Saturday, 7 April 2012

Zen and the art of fixing boats

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance, the author and his friend each buy the same model of BMW motorbike and set off on a road trip. The handlebars become a problem - they rotate a little within their fittings, and there is no way to tighten the clamps up any further. Having contacted BMW, they are advised to return their bikes to a dealership where the handlebars will be fitted with shims under the clamps so that they can be tightened up.

The author decided instead to cut up a drinks can and make his own shims. The can is aluminium, and so the shims won't rust. And the aluminium is fairly soft, and so is ideal for taking up the compression of the clamps. The job is quick and easy, but the author's friend insists on doing the 'proper' thing and they have to drive to find a dealership, and wait for the job to be done. This takes up a day or two of the trip, and neither of them have a problem with their handlebars afterwards.

The shims are invisible components, so I guess as long as they work, it didn't matter where they came from or how they are made.

I've taken it a step further.

In my final tweaks before taking the dinghy to be spray painted, I wanted to clamp the tops of the connecting bulkheads. The seat, with its integral supports, almost holds the boat together well enough. But with three on board and powered by the outboard, I drove the boat through some waves and saw that the tops of the bulkheads opened a little.

I'd discounted using nuts and bolts. I'd need a spanner with me whenever I put the boat together. And the holes for the bolt would have to be carefully drilled out and epoxied to avoid water penetrating the plywood.

I tried making wooden 'pegs' that could be pressed over the tops of the bulkheads to clamp them together, the they'd have to be made quite precisely to hold the parts together tightly, and there'd be problems if the wooden pegs absorb water and swell.

I'd temporarily clamped the bulkheads together to take measurements, and I was standing about scratching my head and wondering what I could use that could clamp these parts together as easily as these clamps when it dawned on me.

It turns out the clamps I'd used are some sort of alloy that doesn't rust (I've used them outside for long periods). I have lots of them. They're light - maybe they're an alloy of aluminium. Actually, they're pretty good. Not pretty maybe, but simple, available, replaceable, dependable, adjustable, cheap and proven.

Maybe I should get them sprayed the same colour as the dinghy.