How Many Sailors Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

Teresa Carey Words 17 Comments

How many sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Two.

One to unscrew the bulb and replace it with a new one, and another to hoist the first sailor up the mast.

In the boatswains chair.

In the boatswain’s chair.

Its maintenance day about Daphne and there are a few important projects to do before I get underway again. I tied a bowline on the halyard, connected it to the boatswain’s chair and climbed in. Benji came over to help me by hoisting me to the top of the mast. Daphne is in very good shape, but there were upgrades and additions I made before voyaging, and of course there is a lot of maintenance along the way. Everywhere I go, people assume that Benji does most of the work on Daphne.

“So, Benji helps you with your boat,” they ask?

“We help each other,” I reply.

And we do, as much as possible. But at the very least, for every project aboard Daphne, I need to be the primary technician. Of course I ask for help, of course I look online or in books. Who doesn’t? I have two choices: either learn to care for Daphne myself, or hire someone.

My engine has been giving me trouble recently and with Calder’s “Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual” by my side, I dove in with a wrench in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. After tinkering for over a month I decided it was time to call the mechanic.

Benji rowed his dinghy ashore and met Jay the mechanic in the morning. He happily climbed into the small rowboat and chatted away during the long row back to the boats. When they arrive, I tied the dinghy to Daphne’s stern cleat and welcomed them aboard. Jay climbed in and started the engine. After a few moments of sputtering and knocking, she began purring like Dory on a hot sunny day. “See,” he said, “She knew I was coming and it scared her straight again.”

“But….” I started.

“There isn’t anything wrong with your engine,” he said. I tried to explain the symptoms over the last month; the white smoke, knocking sound, fuel in the water, low RPMs. I explained what I knew about the injectors, the compression, etc. But he insisted that there was no problem at all. It wasn’t long before I realized it never mattered what I was saying. He always turned to Ben. He explained to Ben how the injectors worked, what the sounds were, and how to adjust the RPMs. And when I called him the next day because the engine wouldn’t start, he said, “Is Ben there? I can talk him through something to test.”

“No, Ben isn’t here, but I’m sure you can talk me through it.”

“Call Ben over and when he is there, then call me back.”

I certainly can’t deny that Ben is much more confident with tools than I am. But I still didn’t call that mechanic back. I called a different mechanic instead. This mechanic was happy to listen to me explain the symptoms and the tests that I had already done. This mechanic hasn’t yet met Ben.

Squeezing into the engine room!

Squeezing into the engine room!

Comments 17

  1. Barb

    Good call on finding a different mechanic! You have proven that you can learn what it takes to keep your boat moving. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

  2. Deb

    Good for you! Stand your ground and find a mechanic that will respectfully deal with you. btw, if you don’t already have it you might want to pick up a copy of “How Boat Things Work” by Charlie Wing. It has a very plain English explanation of most boat systems and I find it incredibly easy to understand and use.

    I’ve enjoyed your posts. Thanks for sharing your journey.


  3. Rick Patton

    Teresa, I understand what you went thru with that mech. My wife was an asst manager at a sherwin williams store and contractors would always walk right past Annette and ask the male manager questions. Biff, ya thats his name, would always tell them ask Annette she knows more about paint then anyone here. Life shows some people will never change and we deal with it and move on.. You done did good.


  4. Kyle

    I’ve never set foot on a sail boat, but I love being on the water (I’m a diver) and my grandpa had his captain’s license which I’ve always thought was cool. What’s a good starter book for me to read to, shall I say, get my feet wet?

  5. Merry

    Hey Teresa! Wow! That’s the exact same book (Calder’s) that my dockmate handed me when I moved onboard and told him I wanted to learn it all! I’m reading it now, cover to cover, but haven’t gotten far yet.

    I knew my dockmate was going to be a great friend when he handed me the book and said, “if you read this, you’ll know more about boats than most anyone.” He shrugged nonchalantly like it was inevitable that I could do anything I wanted to do. We need more men like this around! It feels great to be respected.

    He also explains anything to me that I ask him, and the message there is, “I trust you to understand this concept. It isn’t a waste of time to explain it to your girl brain.” And the message I also take is that he’s a real man–confident in his own self enough to not feel threatened that I’m encroaching on man-territory. I have a feeling that’s how Benji is too, from what you say about him. These guys are great, aren’t they? The joke is on the first mechanic I suppose. His treatment of girls will not make him popular with girls. Or at least not with fabulous ones such as ourselves! hee

  6. SailingSimplicity

    Kyle, A starter book? Hmmm. That depends. Do you want a true story of men against the sea? Or do you want a ‘how to sail’ book?

    I never read sea stories until I was older. I only learned of them via word of mouth. I like it that way. Salty sailors passing on tales of old to the unseasoned sailors like myself. Since then I’ve read a few. I started with “Maiden Voyage” which is a great story. When I purchased my boat I was reading “Adrift” and decided then that I wouldn’t read any more stories of disasters at sea….so its been a while since I’ve read a good sea book.

    Try ‘Wanderer’ by Hayden or ‘Sailing Alone Around the World’ by Slocum or “Men against the sea” by Nordhoff. Maybe in a few years will be reading one my me!!!!

    Merry, Yes…’fabulous women like ourselves’…I like that. Benji gave me the Calder book when I first got my boat. It was a boatwarming gift. Very boring to read cover to cover (good for you!) but a lot of great info in there!

    1. Damian Visser


      Speaking from personal experience (i.e. it might not work for you), a book called ‘Vagabond des mers du Sud’ by Bernard Moitessier (He wrote in French, but translations are available – I think ‘Sailing to the Southern reefs’ is the title of the translation, although it isn’t the best translation of the title, if you see what i mean) was a huge influence on me. The author might be a bit misogynistic, but if you give him some slack for being male and French it might be worth a read.

  7. Henning

    You go girl. Like you haven’t already proved yourself capable of doing anything a man can.

    by the way, thanks for the heads up about the calder book. I have been using compton and am now anxious to see how the two compare.

    s/v Flying Free

  8. Dan

    How is the engine problem going? Better, I hope. When you mentioned fuel in the water, it reminded me of the head gasket problem on our Yanmar 3GM30F. There was a black, oily layer floating on the water in the fresh water reservoir. The engine had about 1000 hrs on it–almost new! I was worried that there was a crack in the head that was letting lube oil into the fresh water. However, after I took the head off, I could see a faint etching trace going from one of the cylinders to a nearby water port. By nearby, it was about 1/8″, and if the head gasket was shifted in one direction, the gasket didn’t cover the whole 1/8″! The oily stuff in the reservoir was fuel/combustion products, not lube oil. A carefully placed gasket has fixed the problem for 21 yrs and a further 3000 plus engine hours.

    As you know, Calder mentions that “white” smoke in the exhaust can mean that there’s water getting in to the combustion chamber.

    I enjoy reading your and Ben’s blogs–you’re both great writers.
    Regards, Dan BCC Shaula

  9. Barbara Kane

    I have also had similar discriminatory dealings with men. It is very demeaning and I’m glad that you called someone else.
    Love you, Aunt B’ann

  10. Lang

    Hey gal,
    U and I, same problem… 🙂

    I have a little sailing dory and Doug have the same ol’ BCC. ..
    It was fun reading this post, and many others. Like your perspective.


  11. Ella

    As for books, I’d recommend “The Hungry Ocean” It’s a true story, written by the captain of a fishing vessel. It’s not freelance sailing, but she gives a very clear-cut point of view on the oceanic world with little jargon, and a few of her thought thrown in, as well. It deals with her real-world experiences with being a female captain, storms, meeting the budget, and the overall handling of a major boat.

  12. Patrick

    I enjoy reading your blog, but I hate to hear about situations where a woman is ignored or talked over just because she is a woman.

    I have five sisters and two daughters and my sisters are every bit as capable as anyone else, man or woman. My daughters are growing up to be just like my sisters which is what I want. When I have a problem working on my car, I ask my wife or daughters to help before I bring in a mechanic. They are smart, have small hands and they are tough.

    Aside from being handy-women, my sisters, wife, daughters and two mothers (step and original) also know what is best for me, what foods I should and shouldn’t eat and what clothes I should wear. Or so they tell me.

    Like my daughter says “Chick Power!”

    Take Care.

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