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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