Tag Archives: Safety

Machinery History is Framework

What does an engineer do?  I imagine the answers are nearly as varied as the number of people involved in engineering, from conception of an idea through design, modeling, tooling, manufacturing, testing, commissioning, operating, maintaining, troubleshooting, repair, and return to service.  Engineering brings to our lives those ‘things’ that fundamentally make our lives better.  Take away the engineers and we’ll quickly find ourselves back in the Stone Age.  How long did it take us to fly to the moon once we were challenged and focused?

It used to be that an engineer’s reputation (anyone’s reputation) was built on their consistent production of good-to-great work.  But the failures in engineering deflate good and great reputations alike.  Remember Deep Water Horizon, or maybe better known as ‘the Gulf Oil Spill’?  How about a ship called the Exxon Valdez?  More recently, there have been a number of airline accidents, from an engine fire on a runway to a Russian flagged airliner simply breaking apart in the sky.  Thousands of smaller failures occur every day.  There are many reasons for these major and minor failures.  How does one engineer or any company coordinating engineering products convince customers of the reliability and sustainability of their product?

I propose the soundest method is the detailed documentation of a project from beginning-to-end.  Machinery history starts when a drafting pencil first meets the paper, or that first mouse click creates the grid upon which the project will be drawn electronically.  The records that define the path I’ve designated above are the due diligent actions that demonstrate from the outset through end-of -life that a project is sound and trustworthy.

My Dad and his Dad were machinists by trade I learned the ‘art’ of drawing plans in our garage as a means of sharing the ideas we would build.  Both of them could just have easily turned the wood and metal and created what it was they wanted to bring into reality.  Seeing something in one’s own mind is the stuff of creativity that we may express as humans.  Sharing this creativity is the ‘stuff’ of good engineering machinery history as a framework for products and the sustaining drive of growing societies.

One more thought I want to share.  Running nuclear powered propulsion plants for the U.S. Navy requires a detailed focus on maintaining machinery history among other requirements.  Annually, that is, every twelve-to-fifteen months, an inspection team from Washington D.C. ‘visited’ us for a formal safety inspection.  Most ships simply endured the inspection.  On the U.S.S. Mississippi, a guided missile cruiser, we challenged the inspection teams to find problems.  So proud and so confident we were of our complete package of effort, we set pads and paper out for the teams.  We never actually said, “Go ahead, TRY to find something wrong,” but the attitude was there.  The first area of inspection was always the machinery history, from which most of the remaining ‘tests’ in the inspection evolved.

So, are you ready to take the challenge?  Can you create the detailed ‘paper trail’ on your engineering projects that will prove your work is worthy of a great reputation?  What kind of inspection program are you willing to fund to prove your product’s reliability?  I think our society deserves such a commitment from consummate professionals.


The storm blew in, and took me with it!

You know, it was just one wonderfully warm evening last Tuesday when I stepped aboard Lifeline and prepped her to motor to the ramps. The prediction for weather was some increasingly heavy rain and I knew I was pressed for time. There was a temptation to raise a sail one last time, but I would have to bend the foresail back on. I didn’t want to take the time.

I snapped some pictures of the docks as I walked out and again as I motored away. Mostly empty, they seemed lonesome and the quiet about them unnatural. It was a good year. I was absent more than in the past yet those times when I came down there were always many others enjoying the marina and the boats. I sighed and turned back to the task at hand, motoring out across the lake to New Galena ramp on the east side of the lake. Lights hadn’t been installed in the new parking lot at the Hollenbeck ramp where the State’s marina is, and I was most definitely out ‘after dark’.

Half way across the lake, I decided I’d raise my keel board. I didn’t want to run aground in the dark only a few feet from a dock. It’s shallow on the east side, too shallow for my counterbalance of lead to be sticking down. Besides, I was motoring and didn’t need the counterbalance to begin with.

It’s fifty cranks of the winch handle to raise or lower the keel board. The handle rotates close to the wood edge of the companion way and I knocked my fingers a few times. I was alone on the lake, so being below wasn’t too big a deal. I had the tiller tender set to hold the rudder for a steady course for a few minutes while I worked the wire and wheel. That’s why the ‘bump’ was such a surprise when I lost my balance.

What made the boat heave over was the wind! The weather front hadn’t arrived with rain yet, but the wind ahead of it was stirring. I took another fifteen-degree push from starboard and lost my balance again. Holy cow! What’s going on?!

Back at the tiller, I could feel the wind blowing across my face, and Lifeline blowing sideways across the lake. I adjusted course to starboard, bringing the bow toward the New Galena channel, yet I was still moving sideways. I increased the motor speed and turn right again. I was still slipping sideways in this wind, and I couldn’t see any signs of it on the water in the dark. Another large gust caught the boat and heaved me over again.

Mindy was watching from the ramp and couldn’t understand why she could see the mast light seeming to drift toward the shoreline instead of the docks. She said later she was just amazed; right up until the wind hit her at the shoreline. Then she understood. She went to the truck and pulled the trailer down to the ramps. She was backing it down when I finally turned Lifeline into the docks.

Except that Mindy was on one ramp and I was coming in to the one beside it. There was no chance I was going to get into where she was and ‘drive’ right onto the trailer. Not tonight. Not in this blow. I jumped up from the tiller and grabbed the lines I had on the port side, bringing them onto the starboard. I tied off as securely as I could while Mindy brought the trailer over one lane. The wind was whipping up whitecaps on the open water and the exposed dock was being beaten about handily. I was grateful the wind didn’t let me pull in there. That dock might have gotten on the trailer before I could get the boat on it.

Now, the trailer down in the water put the winch out in knee-deep black and COLD water. I knew I wanted dry clothes in this wind since it was going to take two hours to get the mast down and everything rigged for the road. Mindy hadn’t even thought about being in the water so she was rather surprised when she turned and saw me dropping my trousers and kicking off shoes. She had grabbed the boat hook to push Lifeline out far enough to get onto the trailer while I snapped the winch strap to the bow. It was so COLD my ankles HURT!

I had Lifeline snapped to and hauled to the winch but she was still floating and beating herself on the dock. I jumped up onto the dock and took the boat hook from Mindy. She went to the truck and started inching the trailer up the ramp. It’s really difficult to push on a Catalina 22 with only the point of and/or the hook on the end of a five-foot aluminum pole, against a 25-knot wind! Little-by-little we made it, though, and Lifelike has but a couple degrees ‘heel’ she’ll sit with on the trailer this winter.

The rest of the night went smoothly. The rain didn’t come in ‘til we were near finished. The trees on the shoreline broke the wind once we pulled away from the ramps. The lights at New Galena gave us plenty to work under, and they were almost WARM with their halogen glow. The turnbuckles came loose, the gin-pole snugged tight, and the mast came down slow and controlled (thanks again, Kevin). We pulled away in under an hour-and-a-half, towing my mistress behind me with the help of my wife.

My trousers? Oh, no, I didn’t forget. Those I retrieved as soon as she hauled the boat out. Those overhead lights weren’t really warm…

(It’s really nice to ‘blow’ through a thousand words for fun.  The other three thousand tonight went toward school)

Two students, Ten Knots

Water sports at Alum Creek State Park photo credit Megan Musselman, Columbus OH

Water sports at Alum Creek State Park
photo credit Megan Musselman, Columbus OH

Summer Sundays bring the learners to our sailing marina.  When the mission of the Association is ” To Promote the Sport of Sailing”, sailing education has to be foremost.  It is for Alum Creek Sailing Association…er…well…  ok, it’s a secondary effort, but the first of the secondary efforts.  Captain Morgan has the first say…ah…well…at the local watering hole, after sailing, of course (just in case someone ‘official’ is reading).  Anyway, I digress quickly… too quickly.

Adult learn to sail brought us nine new sailors this spring and I had two of them aboard Lifeline for the forth week of class.  Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekend stretched our class out and this made the sixth week since we’d met.  That meant more time for studying the books between classes and these two swabs (Captain Ron says we all start out as swabs) had been hitting the books.  They were well versed with their vocabulary and understood directions in ‘the lingo’.  Port, starboard, windward, l’ward, tack, and points-of-sail all were understood quickly, though pushing the tiller to l’ward was something that needed some polishing up.

We beat our way upwind and since the wind was SSE we were generally headed toward the south end of the lake coming out of our inlet (getting confused yet?  ‘up’ is ‘down’ and ‘out’ is ‘in’). The tacks, or directions we headed the boat were toward the boat ramps across the lake and back toward the beach, alternating direction to work our way to the wind.  Each in turn, the students took the tiller to practice.  We were getting a good ride in the increasingly steady breeze.

The breeze made practicing what we had been discussing for week easy to accomplish.  Both of the swabs were able to swing Lifeline up to a floating buoy and stop within a boat hook’s reach (one never wants to actually ‘capture’ a navigation buoy).  Falling off the buoy for the last time we beat out into the middle of the lake for another exercise, as most of the power boats and jet skis were running along the shore lines.

“Crew overboard,” shout/throw/point (STP, yes the oil treatment commercials makes this one a bit easy to associate actions with).  Out went the red floatation cushion (so it could be seen on the water.  I demonstrated the figure eight method taught by USSailing.  If I had done so well two year ago I would have passed my instructor’s certification.  Twice we worked Lifeline around the cushion and twice we came right to it.  Then it was their turn and four times running we were right along side.  Then the quick turn, in turn, and still we were right on top of the mark with each effort.  Until the last…Try as they may we could not get close enough to hook the cushion when we wanted to pick it up.  I took the helm and still it was two more attempts before we were close enough.  But we hooked it.  All together we were more times successful than ‘knot’.

One note I emphasized.  The most common error in a crew overboard recovery attempt is to head directly to the swimmer.  Nearly every new helmsman will do this.  ‘Don’t’, I cautioned them, “you’ll miss every time.  Approach the swimmer on a close reach, at an angle, and just like stopping at the buoy, luff the sails and pull right up to them, stopping when they are along side.”

But even a more common error, especially this time of year, is every skipper and crew failing to practice this maneuver.  Drilling isn’t just for students.  Knowing how to recover a lost crewman is key to boating safety and the boat’s coordination.  Every skipper needs to know how his/her boat will handle in such an emergency.  The actions should be rote.

We finished our sail heading for the sun as it was hovering over our inlet.  We let the wind blow us in until the trees shadowed it from the sails, then rev’d up the motor and furled sails as we approached the slip.  Three hours, ten knots of wind toward the end, and two well exercised swabs made for one terrific day on the water.


Change those batteries, or else!

So, it’s 0300…and the fire alarm screams at me from the other side of the house. There are no flickering shadows, no scent of smoke or heat as I fly to my feet (I bounced out of bed like one of those 20 y/o studs that get to their feet from their back on the ground. I can only do that when fire alarms go off). Getting to the kitchen, I know its not the one above the stove, not the one over the wood stove in the living room, has to be the one in the loft. “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE…………” (not to be confused with ‘bee-doe, bee-doe, bee-doe’) I get to the top of the stairs, flip on the light….’shxt’ it’s on the vaulted ceiling…nope can’t reach it even stepping up on the trunk underneath it. “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE……….” it continues to scream!!!!! (why isn’t Mindy out here yet) “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE……” as I head out into the garage. I know there’s a broom handle out there….and forgetting that the concrete will be cold on my feet. Yes, I’m in the garage, but it’s still in the teens and there’s ice on the floor from when the engines were warm and melted the road slush. Don’t slip. Find the broom handle…. don’t slip going back. Daxm the floor is COLD!!! Shut the door… hard. Oooops…. will THAT wake up Mindy? “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE……!!!!!” up the stairs… start punching at the plastic cover, I can’t see a ‘reset’ button. “BEeee…..urp”

Finally…. silence….

Go back to sleep??? Yea….NO.

Mindy, how ever did you sleep, not only through the alarm for ten minutes, but through all my jumping, stomping, door slamming and ceiling pounding…

And I’m still awake…..

Unexpected surprises

I noticed a cotter pin jutting out of the starboard spreader Saturday afternoon late, and that cut off the Super Moonlight sail. So I planned to lower the mast and make the repair on Sunday.  But what happened on the water Saturday and Sunday made me take note and I want to share another concern that ‘popped’ out.

Saturday I lost a pin from a jib fair lead. Sunday I lost a pin from my back stay right after hoisting the main. What bothers me most able these losses was that they are threaded fittings. I crank them down with pliers. Now I may start using a drop of Lok-tite to keep them in place.

I attribute the security of the mast on Lifeline to having just tuned and secured the turnbuckles following the raising, and to the Fleet Blessing before I began the day. You see, the shackle gave way on a run, with the sail full. I really don’t know how the mast stayed up long enough for me to drop (and I mean DROP) the mains’l.

I have extra hardware on-board and a shackle that would fit the failed connection.  The back stay went back in place before the crew was past the second channel marker and we continued to sail for another two hours.  All reacted effectively for the safety of the boat.

So, have you checked your rigging recently?