Person-and-a-Half Projects

Lots of boat projects are what Dave calls “person-and-a-half” jobs or “third hand” projects.

You know, the ones where it doesn’t really take two people for much of the work, but every so often you need someone to hand you a tool or a part, hold something in just the right place, shine a light, go get something, check something in the instructions (or online) . . .

And usually it turns out that the second person was actually doing something of their own, and is a little grumpy at suddenly being summoned. Or, once they put down their project, may expect to be more involved and may even start offering suggestions . . . that isn’t necessarily wanted.

Sound familiar?

Dave and I are by no means immune to this problem, but we’re getting better at anticipating and planning for these times. I don’t mean to sound like we’re perfect – we’re not.

First off, we’ve come to realize that we can’t both be working on “high priority” jobs unless it’s the same one (such as the bottom job). Only one high priority project at a time.

We try to let each other know if advance if we think we’ll need their assistance along the way. And yeah, the one taking the lead on the priority project has precedence and gets to say “I can only lend you a hand when I’m already taking a break from my project.”

We’ve found that letting the other know in advance about how much help is likely to be needed (and when, if it’s a long project) goes a LONG way in reducing the frustration.

Then the person who’ll end up as the helper can work on something that fits with how and when they’re likely to be interrupted. And while it probably won’t be one of their priority projects, they won’t be quite so frustrated at the interruptions and will still be working on something (drives me nuts to feel like I’m just sitting and waiting).

For us, this is the critical part – finding a project that you can work on around your “help times.” Typically, it’s something without a lot of thought or holding something just so. And you have to be nearby. Organizing and cleaning are the top two candidates.

For example, Dave had to do some maintenance on the drive leg. He’d read about how to do it and watched some videos. He thought there were definitely some places where he was likely to need an extra hand, and a few more where he might – but I didn’t know this and thought it was something where he didn’t want interference.

Consequently, when he said he was going to start on the work, I said fine and that I’d go ahead and start scraping the bottom. Dave said that might not be the best project for me to work on, since he was likely to need me and it’d be hard for me to come quickly if I was all dressed in protective clothing and under the boat. Instead, I chose to organize all our owner’s manuals – something that I could easily drop to help him.

And yeah, sometimes we have to negotiate a bit. Say when he may need my help on a project, but I need to get an article written.

And if there’s a sudden emergency, then it’s all hands on deck, no questions. Just please, only one emergency at a time.

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  • Kathleen Kathe Spidell
    Posted at 05 November 2014 Reply


  • Jennifer Dean Neumann
    Posted at 05 November 2014 Reply

    So true!!! Thanks for putting it into words!

  • Desserine Williams
    Posted at 05 November 2014 Reply

    That’s the truth!

  • ChrisW
    Posted at 05 November 2014 Reply

    The third had also needs to be willingly subordinate. I have a long scar from when the third hand decided to listen to his own drummer and shorted the starter solenoid contacts and my finger was captured by the water pump belt and run between it and the drive pulley — and then I had to drive myself to the ER because he was too faint from the copious blood.

    Communicate, communicate, communicate and only one can be in charge.

    • ChrisW
      Posted at 09 November 2014 Reply

      The third hand in this case was not my wife. [Hopefully I am now out of the dog hose].

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 06 November 2014 Reply

    Janet and I have talked about this at great length. There is something about being the “helper” that many partners struggle with. If my helper doesn’t get to me in time to help (defined as the time to crawl out of wherever I’m jammed) s/he isn’t helping. That means that the helper will spend some time just waiting. If the total job completion is 1. half the time of doing alone or 2. greatly reduces the risk of bodily injury then having a helper makes sense. The doer and the helper can talk (sometimes the doer may swear a bit), the helper can read, but working on another project, including things that delay help (like knitting), isn’t really helping.

    By no means do I think this is a pink/blue job think. There are lots of projects aboard that could use help. When Janet has the lead on a project and wants a helper my job is to help. If I wander off I am no longer helping.

  • Geri Lindell McGowan
    Posted at 07 November 2014 Reply

    I immediately shared this with the captain. What a great post. Thanks.

  • Gina Soucheray. M/V B's Hive
    Posted at 16 May 2016 Reply

    Sometimes the biggest frustration is the other person not thinking ahead and having the basic tools/buckets in place. Smart meal prep (whether at home or in a retaurant kitchen) involves ensuring you have all the necessary ingredients and tools at hand before you cook (the right pot or pan, all the spices, etc.). In a perfect world, the ingredients are even measured out so you don’t end up a cup of flour short. But, there isn’t enough room in the galley to have all those little dishes around that hold the 2 tsp of salt, the four beaten eggs, the two cups of sugar and the four cups of flour. After time, you can eyeball the container of flour and know you’ll be fine, but you need to at least have the basics in front of you before getting half way through and discovering there is a missing item. So, do you have the roll of paper towels AND a bag to put the dirties in before you start changing the oil? Do you have the other basic tools nearby before you start? Are you going to be surprised to find a metric nut that needs to be removed before you can complete removing the alternator? Maybe, and that’s when the helper needs to be flexible. I love being the OR nurse, handing tools and asisting when the tools are available. I learn so much. And, if that surprise metric wrench is needed, I’m perfectly willing to go get it (and that assumes the tools have been put away where they belong). One last thing I learned from another cruising couple. Before starting a “together” project, look each other in the eye and say, “No matter how difficult some of this task might become, and no matter how I might react, know that I love you”. I love your posts. Thanks!

  • Ivy Wentz
    Posted at 13 September 2016 Reply

    Great compromises. Communication wins again

  • Kimberly Young Price
    Posted at 13 September 2016 Reply

    Great post on communication. Good for boat or land life.

  • Annette Cleckner Baker
    Posted at 14 September 2016 Reply

    Thank you!

  • Diana K Weigel
    Posted at 14 September 2016 Reply

    Thinking of all the projects that could have gone smoother with less frustrations if hubby and I had communicated requirements better. Time for a talk about working together. Thanks for the reminder to communicate.

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