandered over the city limits into Crazyville.  Here, instead, I had El Mago, a man clearly possessed of many years of experience with technology of all sorts.  How many Bernina hours he’d racked up I didn’t know or care.  He was reassuring somehow, like a Spanish Mr Rogers.  Maybe not as tidy, but I could see my machine was in good hands.

El Mago settled back into his chair.  He searched about his desk until he located a multimeter.  There followed a long period during which each hole and prong in the pigtailed cord was tested against each other hole and prong.  Sometimes there were happy noises, sometimes not.  El Mago thought.  He decided that he wasn’t happy with the part of the plug that connected to the presser foot.

Now.  I don’t know if you have ever tried to open up a plug.  What am I saying?  Of course I know: you haven’t.  Unless you once were an eleven-year-old with a do-it-yourself electronics kit, it has never even occurred to you that one can open a plug.  My friends, I am here to confirm it is so.

How To Repair A Plug
As witnessed by Papillon Crew
  1.  Examine the seam of the plug very carefully.
  2. Gently apply a hacksaw blade to said seam.
  3. Saw energetically.
  4. Repeat with opposite seam.
  5. Crack the seam.  Listen to the distant death throes of the Bernina Repair Guild.
  6. Examine the innards.
  7. Jam the bare ends of the cord connected to your soldering iron to a powerbar.
  8. Plug random item over the bare wires to hold them in place.
  9. Cut a wire in the plug.
  10. Strip the plug wire with an 8” machete (handle missing).
  11. Gently pin the plug under the partially-disassembled 40” flat screen TV that dominates your desk.
  12. Re-solder aforementioned wire.
  13. Test the plug with your multimeter and pronounce yourself satisfied.
  14. Send your son out for local crazy glue.
  15. Snap the plug back together.
  16. Gob local crazy glue into the seam.
  17. Apply white powdered catalyst to the local crazy glue.
  18. Allow to dry.
  19. Use a black Sharpie to cover up the hideous white scar now encircling your plug.
  20. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Et, voil√†!  C’est magnifique!

The plug now beeped at the appropriate times, but the presser foot still didn’t work.  Time to get to the source.  El Mago opened up the foot itself.  There followed a saga of soldering, motherboard repair and switch fiddling that would be ripe fodder for an epic poem.  I especially enjoyed the use of the soldering iron to melt off extraneous bits of an extra part El Mago had to cram into the presser foot to make it work.

Work progressed, and I continued to witness events that would give any workplace safety inspector a myocardial infarction.  More than once I was glad to have the chair nearest the door while crackling sparks flew beside me.  As the afternoon wore on, El Mago had a number of visitors.  A few stopped dead when they saw me and walked away.  Most stayed and chatted for a few minutes.  His son, a man in his twenties wearing a white rosary and a black shirt stating,  “The Demon Deacons Are Battleproof,” sat outside the front door on the concrete pad, stripping a flatscreen TV.  A junkie came by, his eyes rolling in different directions, hair at full attention, selling metal things.  El Mago bought a motherboard for a dollar.  We had a dicey moment when El Mago needed something from a shelf on the side wall, and had to climb over a few piles of TVs to reach it, but I caught the falling stack before any harm was done.  The time passed quickly.

Three hours after my arrival, the machine was fixed.  I thanked El Mago in my best Spanish for repairing the machine so quickly, and was on my way.  Tell me I would have had that interesting an afternoon in a shop with floor space and a soldering iron with an actual plug.

The sewing machine is now in the hands of our friends, and we are almost ready to set sail.  Didn’t I say that last time?  Now we are really, really almost ready.  Swimmable waters, here we come!