Friday, May 8, 2009

Hello from the Chief Engineer!

I do not post to this blog very often, so I guess it is about time. That, and the fact that we have been at sea for 5 days and I am getting bored as we sail at about 4 knots in 7knots of wind with large, rolling, and well-spaced swells. It is the conditions which prompt one to write or sleep and since I have already done the latter, I will bore you with the former.

Ah, you ask yourself, "Just what is a Chief Engineer?" Well it is not easy to simply write a job description. When I was inducted into this job, I was not handed a job description. So let me see if I can describe the job, its duties, and responsibilities in a way that will make you understand.

Mostly, I know what I need to do by listening to observations made by the Captain. You all know the Captain; she writes most of the stuff in this blog. As an example of an observation the Captain might say, "That seagull just did something on that stainless tubing you just polished." Or, the Captain might say, "The toilet does not seem to flush right." Yesterday the Captain said "We need to adjust that so that it will be easier to turn." Just a few minutes ago the Captain said, "I think the sail would fly much better without the pole you rigged earlier today."

As a Chief Engineer you also need to be self motivated and keep good records. You need to know when you last changed the oil and when you should change it again. Sometimes you will announce that you are going to change the oil, when you just want to relax for awhile…the Captain does not follow the Chief Engineer into the engine room.

The Chief Engineer is a mechanic, a painter, an electrician, a mechanical engineer, a rigger, a navigator and a plumber. Just the other day the Captain observed that the toilet was not flushing correctly. The Chief Engineer had to take apart the macerator pump on the base of the toilet and clean it. Do you know what a macerator pump does to stuff that is flushed through the toilet? I am going to get me a professional respirator and it will get used for more than just painting bottom-paint on the boat…know what I mean?

A few days ago, another example occurred of the required resourcefulness of a Chief Engineer. We were about 150 miles into a 1,000 mile 7-8 day ocean voyage from New Zealand to Tanna, Vanuatu when the autopilot went to alarm status and stopped working. More specifically, the electric linear drive stopped working. The drive is connected to a course computer and the course computer to a display and user interface at the helm. You set the course you want the boat to go on the user interface and the computer delivers commands to the drive unit which moves the rudder the necessary amount either right or left to maintain the course you wanted in the first place. So that you better understand this and how important this is, imagine driving your car non-stop, 24 hours a day for 8 days, on a road that curved every 100 feet or so. No, our course does not curve every 100 feet, but the swell, waves, wind and current are moving the boat at least every 100 feet, probably every few feet. This constant movement requires constant correction so that the boat maintains a relatively straight course. Get the picture; this failure is a BIG deal.

So it all started with an observation from the Captain which was, "Hey what is that alarm…don't you hear that alarm?" Actually I didn't hear it. It is at a frequency best heard by dogs and Captains, of course. Anyway, after hearing the observation, I frantically started looking where all of the previous alarms had occurred. Everything was fine…nothing found…then I noticed that the boat was turning dramatically and the Captain was still observing that there was an alarm. When I went to correct the course, I noticed that the autopilot interface at the helm had this message: "drive turned off." What to do; what to do?

This is when you are really glad that you are a Chief Engineer on an Amel. I went to the A/B selector switch and changed the "active drive" from the failed linear unit to the rotary unit and everything was fine again. Amel includes 2 independent drive units connected to an A/B switch which is connected to the course computer on all sailboats manufactured by Amel today. I do not know of any other pleasure yacht that has this as standard equipment. Another fact is that the A/B switch is not offered as an option by Raymarine, the manufacturer of the autopilot…this is something that Amel sourced independently of Raymarine.

You see Henri Amel cruised on Amel sailboats and he raced them as well. I am sure there must be a story of when Henri was on an ocean crossing and a drive unit failed. It is just another of the hundreds of examples of ole' Henri "having your back." Or as we Chief Engineer's say, "Saving your butt."

As another example of my resourcefulness, I emailed our friend Bruce and described the situation to him. I assume that the clutch is worn out in the linear drive because the motor works, but the arm does not. Bruce is going to find out if it can be rebuilt or if we have to buy a new one. If we have to buy a new one, it will be one more thing for Zachary to bring in his checked luggage.

I have got to go, I hear an observation and as a good Chief Engineer, I have to react…or…maybe change the oil.

The Chief

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