Earth, Wind & Water

Ramblings of an Earthling, Laserite and small boat sailor

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Never jury rig something so well that you forget it's broken

The other day, driving on an interstate, I realized I was driving on a flat tire, thanks to a good Samaritan who wound down her window despite the wintry mix of drizzle and snow, and told me. In these same nasty conditions, I replaced it with the spare, big rigs racing by, as I jacked and wrenched away on the driver's side. Once I was home, dry and warm, I figured out what must have happened.

Back in September or October I was about to head out to the lake when I noticed I had a flat tire. Just as I was about to start pumping it up with a bicycle pump (actually convenient way to do it, and vastly quicker than those dinky electric pumps you plug in the cigarette lighter) I noticed that I had a cracked and leaky valve stem. Pushing it towards the rim opened up the crack, as the centrifugal force on it would as the wheel turns. Grrr! I really wanted to go sailing. So, I thought about it for a minute or two, and then pumped up the tire and wedged a little stick in between the rim and the valve stem. I didn't have to use the pump again at the Lake, because much to my surprise, when I got there, the stick was still in place. It stayed that way for months.

I fixed a couple of things on my car a few months ago, even the engine thermostat which is buried quite deeply in the engine compartment, but the valve stem was written on a list I mislaid and slipped my mind... As I was leaving this recent trip, I hit a big pothole that must have dislodged that twig and allowed the air to leak out. Of course, this also illustrates the maxim that if you know something is broken, you should fix it asap, before it breaks something else.

Another improvised quick fix I was proud of was my makeshift repair of a broken traveler fairlead on my Laser. I had cut short a business trip to be at the lake to defend the Vicky Cup (which is in fact a shield, at the Clinton Lake Sailing Assoc.) when on the way out to the first race, without much drama, it gave way. After a few minutes of trying to sail on each tack, I determined it really was impossible to race in that condition, and there was a good chance I'd break the other fairlead. I felt like a softy - ocean racers deal with far worse breakdowns on the water.

Unusually, I hadn't brought my toolbox to the lake, and had only a lighter, a Philips screwdriver and a length of Spectra. I burnt through the spectra, to make a short piece, tied some figure-of-eight knots to strengthen the ends, and drove the fairlead screws through the twine, using the two broken pieces of the fairlead as washers to stop the screws from pulling through the twine. You've got to love Spectra: strong as steel, tough as Kevlar. I sailed my boat like this for a couple of months before a big regatta prompted me to fix it for real with a pair of aluminum fairleads. What say you, sticklers of the Laser class - if I hadn't made it kosher, would you have protested my jury rigged fix?

Lastly, a challenge for readers. Can you name the jury rigged boat boat pictured above, and what it was that broke which forced them to improvise so effectively?


  1. Great point. Reminds me to go and check over my car, boat and trailer to see if I'm guilty of the same thing!

  2. So, do you think my traveler fairlead fix would be protested at biggish Laser events? Also, any ideas on the jury rigged situation in the photo, or is it too obvious?

  3. That is the VOR Puma boat and are they missing the boom?

  4. It is indeed Puma's Volvo Ocean Race boat, and yes, they are sailing without their boom after breaking it. It's a pretty elegant fix, though, and as a result surprisingly subtle.

    Green Dragon broke their boom earlier in the race and after trying to fix it with some battens and epoxy, they just started sheeting the main to four anchor points on the deck. I was impressed.