A Firm Resolve and a Fixed Boom

March 6, 2014

Del Viento- broken boom

See what I mean about flaccid? Have you ever seen a sailboat looking more sad? Michael Robertson

You may recall that Del Viento, in defiance of all the logic and common sense we solicited, sailed south from San Diego with a broken boom. It turned out there was not a suitable used boom available and the L.A.-based spar manufacturer that it seems everyone uses, couldn’t be bothered to repair our boom (“…don’t want to assume the liability…”).

The rigging shop I worked with argued strongly in favor of a new boom:

“…by the time we…you’re pretty close to the cost of a new boom…”


“…either way, realistically, you’re looking at about two grand…”

When we finally arrived in La Paz (after at least 500 miles of lovely broken-boom sailing) I removed the boom (I’m becoming good at this) and got in touch with Ernesto. Friends in La Paz had weeks before shown him pictures of my boom and he’d already quoted a rough price on fixing it. He’s got a machine shop a few miles from the marina and does a lot of aluminum fabrication—he’s repaired a couple broken booms in the past.

I met Ernesto at the dock and we loaded my boom onto the rack on his truck. In broken English and broken Spanish we talked about how he intended to fix the broken boom. We agreed on a sleeve about so long and so thick, rivets, no paint. I requested he stop work and call me after he cut it in two, just so we could review the plan again in-person, at his shop. Then I handed him 2,500 pesos (half down, about $192) and he drove off.


Three days later, Ernesto called me. He had a new plan. Could I meet him at the marina in 30 minutes?

He showed me photos on his phone. He’d straightened the boom and he was satisfied with how that went. Now, instead of cutting the spar in half to insert a single-piece sleeve, Ernesto proposed that we leave the boom intact, cut a panel out of one side only, and insert the sleeve in two halves.

What?! That wasn’t the plan.


Ernesto reminded me that he’s an engineer—ingeniero—and assured me that my boom would be stronger than if we proceeded as planned.

I hesitated and he offered to cut it and sleeve it the way we’d planned, if I preferred.

So let me invite you into my head:


I’m sitting on a hard, wooden bench outside the Marina de La Paz office, staring down at the pictures on Ernesto’s cell phone. But I’m staring blankly at them. I have no idea how to correctly respond to his suggestion—I’m not a rigger or engineer, I’m an English major. I think about how this is a fundamental piece of_ Del Viento_’s sailing hardware, something big, important, and subject to significant forces. I start—I only start—to second-guess my rebellious sail out of San Diego, my leaving all the high-priced American experts in my wake and now out of reach. It occurs to me that this is where I should say, “Hang tight on the boom repair Ernesto, until I can learn more about this and get you an answer.”

But I didn’t.

Staring at a picture of my horizon-straight boom and the crease still on one side, I blurt out decisively, “OK, esta bien! Call me when you cut the panel out so I can see.”

Boom with a view–HA!

From there, things kind of went exactly as I’d hoped.

Days later I was in Ernesto’s machine shop, peering into the crude, gaping hole on one side of my boom. He showed me quarter-inch-thick aluminum plates, each about 18-inches long and flat to meet the tall, flat sides of my boom and curved at the top and bottom, like a sleeve cut laterally. We agreed that these sections would be riveted in place and that the hole would be patched and welded. And 48 hours later, Ernesto was back, my repaired boom on top of his truck. It looked good, I handed him another 2,500 pesos, we shook hands.

I know that the way things went—especially the uncertainty of it all—wouldn’t suit everyone. After all, I agreed to a repair approach only on the basis of it making sense to my lay perspective. Without the assurance of a licensed, bonded, professional American rigger—or an affirming chapter in a Don Casey book—I guess I’ll never be certain the boom is fixed appropriately. And that’s okay. Because remember, I also left San Diego uncertain that we were making the right choice. And years ago when we launched our five-year plan to leave the security we’d worked so hard to build, to sail off on a boat with our kids even though it runs counter to everything our culture proscribes, well…there’s uncertainty for you.

As trite as it may sound (and despite what some rally organizers promote) in this cruising venture, we’re all on our own. Sure, we support each other, but think about how unscripted, unregulated, un-everything this life is. There are no rules. There is no license or permit or exam prerequisite to sail your family across an ocean. And once you internalize that, really accept it, that all the decisions you make are on your shoulders, uncertainty kind of disappears. What is there to be uncertain about? That you didn’t use your best judgment, based on a lifetime of experiences? Of course you did.

And you’ve got to be comfortable with those decisions.


In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


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