If It's Broke, Don't Fix it

Sometimes, when something breaks onboard, a creative solution can be better than a serious fix.

The old adage if it ain't broke, don't fix it usually goes without saying...but what happens when something breaks.NS

Something special unites the three boats gathered in our gorgeous anchorage off New Zealand’s Great Mercury Island. All three are small and modest but sturdy vessels; our 1981 Dufour 35, Namani, is the newest of the three. It also has the biggest cockpit — a rare thing in today’s cruising society, where popular misconception seems to hold that anything under 40 feet isn’t suitable for leaving the coast. Yet two of those three boats have sailed halfway around the world from Europe (with children aboard, no less), while the third is crewed by two brothers from North America.

It isn’t just the size and age of our vessels that brings us ­together in an unofficial club of sorts. None of us have a working anchor windlass either (not to mention refrigerators or functioning shower heads). Namani’s windlass gave up the ghost back in Tahiti, Saltbreaker’s sputtered for the last time at around longitude 160, and Sea Bright — well, her crew can’t recall the last time they weighed anchor with anything but man (or woman) power.

It’s not that our crews don’t have capable, self-taught mechanics on board. We’ve all tried, tried and tried again to fix our stubborn windlasses, along with other gear. But persistent quirks, a lack of accessible parts, or limited cruising kitties prevent us from checking that one item off the to-do list. A key characteristic of our special fraternity, however, is that we don’t allow hiccups to stop us from achieving our cruising dreams.

Twenty thousand miles of cruising away from our starting point, we realize that we’ve developed a new outlook when it comes to equipment on board. If something breaks — no, when something breaks (gear failure being one of the few certainties of the sea) — we might get angry and frustrated, but not disheartened. At least, not for very long. We quickly move on to a more constructive stage in the emotional process and try to fix it. But if the device in question still defies our best efforts, we find creative solutions. And sometimes, the best solution is to just live without.

In other words: If it’s broke, don’t fix it.

Yes, I mean it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the only thing as satisfying as a job well done is a job not done at all. It works even if it doesn’t work, so to speak. Happily, we’ve claimed victory in enough repair battles to counterbalance the few defeats. Certainly, there are things we’d never leave port without. However, there are plenty of things we can — and happily do — go without, and never feel as if we’re roughing it.

The moral of the story is not that you shouldn’t try to fix anything that breaks; it’s just that you don’t necessarily have to fix everything that breaks. The key is knowing when to give in and get on with your cruise.

On a recent night, all three crews gathered in our snug cockpit to sip a fine New Zealand wine and dine on scallops harvested from the bay. We watched the sun set behind a promising new horizon, bringing a close to another unrushed, satisfying day. We didn’t bemoan what we lacked, but toasted what we did have: good company, sturdy vessels and twinkling stars to steer them by.

And that’s the point, of course. Isn’t it?

— Nadine Slavinski