Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gotta Go
By Michael

This is one of the pretty cactus we saw
hiking around Islas San Benitos. We'd
have no doubt seen a lot more there
had we lingered.
Since we started cruising, there have been many imperatives to go, go, go. We spent much of our first cruising year working on the boat, getting it ready to travel long distances. Every day was a challenge to see how much I could get done before the season urged us north, all the way to Victoria.

Sound like hell?

No way. I have a perpetual drive to turn any potential energy into kinetic energy, to get things done. It’s part of what made me successful in the lives we left. It’s part of what allowed us to get out here in the first place. And it’s not just the perpetual boat to-do list that keeps me going; being underway, moving from place to place also sates that drive. Putting miles under our keel feels like progress.

Our season-driven itinerary was made-to-order to please me. The calendar framed our time in Alaska and our need to get back down the Pacific coast. Perfect.

Can we make it to La Paz for Thanksgiving?

Sounds good.

Even Windy’s growing weariness about being on the move was reason to go: Well, let’s hurry and get to La Paz where we’ll be able to just be someplace for a bit.

Then she dropped the bomb, suggesting we leave our anchor on the bottom here in Bahia Magdalena, 350 miles from La Paz.

“What? For how long?”

“I don’t know, till after Christmas? New Years?”

“No, seriously?” I really didn’t think she was serious. We’d already lost so much time to our boom debacle in San Diego. “We’d planned to be in La Paz for Thanksgiving; we’re already so far behind.”

It's hard to get a picture of the moonrise
from the deck of a moving boat. I snapped
about a 100 hoping that for one of them, I
would get the momentary pause, just long
enough for the slow shutter.
“But we’re here.”


“Mexico, Baja. Let’s go cruising, let’s explore this place, Mag Bay, we may never pass by here again.”

That was two weeks ago. Our anchor hasn’t left the bottom except to visit nearby San Carlos for a night.
You know the cruising dream. You anchor in turquoise water off a white sandy beach and you just be, in your foredeck hammock. I will tell you that’s my dream too, but I’m not sure it is. Because it ignores the urgency I feel to pack waypoints into this finite cruising life and to maintain and improve our boat.
But here we are, not moving and not doing in Mag Bay, my Christmas gift to Windy.

The water here is warm enough to swim and clear enough to see the bottom. The beach is pebbly. We’ve gotten to know the crews of the three other boats anchored here over the holidays. We had a movie and popcorn night aboard Del Viento. We’ve enjoyed the special, deep-fried/powdered sugar New Year’s Eve treats of our new Dutch friends and I interviewed them about their boat name story for an upcoming magazine article. We’ve hiked ashore. I spent half a day with other cruisers helping to repair the town’s diesel generator and was then almost literally given keys to the city by the sheriff/mayor. The girls and I took a 20-minute, high-speed ride in a local’s panga. The four of us sat in the shade enjoying cold Cokes and talking about nutrition, why soda isn’t healthy.

The girls have temporarily adopted a couple stray dogs (they named them “Goldie” and “Brownie”). They handed over a few of their stuffed animals to the family that gave birth to a baby boy after we arrived. They enjoyed the feeling of giving and left in the church a bunch of toys and things they’ve outgrown. Eleanor made a friend ashore, a 10-year-old girl named Donna she likes to play with.

When are we leaving? I don’t know. La Paz beckons with old friends and fresh food and water. And even though we could probably live forever on the tortillas and avocados we can buy here, we are nearly out of pesos and there’s no bank or ATM, not even in San Carlos.* But we couldn’t miss tonight, it’s the big New Year’s Eve party ashore, and we’ve been invited. And we can’t leave tomorrow; we’ve not even checked the weather and we still want to go and explore the mangroves across the Bay. We want to do more hiking. We want to anchor out across the Bay near the sand dunes so the girls can run all over them.

I didn’t see any roses here, but we stopped to smell them nonetheless, and it’s been a treat.


* Though fortuitously, another boat came in the bay the other day, two young guys headed north on a delivery and desperate for motor oil. I gave them a gallon and they insisted I take a 500-peso note ($38), insisted!—so now we’re feeling pretty flush.

Here the girls are looking down at an elephant seal on the San Benitos
beach, 15 feet below. You can see them spread out on the
more distant beach.
Cruising has turned them into best friends.

Again, Islas San Benitos from a couple weeks back,
Del Viento anchored off the fishing village.

We've done a lot of this down the coast, wing
and wing with a poled-out jib. Even with our
bent boom this has worked out well. We've hardly had
to motor since San Diego.
Here is what it looks when a cargo ship passes on
on a moon-lit night.

The girls in their new hats our friend Joan Stewart
knitted. Unfortunately, until we leave the tropics,
they won't get a lot of use.

Frances reading her Bone book on the short trip to San Carlos
from Bahia Magdalena.

Frances getting dinghy driving lessons.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Cheer Spreaders
By Michael
Bahia Magdalena, Mexico

Ah, the return of the large Pacific
bottlenose! All of the dolphins that
visited us up north seemed to be of
the smaller, faster varieties. This guy
and seven of his friends joined us
heading south from Islas San Benitos.
On Christmas Eve we bake goodies and pass them out to the people around us. We started doing this in Washington, D.C. and we’ve continued the tradition in our cruising life. We delivered cookies in La Cruz, Mexico and scones in Victoria, Canada. This year, Christmas found us anchored off Bahia Magdalena, a tiny community on the Pacific Coast of Baja California.

Bahia Magdalena is not D.C., La Cruz, or Victoria, it’s a haphazard cluster of about 80 small homes on a mile-long strip of pebbly beach. Some are close to the sandy road that runs along the high tide line, others are built up to a few hundred feet inland, before the backdrop of rugged hills becomes too steep. About 30 of the homes are government-subsidized construction, adobe cookie-cutter structures, about 20’ X 20’ and covered in stucco and bright paint. The rest of the homes are plywood and sheet-metal construction, some painted, others not.

There’s no asphalt and no sidewalks, just sand. There is no fencing, but about half the houses have one or more dogs that bark to defend canine territories. The few strays whimper and skirt furtively through invisible gauntlets.

All the men here fish for a living. Most use pangas, but some bait lobster traps set from the shore. There is a small church in the middle of the community and a school that serves about 30 kids. Discarded trucks and other machines sit rusting in heaps, not far from where they were last used. A small desalination plant produces washing water; it isn’t potable.

Though the residents are used to cruising sailboats anchoring out and cruisers landing ashore to explore in Tevas and sun hats, there are not enough of us to support enterprises that would cater to us. It’s a rough and raw place that has electricity for only six hours each day and no sewage system. It is a gorgeous and friendly place.

Anchored off Bahia Magdalena in December, the air temperature is about 80 degrees (F) and the water—so clear I can see my chain on the bottom 30 feet below—is about 80 degrees. Being Christmas Eve, I’ve been up since early morning making several batches of cookies, loaded with chocolate chips, oats, cranberries, and walnuts. The girls have been wrapping them, a half-dozen at a time and tying a ribbon around each. We’re all eager to go ashore and continue our tradition.

None of us gave much thought to the first few pangas that raced by, but we flagged down another and tossed bundles of cookies to the fishermen. “Feliz navidad!” the girls cried out with smiles. Then a panga filled with people motored by, too far away and going too fast to stop. Then another changed course in response to our waving and as it approached, we saw it was filled with families; we unloaded more bundles of cookies. Bahia Magdalena was emptying. Everyone was headed for San Carlos—a larger town that is 30-minutes away by high-speed panga—to spend Christmas with extended family. I urged the girls into our dinghy. We intercepted another panga on the way to shore. It was the last one.

We landed with our basket full of cookies to find the houses shuttered and not a person in sight.

Frances entering the small Bahia Magdalena church.
Then there was a person in sight, and another, and finally a few more, mostly single men in their homes. We decided that since we didn’t have enough goodies to feed the whole town anyway, maybe this distilled version was better, perhaps the few who were left behind on this holiday would appreciate our chocolate-chipped cheer.

And then Windy remembered the others and suggested we head up the trail.

The trail was a thin, well-worn line that started from the beach at the far end of town. It headed away from the water, into the cactus and sage. It wasn’t an obvious route, probably missed by hundreds of beachcombing cruisers before us. But late one fortuitous afternoon, just a few days earlier, we saw a young single guy, and then another, hundreds of feet behind the first, turn and head up this very trail.

Both men hunched from the burdens life had placed on them. They trudged along in fishing boots and with a rucksack slung over their shoulder. They were headed home, no doubt squatting in a makeshift camp a few hundred feet over the first bluff, out of sight of the lucky folks who belonged to the community.

Having spent years living and traveling the Baja in small planes, cars, and boats, we knew these men’s stories. These were the lonely, unattached, itinerant Baja fishermen, willing deck hands on any panga that would have them. They lived subsistence lives on the few pesos they earned, spending their days working aboard in the hot sun. They had nothing, but would all soon benefit from our foil-wrapped holiday cheer.

As we crested the first hill, I braced myself. I knew there wouldn’t be shopping carts, but I otherwise expected squalor like you’d find in the shadows beneath a Los Angeles freeway over-pass. It’s not good to live completely detached from this kind of poverty, insulated from the discomfort it provokes. I anticipated the scene would prompt a lot of questions from the girls.

But the plateau was empty, undisturbed, no sign that anyone had ever camped here. Then I realized how short-sighted my assumption had been. In this tree-less environment, nobody with any sense would set up camp in this exposed spot, unshielded from the sun and wind. The thin trail continued on, descending and curving around the hill ahead, a more hospitable site. I worried that we were intruding, descending on them, unannounced, me and three women. I would walk twenty feet ahead.

We marched on. I shouldered the load of our basket of cookies, a tidy wicker thing that looked straight out of a Pier 1 catalog, one of our kitchen towels was draped neatly over the top. I glanced back. The girls’ sun hats were new, everyone was clean.

Twenty feet ahead of my family, I rounded the next bend and spread out before me was at least a half-mile more of thin trail snaking up, down, and over rugged terrain, not an itinerant fisherman in sight. I looked back; the community that clung to the shore of Bahia Magdalena was out-of-view.

“I don’t think there’s a camp.”

“I don’t know. If we keep going though, we’ve got to get to the Pacific; it’s on the other side of this mountain.”

This is where we turned around,
basket of cookies in hand, no
assumed camp to be found.
The trail grew increasingly rugged and steep. We hiked on for another twenty minutes, finally reaching a precipice. Spread out before us was the Pacific Ocean we’d sailed upon almost a week before. It shimmered. Waves rolled in to crash on the beach hundreds of feet below. A few miles south was the entrance to Mag Bay.

The trail continued on down a steep, rocky slope, eventually ending at a rock outcropping that disappeared into the sea.

“There’s no camp.”


“Then why the trail? Why did those guys come this way?”

Back in town, I asked one of the few souls remaining—just hours ago a recipient of a Robertson holiday cookie parcel—about the trail, about the men we saw walking it days before.

“Ah, si, si. Langosta!”

He explained that our hikers were lobster fishermen. We’d seen them on their way to harvest; they did this regularly. I asked him where these men lived and where they were now, eager to be the bearer of good tidings.

“They live here,” he said in Spanish, waving his hand at houses around us, “but they’re in San Carlos now with their families.”

“I see,” I said in Spanish, tilting my basket forward, “do you want some more cookies?”
Windy painted this for me for Christmas. It's Mag Bay
as seen from Del Viento at anchor. 
Eleanor opening a Christmas gift, earrings from her Auntie Pao
and Uncle Paul.

Looking south along the Mag Bay beach, Christmas morning.
This is our Christmas contingent, all of us enjoying cookies
aboard Gratatouille (US) along with the crews of Puna (Canada)
and Merida (Holland). For some reason, I can't for the life
of me get this picture to publish without Sytske's face being
cut off.

Hiking back to town, Del Viento and other boats at anchor.
This mini panga has its own trailer. On the
handlebars is fishing line.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why I Blog
By Michael

One of the benefits of the girls getting
older is that they are able to help out more. Here
is Frances yesterday, on her way up the mast to
pass a line through a block.
In 2010, before we left and when I started writing this blog in earnest, my friend, Jana, asked me, “Why share your life so publically, with perfect strangers?”

The question stuck with me because for a long time I couldn’t come up with an answer that rang true. At the time I told her it was a bid to make money, that the blog would help sustain us in the adventure-filled, income-absent life we were getting ourselves into. I planned to write diligently and we’d develop a readership and then I’d sell advertising and we’d be on easy street.

We did develop a readership— thousands of you from all over the world—and I realized then I had no interest in monetizing our site. I don’t like the aesthetic of ads, I don’t want to ask for donations, and I don’t want to hawk or endorse stuff for compensation--any more than my good friend with her Midwestern sensibilities would want to broadcast her life on the internet.

And so her question lingered. This blog thing is hard work after all. And all the time I spend working on this is time I could spend with the family I’m writing about. But I write on. Why?

Underlying Jana’s question is the assumption that people who blog about their lives are an extension of our culture that progressively over-shares. How different am I than the desperate, celebrity-obsessed, look-at-me folks who clamor for the spotlight, the folks willing to drink a glass of pureed maggots on a TV reality show for the sake of being on a TV reality show?

I’d say very different.

I almost settled with the answer that I’m a writer damn it, and writers write. I’ve never thought of myself as a storyteller, but I do have a human need to share and I thoroughly enjoy the work of organizing my thoughts and the time to do so that writing affords. But that answer addresses only the question of why I write, not why I blog about our life. After all, I could do a whole lot of writing (and I do) without a blog.

In 2010 I was blown away by the enormity of what we were preparing to do and I had a keen desire to share it with other people. Every aspect of it was interesting to me and writing about it was fun. But I don’t want to write in a vacuum. The reading side of the equation is the necessary carrot at the end of the stick. Writers need readers.

And it’s a good thing the readers came because the excitement dimmed. Today, the novelty of what we are doing, how we are living, has worn off. I still love it all, but it feels normal. Now the readership is one of the reasons I write this blog. We regularly get emails from people who are inspired by what I’ve written or who simply appreciate reading it. That kind of feedback is very motivating. I’m pleased as punch when I see that more people are reading this month than were the previous month. I didn’t hesitate when Cruising World offered to repost our blog on their site.

I wondered about others’ motivations and I queried a half-dozen cruising bloggers, putting Jana’s question to them. I received great, thoughtful responses, all of them echoing my own thoughts on the reasons and benefits of blogging:
  • We all started our blog as a way to keep family and friends we were leaving behind up-to-date. Now we write for strangers as well.
  • We all love writing and see our blog as a playground for writing, a place to get the writing exercise necessary to improve writing skills. 
  • We all write to preserve the memories. Like us, others look back on their own posts from a year or two ago and it’s like revisiting a faraway place and time. The transient nature of this life changes us all. We meet a lot of people and see and experience a lot, ever-changing. The blog is an attempt to capture that for ourselves.
  • We write for community. Seldom is chance the reason we run into other families doing this same thing. It is because of blogging that we’ve met (in person or virtually) other families afloat. Our lives have been enriched by friendships we’ve made only because of this blog.
  • It’s gratifying to write a post and then receive positive feedback from a perfect stranger. Another cruising writer said it best: “Impacting people and hearing back from them when I've made a connection gives me a sense of belonging and relevance.”
This age of information we're living in has some serious drawbacks, but I think these aspects are dwarfed by our new abilities to know each other more easily, to learn from each other and to gain perspective. Cruising blogs are as common as boat cards, thousands of vagabond sailors are out here sharing their experiences with strangers. Before we left, I was a reader. The stories and information people shared inspired and informed me. Now here I am, sharing our life so publically, with perfect strangers.

We're all happy to be back in Mexico. Frances said that it
feels to her like we are home.

Even without a blog, we meet travelers from all over. We
spent a week in San Diego anchored next to the Dutch
crew of Marida. They've been out for 13 years and are
headed home now. They just crossed from Japan to Alaska
and are on their way to the Canal to cross the Atlantic.

This is Waterhoen in Alaska, our friend and his crew aboard. He is
also Dutch and headed south to Mexico next year where we hope to
rendezvous. Already these Alaska scenes we woke to every morning
for months now seem foreign and distant. 

The girls spend hours making odd videos of themselves. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To the City of Peace
By Michael

This is Torrey Pines, a hang gliding mecca.
We kept the girls from running off the edge
of that cliff as they weren't strapped to a
glider. Unfortunately, the winds were more
northerly than westerly, so nobody was flying.  
The boom drama continues…and it’s taken a contrarian turn.

We’re leaving San Diego as we came, our boom broken. We’re going to try to get it repaired in Mexico.

Absurd? Crazy?

Maybe. I can’t find a knowledgeable person Stateside who thinks we’re doing the right thing. But that’s not to say we’re acting without reason, only that we’re acting against the grain.

There are three ways to address our broken spar problem: fix our boom, swap it with a used boom, or buy a new boom. Now, there are a lot of sailboats in San Diego, and a whole lot of businesses that have hung a shingle to support them. You’d think this would be the best place in the world to deal with a problem, I did.

But the single area company riggers turn to when they need a spar replaced doesn’t want to fix ours (and it would cost $300 just to transport it back and forth to their L.A. shop). And I’ve called around for suitable used booms and have come up empty-handed. There are a few that could be made to work, but each has a complication that requires too many $80-per-hour hours to make it cost effective. “You’re better off buying a new boom” is what we hear. But that’s a $2,000 proposition.

And I look at my 17-foot-long aluminum spar with a crease in it that simply needs to be repaired. Why can’t I just get it repaired?

A week ago I began emailing mechanically-minded friends who know La Paz, Mexico like the back of their hands. And I emailed their friends. And I emailed the Shroyers who own Marina de La Paz and who have spent decades in the city and who used to build boats there. I’ve sent photos and I’ve learned enough to believe we can probably get our boom repaired in La Paz. And we’re gonna sail there (carefully) and find out.


In February, 2001, Windy and I bought our first house. It was a fixer-upper—with a capital F-U, really bad. A couple of the problems seemed formidable: a retaining wall outside the basement entrance had failed and the first-floor fireplace was leaning into the living room. You can’t believe the tens and tens of thousands of dollars that engineers and contractors said were required to address just these problems. We agonized over this for the first year while we went about addressing less-formidable repairs.

The girls surprised their cousin, Kat, at LAX.
Then I met Dickey. He was an old-timer I’d seen building brick walls in the neighborhood, a real craftsman. He was a one-man operation with a 1972, red Chevy pick-up. I asked if he could stop by and take a look at my failed retaining wall. He told me he could replace the wall and walked me through the simple, straight-forward approach he intended. He said it would cost $4,800. Skeptical, I asked about all the complications and issues raised by the others who’d quoted three times that amount.

“Young man, I been layin’ brick for 45 years…”

The wall Dickey built was beautiful and could have served a bomb shelter.

Inspired, I removed the basement ceiling, borrowed a couple of Dickey’s 12-ton bottle jacks, lifted our living room fireplace, through-bolted some massive sister joists, and then called a company in to rebuild the cracked fire box for $1,800.

Ten years later, the retaining wall and fireplace were still solid.

I’m looking for the nautical Dickey to fix my boom and I think I may find him in La Paz.

Absurd? Crazy?



We toured the Taylor guitar factory near San Diego--fascinating
and free. The girls played with Baby Taylors in the shop afterward,
but we left empty handed.

The girls kayaking through the San Diego mooring field
near our anchorage.
Eleanor pictured with Rosalee, her first cousin once removed
(I think that's right, I looked it up) and her great aunt and
great uncle. Rosalee hosted us and 23 others for an
amazing Thanksgiving dinner. We spent two nights at
her home.

The girls' Auntie Jana took them to a spa one day.
They loved it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

San Diego Lemonade
By Michael

Eleanor enjoying her kayak in the harbor.
I hate not knowing. It’s the one thing that makes me anxious and unsettled and unhappy and unproductive. I don’t mean lack of knowledge, I mean not knowing and being powerless to know, forced to sit by the phone and wait for others, with no avenue available to work proactively towards a conclusion, uncertainty the only known variable.

And that’s what fixing our boom in San Diego has been like.

It’s a funny thing that I adore this cruising life—what other path presents a less-certain future? Windy says my secret is my eternal optimism. I eagerly dive into any project or embark on any path to resolution only because I envision nothing but a rosy outcome. She’s the realist who sees the red flags beforehand.

Just a few days ago and 125 miles north, when I thought we’d be 72 hours in San Diego, tops, she was less assured. “In and out,” I promised. And for the first twelve hours, my naiveté held. We sailed into the harbor, found a cheap slip, and I was dismantling the boom before the last dock line was secured. The rigging shop closed at five and I knew that if I moved quickly, they would pick it up that day and start working on it the next morning.

“Three, maybe four hours is all we’ll need—one day turnaround shouldn’t be a problem.” Said the rigger on the phone before we left Oxnard.

It was almost noon the following day when the rigger hauled our boom away.

“…and for all those reasons, I want you to know that this could take longer and be more expensive than we anticipate.” The rigger told me on the dock in San Diego.

Day three dawned with me standing in the rigger’s shop, staring down at two booms and agreeing that the used replacement boom wouldn’t be a good fit for Del Viento.

“You’re better off buying a new boom. I’ll get you a definitive quote on Monday.”

It’s Monday. I have no quote. We’ve been in San Diego longer than 72 hours. It looks like we’ll be here longer still, waiting, not knowing, uncertainty the only known variable.

Sure, I’ve been able to call and leave messages with other riggers, to post long-shot, used-spar-wanted ads on Craigslist San Diego, to research online, to query my knowledgeable friends. But none of my efforts have put a boom on Del Viento. We’re still sitting in San Diego aboard our un-sailable home just scant miles from the Mexican border.

I think we’re doing the right thing, addressing this in the land-o-plenty. But I’m also thinking that I’d rather be fixing my boat in an exotic location—the way they say cruising is supposed to be. Sure, that would likely be much more difficult, but it would be different. It would be more interesting. It would have me running to and fro, all the while taking steps that seemed productive, giving me a more tactile role in the resolution. I’d be brainstorming a solution with locals and fellow cruisers. I’d be learning new Spanish. I’d be…I wouldn’t be waiting, not knowing.

But I’m making the best of things here.

Yesterday Eleanor went kayaking in the harbor. We had lunch at the San Diego Yacht Club with my friend Jeanne Socrates who is also passing through. Then we moved Del Viento to the free cruiser’s anchorage and though the sound of the jet traffic is significant, last night’s view of the sparkling city-scape stunned my daughters. On Wednesday, we’ll rent a car and drive eight hours north to meet my wife’s extended family for a Thanksgiving family reunion she was, before the broken boom, resigned to miss.

Life is unpredictable, the cruising version even more so. But this circumstance is a good reminder that we have the flexibility to change our plans, to make lemonade out of lemons—and that’s part of the beauty of this cruising life. And if uncertainty is the cost, I can live with that.


Aboard Nereida with Jeanne. We hadn't seen her since she left
Victoria for her non-stop circumnavigation and we were in Alaska
when she returned. Catching up in person has been a San Diego
bright spot. There is nothing wrong with my girls' necks. I don't
know why they're tilted like that.

Approaching San Diego in unsettled weather. Hours earlier, about
2:00 a.m., the USCG scared the daylights out of me when they
roared up alongside in the rain and pitch dark. I never saw them
until they were three feet abeam and shined massive lights on us.
They shouted to me: "Where are you headed, captain?" I shouted
back that we were en route to San Diego, my voice shaky with
adrenaline. "Call us if you see any unlit boats!" they yelled.
I gave a thumbs up and they sped off, unlit.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Could Have Been Prevented?
By Michael

This was Del Viento on her lee dock
during the September storm in Astoria.
In the few times we were aboard and
checking the anemometer, it gusted to
60 knots, but it seemed higher other times.
As I described in my previous post, we were over-canvased in a gale and we jibed. Evan on Ceilydh wondered why the boom moved from one side of the boat to the other given we had a preventer rigged. I too expected the preventer to prevent and I think it failed to do so as a result of line stretch.

When running, the distance from the point of attachment on the boom to the forward cleat and back aft to a cockpit winch is about 47 feet. We used a 3/8-inch diameter polyester double-braid. Yesterday at the dock, I did my best to measure and it appears the line would have had to stretch at least seven feet to accommodate the aft movement of the boom. That distance is well within the 12-18% stretch that can be expected from this line, but because we had the line winched tightly in the cockpit, it seems some of that stretch should already have been used up. I’m surprised the line didn’t break before it stretched so much further that it allowed the boom to travel across the boat.

But the line didn’t break, the bow cleat held, the standing rigging didn’t part, and the snatch block didn’t explode. The boom bent (and I assume the boom bent at the end of the event, when it crashed to halt on the other side of the boat).

Eleanor: a child of the corn.
At least at the start of the jibe, there must have been tremendous resistance exerted by the preventer. What’s surprising to me is that none of that resistance seemed evident; when the main back-winded, the boom took off like it was unbridled. After the jibe, the preventer line was extremely tight, pulled across and causing significant deflection in the now-windward shrouds.

While I welcome any advice regarding the appropriate line to use as a preventer on this boat, I suspect our set up was fine, we just had too much sail up. In other words, lower-stretch line may have been more effective at preventing in this situation—or it may have resulted in failure elsewhere, perhaps because it wouldn’t absorb enough of the shock-load produced at the moment the sail fills from the other side—or maybe preventing the boom from crossing the cockpit in the event of a jibe is paramount and if stretch is what allowed our preventer to fail, low-stretch line would have been the way to go—but I think the over-riding point is that we should have been reefed.

Corresponding to the advice from Evan and others, I’ve abandoned my original plan to address this fix entirely in Mexico. While I think a robust fix could be made there, the fix would likely be unsightly and affect the resale value of the boat. And while I’d imagined a fix involving welding, San Diego rigger Stephen Mann pointed out that TIG or MIG welding aluminum weakens the metal.

So before we escape Southern California, I intend to fix this. I called Lefiell Manufacturing in L.A. about a repair, but decided to instead try to replace our bent boom with a used spar. Minney’s in Newport Beach has some—and the prices are right—but the closest example to mine is very over-sized. Then I reached K.C. at Pacific Offshore Rigging in San Diego. They have a consignment boom that will probably work very well and they have the skills and tooling to effect a quick R&R with my hardware. I’m expecting the cost to be about $800 and for us to be in and out of there in about 72 hours.

So we’re on our way to San Diego, then Ensenada, and then La Paz, where the weather is fine, the anchorage is free, the beer is cheap, and the food is to die for.


Del Viento on a pumpkin! The artist is the girls' Auntie Pao.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How I Bent My Boom
By Michael

Does your boom look like this?
We left Tomales Bay, just north of San Francisco, for an overnight passage south. Thick, early morning fog hung low when we weighed anchor and the ocean forecast of strong winds and big seas seemed impossibly distant. Ninety minutes later, we reached the bar at the mouth of the inlet, pitching in the swells and threading our way through breakers on either side. We motored out at five knots, rolling in the beam seas until we reached Point Reyes and could turn left to head down the California Coast.

Del Viento is a pure sloop; her mast is far forward and her boom is relatively long. By late morning the engine was off and we were sailing downwind, fifteen knots blowing from astern, our big main all the way out forward, just resting on the aft shrouds. Whitecaps were multiplying and we began to yaw and roll as the seas grew. Steering a heading that kept us on course, the wind was just off our port quarter, but not to far from dead downwind.

And though this heading left us only a few degrees away from a jibe, our autopilot was set to steer according to the wind and we had our preventer rigged (a 3/8” line running from a bale near the end of the boom to a snatch block secured to our bow cleat to a block on our deck to a cockpit winch). We acknowledged the risk of an unintended jibe, but reasoned that with one of us always near the helm, the event would be manageable. In fifteen knots out of the northwest, the apparent wind from astern never rose above ten. If we jibed, the preventer would hold the boom to starboard while one of us would shut off the autopilot and quickly steer us back on course. We moved along comfortably at a good clip.

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

By late afternoon, the wind and seas had increased as forecast. We sailed at just over seven knots and our indicated apparent wind had climbed to between twenty-two and twenty-seven knots. The seas had grown considerably and caused us to yaw by greater degrees. We made small changes in our heading so that we could maintain our course, walking the line to prevent a jibe. But we were still comfortable, the warm sun was shining, and from ten miles offshore, we could see the Golden Gate Bridge aft of our beam. As they say, life was good.

Del Viento lifted on a big swell. A big gust blew. The sail slacked for a brief moment and I could feel the stern falling exactly the wrong way. Before I could react the main filled with the speed of an automobile airbag and sent the boom flying across the cockpit in a blur. Then BANG! and the boat shuddered and rolled over hard on the opposite tack. I shut off the autopilot and grabbed the wheel as we accelerated into the wind. I countered to keep Del Viento running downwind, the wind now crossing our transom deep into the starboard quarter. I saw that the preventer line was still intact, stretched bar-tight across the starboard stays. I uncleated the line and eased it off the winch to spill the tension—all the while careful to make sure we didn’t jibe again.

My eyes met Windy’s and I could see she felt the same way I did.

“Can you quickly ease the traveler over to port?”


Then I saw the damage. An inch forward of the bale to which the preventer was attached, large pieces of thick, shiny, brittle white paint had fallen off the boom where it was creased in about a five- to ten-degree bend.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

What were we thinking? We’ve been sailing too long together not to have thought to reef before we were in a gale. We both felt sick that we’d let this happen, that we’d damaged our boat in circumstances that were so preventable, that we’d relied so heavily on a preventer—especially because a preventer isn’t intended to prevent in over-canvased conditions.

We just messed up.

·         We should have reefed.

·         We shouldn’t have tried to push it, sailing on the verge of a jibe to make a better heading for our destination. In smaller seas we could have pulled this off, but being pushed around as we were, we should have increased our margin of safety by sailing on the beam side of a broad reach.

We got lucky too, as the force of this jibe could have caused more damage. We were aware enough of the risk of jibing to not have let anybody be in the path of the boom, but we didn’t do our rig any favors.

Just a bad situation overall and another lesson learned in as many months. I offer this story so that anyone else who needs can benefit in the same way, without bending their boom.

We plan to continue down to Mexico as we are, but we’ve abandoned the preventer in favor of a brake we have that attaches just aft of the vang. Our plan is to have the boom cut and sleeved or otherwise reinforced in Mexico. (And I assume this is the best approach, any advice is welcome.)

The bend is where the paint is flaked off between the
two tangs. The preventer was attached to the aft tang.
Frances driving grandpa's tractor in Templeton.

Pre-departure from Morro Bay. Auntie Jana and her two
boys and my folks saw us off--though Ryan (orange shirt)
didn't have to say goodbye because he hopped a ride with
us down to Oxnard, where we arrived late yesterday.

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