Last weekend, I attended the Annapolis School of Seamanship’s Marine Diesel Basics course. It is a two-day course designed to teach the principles and anatomy of a marine diesel engine as well as basic maintenance and troubleshooting. And after taking the two-day course, I can confirm that it does just that using lectures and hands-on work. I put together a YouTube video on the course and my experience, but also wanted to say a little more about a few aspects here.
As I mention in the video, a great deal of what we went over on the first morning – about the principles of operation – and, really, the first day – dealing with the parts of an engine – seemed to fly right past me. While I was learning a lot, I was also conscious of the fact that I was not picking up nearly all that the instructor was putting down. A lot of the language was new, there were concepts that seemed utterly foreign, and we were moving quickly. I wanted to tape the entire thing and spend the next few days re-watching it all until it fully sunk in. However, by the time we had the practical hands-on sessions during the first and, especially, the second afternoon, I realized that I had actually learned most of what was critical from that first day. While I may not be able to tell you exactly what the different strokes of the four-stroke diesel cycle are off the top of my head, I can explain, for instance, how the fuel gets to the pistons and effectively troubleshoot if the engine is running rough. No doubt, I will still go back and master the material from the first day, but I am less concerned about how much I was picking up during that time and think anyone who takes it should not get discouraged early on either.
The hands-on portions of the course were, in my opinion, the best parts. I have come to realize over the last year or so that I am very much a kinesthetic learner (which is weird considering I am a book-reading and occasional lecture-listening historian), so I am sure that had something to do with me getting the most out of that portion. Still, the lab work put my learning to the test, allowed me to get practical experience and learn from my classmates, and gave me confidence knowing that I can bleed a fuel line, perform maintenance tasks, troubleshoot various systems, and more. Afterwards, all of us were raring to go home and take apart our engines, which is most assuredly not a good idea despite our new knowledge. However, I will be putting some of that learning in practice in the spring by performing some additional maintenance on our engine when we get Bear back in the water.
The school offers a Marine Diesel Level II course, which, in addition to going further into concepts, repair, and maintenance, has even more hands-on training, including a massive all-afternoon (and occasionally into the evening) troubleshooting session on the last day. After getting so much out of the basics course, I definitely want to take the follow-up some day. Friends of ours have even retaken the basics course, which I can definitely see the utility of. But I am hoping that spending some time with instructional videos on YouTube and laying fresh eyes on Nigel Calder’s Marine Diesel Engines can reinforce what I already learned and have me ready for the more advanced course without the refresher.
Finally, I should say something about my classmates. There were sixteen of us in the course, and we were a varied lot. There were three women in the course, all of them attending alongside their husbands. However, lest you think they were all just tagging along, all of them got their hands dirty and one of them was a star student who was taking the level two course the next two days while her husband, who was clearly struggling like me, returned home. There were a few other really knowledgeable people in the course, including two twenty-year old brothers who were mechanics for some watermen and a cruiser with quite a few miles under his belt. In addition to the two brothers, there were two other powerboaters in the course. One was moving up from a 38-foot gasoline-powered Sea Ray to a 42-foot diesel, and the other was a licensed captain who had worked on tall ships and various other sailing craft his entire life, but just took a job running Hobart William Smith’s 65-foot steel-hulled research vessel, The William Scandling. Two other folks did not own a boat, but planned to buy one in the next year or two and head off cruising. All the rest of us were sailors who wanted to learn a little more about the auxiliary with about half us doing so in anticipation of cutting the dock lines. I thoroughly enjoyed my classmates and only wish we had more time to get to know each other and learn from one another over a few beers.