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Broken winch workaround: Swap broken winch on port side with working one on starboard, the side with multiple winches. Remove the gear inside the broken winch so it spins freely in both directions, wrap the headsail sheet around it to use for leverage, and run it back to the smaller winch that we usually use for the furling line. This has worked in a pinch, but it’s nerve-wracking when the winds blow more than 15 knots – at which point the smaller winch becomes overpowered and we must change tacks (change directions to bring the sail to the other side of the boat where we can control it with the our remaining working winch), furl in the sail, and turn on the engine.

Things break on boats all the time. We knew this getting into it. Our eyes were wide open.

We aspire to be the kind of sailors who can fix our own boat with confidence. Each time something breaks, we’re adding new skills to our repetoire, which is rewarding. Unfortunately, It’s not possible to carry a spare everything aboard, so that learning comes at great personal cost for me – in the form of patience and waiting. Not my strong suites, but I’m getting better as we settle into the pace of life out here.  Here’s a glimpse into the “hidden steps” of boat repair projects in exotic places:

1- Diagnose. What has gone wrong? Is there anything in the boat’s records and documents (collected by previous owners) that may point me in the right direction for fixing the issue? Aw, hell, I’ll just pull it apart and see what the insides look like.*

2 – Research options. Do I simply replace what I already have? Do I upgrade? Does the manufacturer of this 36 year old part still even exist? What manufacturers of this part are currently leading the industry? How much will this cost me? This step may require you to hang out and drink beers somewhere in exchange for reliable wi-fi.

3 – Peer review. Turn to the blogosphere, your dock or anchorage neighbors, Facebook sailing groups, and the Whitby owners association and see what other sailors think. Stir up a heated debate, replete with lots of ranting because no two sailors ever agree on anything. For this step, it’s a good thing you’re in a cafe, because you’re going to need that drink.

4 – Formulate a plan. Using all available information and taking budget into consideration, sit with your crew and come up with a way to proceed. *

5 – Locate necessary materials. If you’re lucky, you’re carrying a spare. Or someone on a neighboring boat is willing to sell you what you need. But that part that you need could just as easily only be available from the manufacturer who is likely to be based in France, Italy, or Australia. Don’t forget that you’ll also need the right sized nuts, bolts, and tools to get the job done right. *

6- Anticipate an address. This step is tricky/necessary when you’re on the move or nowhere near an inhabited island with an airstrip or mail boat. Try to estimate how long a package will take to arrive, then get out your charts and guesstimate, based on factors like weather and fortitude, which port you will likely be able to land in around the same time as your package. Hail destination on the VHF or send an email to confirm that someone will receive the package and keep it safe for you. *

7 – Arrange for delivery. You’re lucky if what you need is small and light, but often boat parts are neither. If the thing you need is too big for UPS or Fedex to handle, you’ll need to arrange pickup and delivery with a freight carrier. If you’re in a remote place, you’ll likely be arranging to fly your part to the nearest airstrip with a courier service. Be prepared to deal with customs paperwork, and of course, tariffs and fees. **

8- Wait. Make the most of your situation, whatever that may be. Study up if you’re not sure what you’ll do once the part arrives. Be ready once it does. *

9 – Repair. The part has arrived, huzzah! Now comes the easy part, fixing the broken thing. (It’s seldom that easy, but at least you have what you need.) You’re in control. *

*rum may become necessary for completion 

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Having beers and using the wi-fi at Lorraine’s Cafe in Black Point Settlement with a horde of other cruisers doing the exact same thing. We needed reliable internet to connect with our courier for winch delivery, pay bills, and do other administrative grown-up things. We stayed for lunch, our first meal out since we left Florida, and enjoyed fabulous fried conch sandwiches. Conch reminds me of calamari when fried, but less chewy and more tender.

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Our air courier in Florida surprised us by turning around our package in one day! We were really excited, since we’d paid only $60 for the 7 day window (most budget friendly option) and had planned to be waiting around for a week. As soon as I received word, we hightailed it back to Staniel Cay. We holed back up in our spot north of the Majors for protection and took the dinghy to town.

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The broken winch (Barlow 27) and the new winch (Lewmar 50) side-by-side. The Lewmar is an upgrade from the old winch – it will make line handling so much easier on one side of the boat! We’ll be on the lookout for a second winch to match it. These puppies retail for $2,800 apiece, so when a used one comes up for sale, it’s worth grabbing. We paid $750 on eBay with shipping.

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Winch installation project. The eBay seller did an excellent job servicing the new-to-us winch.

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New winch installed, no more work-around

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Our first day out, we sailed in the wrong direction for a while, just so we could play with the new winch. The verdict: it’s amazing.

We were fully prepared to wait seven additional days for our winch to arrive. Our chosen courier, Watermakers Air (they fly people too – there are some great guest cottages on Staniel Cay!) , hooked us up royally with next day service from Ft. Lauderdale to Staniel Cay once they received our winch from the eBay seller. By then, Brian had tinkered with the old winch enough (remember when we attempted repair back in Nassau?) to understand exactly how to proceed with the install. The next day, we got perfect sailing conditions, and mild conditions forecasted for the coming week. I guess good things come to those who prepare to wait.