Warning: This post contains content which may not be suitable for people with sensitive dispositions. Photos of violence to boat parts are forthcoming. There will be non-gratuitous use of curse words.
We’ve got a situation here. I’m going to ‘splain it using Michael’s words.
“We had an interesting day sailing from Loreto to San Basillio and the La Ramada anchorage last Thursday. We were moving along at 6.5 knots with the cruising chute and main and the wind on our aft quarter for much of the day. As the wind waves started to build and steering became a little squirrely, we doused the chute and proceeded the last few miles with just the main. The wind was moving further aft and as we turned inshore toward the anchorage at La Ramada it was essentially dead down wind. We had a preventer rigged and had good control in 12 to 15 knots. The wind was fine but the waves were confused and we would slew and jump. Melissa hates these kinds of conditions and expressed feeling anxious about them, even though we were doing well, if a bit uncomfortable. We had certainly been in much worse conditions than this.
As we were coming up on the turn into the anchorage we heard a ‘pop’ sound. Curious, Melissa poked her head out of the cockpit and eyed the mainsail. “Welp”, she deadpanned, “We’ve just lost our boom.” I didn’t understand what she was saying. Was she playing me? “What?” Surely I had misunderstood her. She gestured in the general direction of the mainsail. It was true. We had just lost our boom. “FUCK!!!”. Usually Melissa is the cursing sailor. This time, it was me but I felt justified, with apologies to my mother. With very little fanfare, the boom had snapped completely in two! It made a little noise but wasn’t like the large explosive event you’d expect. It just kind of quietly gave up.”
Le Sigh. Boat repair needed? Check. Exotic location with few resources available? Check. I guess we’re cruisers now.
Mike and I swung into action as the team that we have become. I turned on Hiram, our reliable Beta Marine engine. We had two pieces of boom to secure and a huge sail to take down in stiff wind and seas that, while they could have been worse, would be bashing us as we turned into them. More to the point, with the wind ahead of us, the sail and damaged pieces would be exposed to weather and get blown around alarmingly.
The short end of the boom, still attached to the mast, the preventer, and the boom vang, was not going anywhere. We left that one alone.
The long end of the boom, secured on one end by the mainsheet and the other by the sail and the stack pack, could act as a battering ram against our expensive and beloved hard dodger windows. Our solar panels, on top of the dodger, were also at risk. We continued on our course to get more sea room, past the entrance to the anchorage as we made our plan to address these issues safely. I thoughtfully pulled out my phone and took the above photo of the initial damage. See how I roll in a crisis? Where’s my camera?
Michael went forward and eased up on the halyard to see if the sail would budge without turning into the wind, hoping. It was a no go. There was too much pressure on the sail. I scrambled to close and secure the dodger windows and the open hatches below the boom. He came back to the cockpit where I was securing the long end of the boom, wrapping the attached mainsheet around a handy winch. I pulled it as tightly as I could against the wood of the dodger but there was still enough slack that I had to hold the remaining line in my hand, pulling it tighter against the dodger. Steer the boat with the right hand, hold that boom tight with the left.
Retrieving our bluetooth radio headsets, we prepared to turn into the wind and face the proverbial music. Even with the sail slack, we were ‘sailing’ at about 5.5 knots away from our safe harbor. You can never feel the full force of the wind when it’s behind you. With wind from the south/southeast we would not be protected until we got behind the land.
As we turned into the wind the sail came down easily and plastered itself over the windshield. By crouching and peering under it I could just barely see the front of the boat, but not well enough to feel confident about steering in unfamiliar waters. We double checked the Blue Latitude charts, the ONLY reliable charts for common anchorages in the Sea of Cortez, and saw that the way would be clear of obstacles like nasty rocks. There were two other boats anchored on the port side of the bay. We stayed well clear of those with Michael out on deck communicating to me where to steer. If I haven’t mentioned in awhile how much we love those Sena headsets, let me reiterate it here. Hand signals, the beloved way of communicating between the foredeck and the cockpit for the saltiest of sailors, would have been completely useless in this situation.
As we got behind the land, the seas lay down, the wind abated, and our breathing was easier. We were safe, the boat was safe. We dropped our anchor in 12 feet of water under the keel on a sandy bottom and took a well-deserved break before sorting out the mess on deck. We were both feeling particularly grateful about how this went down. We were close to our protected anchorage, no one was hurt, the boat wasn’t hurt in any additional way, and we worked well together. If you’re going to have a catastrophic failure, this is the way to go.
Here are Michael’s thoughts on what happened:
“ The failure seems to have occurred at the furthest bolt hole for the boom vang. The vang connection to the boom is via a steel plate that slides inside the bottom track of the boom. It is attached with two stainless allen head screws to the boom. I think corrosion at that point weakened the aluminum and when the wave hit us just the right way, things went to hell in a handbasket. Interestingly, I had removed those two screws when I disassembled the vang and replaced the tensioning lines. At that point I dressed the threads with TefGel to prevent corrosion. Of course, if the vang had been on there for 30 years, my preventive maintenance wasn’t going to do much.
I also wonder if the preventer we had rigged could have contributed to the problem. There is a pad eye in the bottom track of the boom that we use to attach a 4:1 block arrangement to secure the boom when going downwind. When we bought the boat, there were two such bits of tackle attached to each side and it seemed a sensible arrangement. I wonder if the extra loading from this preventer might have made the already bad problem worse. We may need to rethink our preventer setup.“
In the days since this event, we’ve been in touch with a previous owner of the boat whom I remembered had replaced a boom because of a similar incident. According to this owner, the boat was rigged this way when he bought it. The boat has had this preventer setup probably since it was built.
So there it is. We are moving forward and will find a solution to this current situation. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t a severe hit on our cruising funds, but we will find a solution we can live with and are looking at this as an opportunity to improve on what we had. In boom furling maybe? Finding a used boom off a storm-ruined boat of like size? There’s an answer out there and it will come to us. Michael has already begun contacting people in the San Carlos area and begun getting leads.
In a massive twist of fate, Jamie and Behan Gifford of Sailing Totem are in the Sea of Cortez now, having completed their circumnavigation. We went through Jamie’s company, Zoom Sails, to replace our headsail before we left the Salish Sea. We had been planning to invest in a new mainsail, but didn’t want to buy until we knew how we wanted to re-work the way that system handled. We had agreed that we would not be crossing any oceans until we addressed these needs. Experience is the best teacher and our year of cruising has given us enough experience to now be able to discuss these things with more certainty. Our priority now is to wait around for the Giffords to get up to where we are located so we can have Jamie on board for a nice long consultation and make a plan of action. Great timing on that boom, Mr. Universe. Be careful what you wish for as it may manifest in ways that are unpredictable.
Meanwhile, Michael has moved the mizzen boom onto the main mast, rigged a topping lift for it, and now we are working to figure out how to run lines where we can at least have a small sail at the center of effort on the boat. Because we rarely use the mizzen sail here in the Sea of Cortez, we had weeks ago removed the boom and stored it upright, secured to the mizzen mast. That opened up the aft deck for the kind of living we are doing right now. It’s good to have that flexibility. We haven’t missed it a bit and now it’s going to come in useful, we think. Of course, we could have just re-rigged the mizzen altogether, but we decided to try this first. Frankly, we didn’t want to give up the ease of moving around the aft deck since we get on and off the boat so frequently and use that area so much.
Finally, on the surface it does seem as though we’ve had our share of issues lately. A friend was commenting to me that it seemed like our trip had been full of casualties. I was actually taken aback when she said this and had to think about it a bit because it doesn’t really feel that way. But I can see how other people would get this impression. An encounter with a whale, a cracked holding tank, our dead Iridium Go (literally the only thing on this list that completely annoys me), a close and personal encounter with a rock (minor fiberglass repair needed, no biggie), and now a broken boom. I guess we should feel more frustrated than we do. But for us, that would be kind of like signing up for military service and then being surprised that you have to go to war; or having unprotected sex and then wondering where the baby came from. We signed up for this knowing that boat system failures were inevitable, especially on a boat as old as ours. The fun still outweighs the suck so far. At least most days.
And, after all, our boom was 30 years old. It had done its job. Do we wish we had replaced it before we left? Not really. I mean, sure, we could have replaced every single bit of everything on our boat before we left the dock. Heck, we could have built our own boat from the ground up so everything would be exactly like we wanted it. And we could still be working on that boat 20 years later. Our plan was to go cruising, not have the perfect boat. As Michael is fond of saying, ‘Perfection is the enemy of the good’, or something like that. Sailing a boat is a risky business by definition. We could still be sitting at the dock refitting this awesome hulk of a boat, having lived through yet another nasty Pacific Northwest winter. Or, we could leave the dock with what we had, do the best we could do, and live with the consequences. We get to replace a boom in Mexico. How many people get to say that? Plus, we’ve had a year of adventure already. Overall, I think we made the right choice.
Fortunately, this isn’t an emergency situation. We plan to haul the boat out at some point soon and do some other maintenance and repair work, hopefully over in San Carlos. But for now the priority is meeting up with the Giffords so we’re going to be in the general area of Bahia Concepcion for a few weeks. I don’t need no stinking mainsail to go snorkeling anyhow. Please clap your hands and spin around, spit, pray, or whatever you do to send your best wishes to us. There are whale sharks. We want to see them.
S/V Galapagos, out.