If you have ever tried to disassemble a winch, fix your steering system, repair a galley pump, or rebuild your head, the chances are that you have been frustrated more than once. Charlie Wing’s book, How Boat Things Work, addresses these projects and many more.If you’re at all interested in how things work — and what boatowner isn’t — then this thin, hardcover, large-format book is a gold mine of information.

The first thing you notice, when leafing through the book, are the extraordinary illustrations. I found them so perfect that I immediately looked for the name of the illustrator, but none was listed. In an email exchange, the publisher explained that Charlie also did all the illustrations. This accounts for the close melding of text and artwork. These illustrations portray intricate, exploded, color drawings of 80 different systems and devices and show how they’re assembled, how they work, and how they can malfunction. Although Charlie has his Ph.D. in Oceanography from MIT, it could just as well be in English, drafting, or art. The text accompanies these illustrations in short, clear, concise sentences. It leads the reader through each phase of the disassembly or assembly process; in fact the combination of writing and illustrations is the best I have ever seen in a book of this genre. The exploded views of parts of a diesel engine alone are worth the price.

When Charlie and his wife departed Portland, Maine, on their 39-foot cutter to follow the sun to the Caribbean, all the tasks he describes in the book were a mystery to both of them. Finally, after many miles and many equipment failures, it was clear that learning to take things apart and repair them were essential skills for these cruising sailors. The result of this learning process is How Boat Things Work, the book they wished they’d had when they first started their cruising odyssey.

How Boat Things Work by Charlie Wing (International Maring/McGraw Hill, 2003, 175 pages)