Technical manual writers are sadists.

I wonder if there is a special school that Technical Writers go to in order to learn how to be as vague and ambiguous as possible without actually lying to their readers?

The situation: More alarms going off than in an upmarket Johannesburg suburb on a weekend night.

The analysis: Engine is overheating.

The reaction: Turn engine off and open engine compartment lid. Stare hopefully into engine compartment for signs that alarms are faulty and nothing is wrong with engine. Strong smell of burning rubber indicates that this is probably wishful thinking.

The solution: Get out the Engine Owner’s Manual, read the introductory page which always says something like “Congratulations on the purchase of your quality _____________ made by ____________. We are sure that you will enjoy many worry free years of use from it.” Turn to the index and look for the “trouble shooting” page. Here one finds the first clues that the TW (Technical Writer) is pitching to two audiences. The first being the Complete Idiot and the second being the Seasoned Professional. Nothing in between. This we can deduce from the range of problems listed and their solutions.

For example: Problem – Engine does not make running noise. Cause – Engine is not switched on. Clearly, this is for the Complete Idiot.

Problem – Engine is overheating. Cause – Thermostat interface with heat exchanger requires calibration with dynamic oscillator. Clearly, this is for the Seasoned Professional.

Being neither CI or SP, but definitely closer to CI than SP, I pick out a few words from the proposed solutions to overheating and turn to the back of the manual where one finds page numbers that the parts mentioned are referred to. Success! It seems that the most likely cause of engine overheating is raw water pump impeller failure causing a lack of cooling water to the heat exchanger. The solution seems remarkably easy and I have the necessary spare parts and a well stocked tool box. This should be resolved in a couple of minutes! And, judging from the helpful photographs in the manual, I won’t even get my hands dirty.

The reality: Filled with enthusiasm, I assemble the tools that the helpful TW has indicated I will need, locate the spare parts from under a bunk and prepare to “remove the cover plate from the raw water pump”. For this the TW has indicated that I need a flat screwdriver. No problem, I have several of different sizes. Locate the raw water pump. The helpful photograph at the front of the manual shows that it is on the starboard side of the motor, just below the oil filter. Hang on? Why is it below the oil filter? This is a problem. The engine is in the boat’s bilge, below the floorboards, so I am working on it from above. The only possible way of accessing the pump without removing the oil filter would be if the engine was mounted on the saloon table. I haven’t ever seen this in a yacht before. The only way to access the raw water pump is by first removing the oil filter. Here I have two options, quick and messy or tedious and clean. I opt for tedious and clean seeing as the rest of the process will be so quick and easy. Having located an empty oil canister and a sump pump, I empty the entire contents of the food storage locker (aka the cave) so that I can access the port side of the engine and pump the oil out through the dipstick tube.

By this stage the job has been on the go for close to an hour and patience is wearing thin.

Two liters of old, hot, oil and an hour later, I deem the oil level to be sufficiently low that it won’t pour out of the hole left by the removed filter. Wrong. Why did I bother? Oil all over the starboard side of the engine and into the bilge! To say nothing of over me. Sense of humour definitely in full retreat now. I try to find a positive aspect to this and decided that this would be the best time to do an oil change and replace the filter while I’m about it.

Now for the easy bit. Remove the raw water pump cover says the TW. Use a flat screwdriver says the TW. ONLY IF YOU HAVE ONE THAT IS ABOUT 30mm IN TOTAL OVERALL LENGTH! No normal screwdriver will fit in the space required to undo the screws holding the cover plate on! The photograph of the TW with his perfectly manicured, spotlessly clean hands, lies. The TW has an accomplice. The Technical Photographer. Having loosened the screws with the shortest available screwdriver, and taken the screws out with a pair of pliers, dropping three out of six into the bilge in the process, the aforementioned sense of humour has now evaporated completely. I am streaked in old engine oil and sweat and my faithful and encouraging assistant is doing everything she can to not laugh out loud at the spectacle!

As I learnt, these instructions were aimed just above the level of CI. They do not mention closing the raw water inlet. That would be too obvious. Having stemmed the flow of sea water into the boat, I set about “removing the damaged impeller with water pump pliers”. No ways. There is no physical way that pliers will fit in a gap that a screwdriver cannot. I resort to violence. One large screwdriver makes a satisfactory lever and the offending impeller is removed like a cork from a champagne bottle. “Be careful to remove all fragments of the broken impeller” says the TW. “Some fragments may have made their way into the heat exchanger and could restrict the flow of water through it”. This sounds serious. I find only one small piece of rubber. Clearly the rest of the fragments are lurking in the heat exchanger and that is potentially dangerous.

Turning the page in the Owner’s Manual, I find that the next section is conveniently about “Cleaning the heat exchanger”. It looks simple. “Remove the four bolts holding the exhaust elbow onto the heat exchanger block, loosen the two bolts holding the end plates and slide the heat exchanger out of its tube.” How difficult can that be?

I will need a 5mm Allen key and a 13mm spanner according to the TW. No problem. These are standard in any toolbox. Except for a few small details. The Allen key needs to be shortened by 10mm if it is to have any chance of fitting between the flange and the bolt of the exhaust elbow. Out with the Dremel drill, load it with a cutting disc and alter the Allen key! “Remove the exhaust elbow and slide the heat exchanger out of its tube.” Or not. Nothing will budge the thing. There is certainly no chance of using my index finger and thumb like the photograph shows! Well, now is the time to use the water pump pliers, and a big hammer! Problem solved. The next step in the manual, according to the TW, is to clean each tube in the heat exchanger with a “pipe cleaner”. The heat exchanger is 600mm long. Whoever heard of 600mm long pipe cleaners and what yacht goes to sea with them on board? A piece of stainless steel wire and some thin cloth will have to do.

At least there was another tiny fragment of rubber in the heat exchanger. But where was the rest? The TW warns about the damage that could be done to the thermostat. Damn, where’s the thermostat? It’s not shown in the numbered photos of all the parts of the engine! Phone the dealer in Cape Town by satphone. He doesn’t have a clue!

Bugger this! Two hours later and the whole lot is reassembled. Gaskets are made from mouse pads and I’ve got the measure of this TW. He knows as much about engines as I do!

It does make me think, however, that back in Korea, where this engine was designed and manufactured, there is an engineer with one seriously warped sense of humour!20140911-091401-33241991.jpg

2 thoughts on “Technical manual writers are sadists.”

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