Wild Welding Times

Today was a banner day! Months after breaking our boom in a following sea, we finally have another one. In our last post, we talked about how we located and purchased a used boom here in Mexico, right down the road from our location in San Carlos. That was a stroke of good fortune but we still needed to splice part of this new old boom onto our old old boom. Capiche? For the mathematically inclined (not me), the metal extrusion on our boom is exactly 17’4″ long. We had two pieces of extrusion; the new ‘old’ boom which was 14′ long, and the good piece of our previous boom with a jagged end where it broke in two. We had plenty of material now, but we needed a metal worker to marry two pieces of aluminum extrusion together for life. And we wanted someone who had experience. We wanted someone who was at the top of the pyramid of life among machinists.

Not a very happy face, really. He’d rather ride in the back of a pickup truck than tool down a Mexican road with metal sticking out the back of the van.

Word around the boatyard was that we needed a man named Luis Hernandez. He was said to be the best metal worker in Guaymas/San Carlos. His reputation is such that we should probably be giving out autographs since we have not only met this man, we have touched him. We have shaken his hand, have conversed with him, and have paid him the fine sum of $15000 pesos (About $750 US) to fix our boom.  Luis is at the point in his career where he picks and chooses his jobs; where potential customers seek audience with him in his workshop in Guaymas, and where you have to have a job that is interesting enough to him to make it worth his while. We approached this man with caution and humility.  The man is a legend around here.

Getting the boom to Luis’ shop was an exercise in caution. I guess this is what cruising memories are made of: tooling down the road with heavy pieces of metal hanging out the back of the car, hoping not to hit a pothole. Fortunately, this is Mexico. People drive with much worse than this all the time. No one even gave us a second glance as we slowly swerved around the road, avoiding the worst of the holes. The trip was a non-event, but we were dead happy to get those things out of the car and to see both the windshield and our dashboard plastic Jesus in one piece. We’ve been relying on our Jesus on the dashboard way more than I thought we would. Hey, we will accept all the help we can get. We’re not too proud down here.

Why we have a cheap car.

Amazingly making zero wrong turns, we cruised up the narrow street looking for anything that looked like a machine shop. Noticing a couple of guys ( one with only one leg and a crutch ) standing in front of an opening in a wall, Mike rolled the window down and gave them a nod. ‘ Luis Hernandez?’, he asked out of the side of his mouth,  in his best imitation of a guy who speaks no Spanish. The one-legged guy nodded back and waved his crutch in the general direction of the open space. We pulled over and they guided us to back up by using the international hand signal/hand waving that everyone knows means ‘back up’.  Mike walked into the shop and greeted Luis.  I stood by as the men unloaded all the metal from the back of the van.

Can we just stop here for a moment of and recall our heros of yore: Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler?

I know this dates me, but I can’t help but recall all those episodes where Marlin says, ‘While Jim wrestles the (insert wild animal here: angel shark, white tiger, unicorn, pretty much any wild thing will do)’, I’ll just stand by and hold the cage door open’. Honestly, it was something of a joke that Marlin was always staying safely in his crisp safari uniform, probably having a cool drink,  while Jim did the most death defying animal wrestling known to TV land at the time. Jim’s down there wrestling with snakes and alligators, and where is Marlin? Maybe taking pictures. You see where I’m going with this.

Photo courtesy of Intobirds.com

It’s almost exactly like that for me. These kinds of places like machine shops, while interesting, are pretty much like wild kingdoms. I have absolutely no idea what goes on in there. Not only do I not speak Spanish very well, I also do not speak the language of machine shops so I’m two down. It’s a little like walking into some kind of wild world; a world where I’m just going to stand by and hold some random door open while Mike goes mano a mano with an artist named Luis and we come out $15000 pesos poorer, but with an entire boom that almost certainly will never break in the same spot again. It’s that kind of kingdom. And we needed the king to gift us with his time and attention to our problem.

The men carried our material into Luis’ kingdom and placed them carefully on a table full of assorted metal things. I stayed out of their way. Luis was quick to see our issue as Mike described our breaking of the boom and what we wanted. Worried he was getting lost in the explanation I stepped out from behind a tall drill press (??) and usefully created a small drawing, not to scale, of a long, skinny rectangle. Now in my element, paper and pencil, I wrote the numbers 17′ 4″ in strong black writing above the rectangle, clearly indicating that was the total length we wanted. By the way, Luis speaks English. All he really needed to know was that we needed one piece of boom 17’4″ long. No more. No less.

Luis pulled out his phone and showed us photos of many of the projects he has going on currently. I’m not sure if this was just to give us the heads up that he’s a very busy man, or if he just is proud of his work (and justifiably so). Was this a part of this machine shop animal’s natural behavior; some sort of display of prowess that would prepare us for the price he was going to charge? I may have been lurking safely behind a table full of steampunky equipment, but I got the impression that it was going to be awhile before we got our boom back. This was further locked down for us when Luis told us he might be able to get to our project in about 2 weeks. Then it might take him a week to finish it. Oy vey. Our heads hung metaphorically low.

By that time we really didn’t want to 1) find someone else to do this job 2) put the big metal sticks back into the van and drive away with them.  We agreed to his time frame and asked the price. He hedged on that one, too and then, accepting his status as the most alpha animal in the machine kingdom,  we did the unthinkable. We left our booms with this man purely on the promise that he would text Mike the following day with the cost for the repair. We did this because of his reputation. Everyone knows this Luis. Still, I was uneasy.

Luis shows Mike some of his recent work.

He did follow through and text us the following day. His charge of $15000 pesos was way more than we thought it would be, but take a look at the work Luis did. It’s really good. Plus, he got this boom back to us in less than a week AND he delivered it to the boatyard. That was a bonus we didn’t expect. We figured we would have to hire someone to get it for us so this was a huge relief. When he delivered it to us, he said that this boom might break again in the future, but it would not be breaking in the same place ever again. And I think he’s right.

Luis has owned this truck for 29 years. It’s pristine.

What the welds look like on the outside.

Luis took this photo of the work in progress. That’s 1/4″ aluminum plating he used to build the sleeve that fits inside and is welded into place. Seeing this amount of work makes me feel like we got a good deal for that $15000 pesos.

We got to work on the boom right away sanding around the old holes where gear was attached and filling those with epoxy. Next I’ll prime and paint the part that was repaired and then she’ll be ready to deploy. Galapagos will sail again. And I’ve survived yet another foray into the wilds of Mexico.

There she is. The fiberglass repair on the bottom is coming along as well. This photo makes the bottom look like it’s freshly painted, but we still have to do that. Lots of work left for the boatyard, but it’s coming along nicely and we are trying to just live this way and not be in a hurry.

We’ve got a lot going on right now and life is nothing if not entertaining. As our boatyard time drags on, we are grateful to be sharing a house with S/V Slow Motion and enjoying the time we have with these friends. A hot shower after a dusty yard day is an excellent thing. Today perhaps I will paint stripes on that boom. Until next time, S/V Galapagos, out.