The Wisdom of Hankus Pankus

Hankus Pankus lived on a boat that we collectively called “The Darfur.” It was a blue-white egg long past her prime with duct tape covered hatches, string for lifelines and a maze of crossing deck fractures. The main diesel engine compartment; long absent an actual diesel engine was retrofitted to host a large air conditioning unit that vented into a cockpit locker. The locker lid remained propped open for the duration of the summer with a wooden kitchen spoon, venting the hot exhaust into the cockpit. The condensation drained into the dark recesses of the bilge where it fermented into a collection of flowering fungi. Hankus Pankus explained that this was the perfect set up and I agreed. It was a perfect setup for the assortment of hostile wasps that often invaded dark and dry protected boat crevasses every season.

Finger-sized and malevolent, the wasps of the Darfur swarmed and buzzed in a frantic cacophony of rage every time Hankus Pankus shifted his weight within the tiny boat, causing the vessel to rock dramatically. Things became even worse when he slid back the main hatch with a thud and ambled into the cockpit. The wasps would fire out of their dark cavern, darting and swooping in black madness while Hankus Pankus gazed about the marina with a look of total zen. He would disembark onto the thin wobbling finger pier and return shortly with a case of Yuengling and a smile to disappear until the next sighting. For all of his eccentricities, Hankus Pankus was friendly, wise and caring. Our conversations taught me important lessons without the pain of personal experience.

I spend my days in a windowless classroom constantly moving, checking, assessing, planning, dealing with problems, counseling students, organizing, teaching, issuing advice, fending off more work, running detention, possibly eating, grading, planning, researching, cleaning, attending meetings, and potentially using the bathroom more than once in 6 hours. When I get home, exhaustion takes over. Around 0440, I wake. Sometimes to rain pelting the deck or the wind pushing Caprica into the pier. I adjust the lines, have a hot cup of coffee and take the next hour to prepare myself for the day mentally. Sometimes this involves sitting, listening to music and just thinking. During this period of quiet, I pursue an assortment of Facebook pages.

Sailing and Cruising, All Things Sailing, Liveaboard Sailboats, Live Aboard Boats, Liveaboard sailboats, Chesapeake Boaters: The Next Generation, The BoatYard, Kids4Sail, Sailing to Roam, Zero to Cruising, Figure 8 Voyage Randall Revees, S/V Delos, Sailing Gypsy and Sailing Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness. Occasionally I post, but more often, I just read and ponder what people are doing.

I recently came across a personal Facebook blog where a family of 5 spent two years saving and researching. They sold everything and purchased a 47-foot boat in Grenada sight unseen! They are encountering the typical problems one would expect to associate with this massive transition but seem to be adjusting well. As I explore the other pages, it appears that many people fall into a routine and this includes us.

We have certain expectations of how we should live on land but translating those same ideas into a liveaboard cruising vessel do not compute. A 47-foot cruising boat can deplete two years of savings with a few minor projects not to mention the difficulty and stress that comes along with wrangling children while working on often technically complicated projects. This set of circumstances then leads to the classic division of labor. “Pink and blue jobs,” or more commonly called “Mom deals with the kids while I fix things.” So now you have to fix a problem like pumps, the water heater, the air conditioning unit, refrigerators…. and have the boat cleaned up before the family returns.

Last Saturday, Eleanor decided that it was time to use the bathroom. She announces her intentions proudly and trucks off towards the aft head as she disrobes. “HAVE TO GO POTTY!” Then the commotion ensues. She grabs her step stool, sets it up then climbs on top of the toilet to get her tiny potty seat. She then places the potty seat on top of the regular toilet seat and sits with legs dangling humming. This is what is supposed to happen. I may have lifted the toilet seat just as she attempted to plant her foot. The consequence of our poor coordination of events resulted in her foot inserted into a partially flushed toilet with the contents of a previous expedition. Water blasted out with a sprinkling of other …things.

“Don’t move,” I ordered and extracted myself from the biohazard scene. In the forward head, I ran a bath then carried the girl through the boat with a second order. “Wash.” As the girl occupied herself with bubbles, plastic horses, and a partially gnawed unicorn, I was giving the aft head a bleach treatment. The next step in the decontamination was to use the shower head and thoroughly wash all surfaces. Several gallons of bleachy amazingness filled the shower basin as planned. No problem. I flick a switch and presto; the water is pumped away. Except, when I hit the presto switch it just went click and that was it. The pump failed.

We cleaned up the kid, and Alison took her to run errands while I figured out what to do. Step one was to remove the few gallons of water trapped in the shower basin. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just use the Shop Vac.” I dig out the trusty Shop-Vac, the various implements, and an extension cord. I spend the time to clean the filters and set everything up for a quick 30-second operation. Again, I hit the power switch and ….click. The Shop-Vac was deceased. Was it time for a drink? It was only 08:30 and my project for the day emerged.

The pump is located under the bathroom sink, in a dark hole that includes plumbing, valves, hoses, electricity and assorted impossible angles. The space is also the size of a cubby, and the area to lay and work in is curved, rigid and multiple levels. In other words, it sucks. My amazing neighbors loaned me their suck vac and Captain Cantelya was roused out of the rack to fulfill a tool request. A few hours later, an assortment of tools filled my main cabin, and most of the pump plumbing was disassembled. A few hours further into the day, I concluded that the pump was indeed dead. A quick google search told me that the defunct pump was a hefty $250. An hour later, the pump lived. Thankfully the problem was relatively simple. The difficulty was the small working space.

Hankus Pankus was right. Bigger isn’t always better because the larger the vessel, the more complicated and costlier the systems are to maintain. Suddenly a basic pump is $250. “As small as possible and as simple as possible,” Hankus Pankus would say as I argued against his point. It was through the experience of others that I discovered that Hankus Pankus was right.

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to purchase a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 49 for well below market value. The owner just wanted to dump the boat, and it had fallen into our laps. The Jeanneau was big, beautiful and a righteous sailing machine. We visited her twice in Deltaville, toured the boat and had the offer to sleep on her. It had three bedrooms, a real kitchen and an assortment of amazingness. I was all about it, and I was all about the deal, but Hankus Pankus began to whisper into my subconscious. “This boat will bankrupt you.” The tiny whisper said. “How much to replace the batteries? What’s the cost for dock lines? That’s a $3,000 autopilot. What happens when that breaks?” “I can do this!” I thought. Hankus Pankus struck again. “That hull requires 5 to 6 gallons of bottom paint. That’s a lot of sanding, painting, and waxing. 49 feet times each side and the bottom. That’s a lot of hurt.” I started to see the logic in not buying a 49-foot boat.

There is a lot to be said for simplicity, especially for Sailing Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness. They have it figured out.

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