The broken hardware, the colorful straws and the mad rockstar

I know, I know … I’ve written enough about “boat projects”.

But this one has a different twist to it.

C’mon, give me a chance. Ready on !

Back in December I was doing some regular maintenance to our rigging when a piece of hardware behaved in a way I was not expecting, came fast down the mast, and exploded in bits and pieces right in front of me (1).

The event happened in San Carlos, almost three months ago. I was able to locate the replacement parts in Sweden, Adriana picked them up in California, I received them in La Cruz, and it was finally here in Barra de Navidad that I had the time to do the fix. That was yesterday.

All was looking good, I had all the parts I needed to fix the broken hardware, and so I went to collect the joy of accomplishing an “easy project”. In fact, within one hour I had removed the broken hardware, replaced the broken part, added the missing pieces and was proceeding to put it all back together. And that’s when it got “hairy”. When I was driving the last four screws home – literally the last 4 in more than 100 parts I had to move on this project – I just couldn’t get them to hold. And that’s when I discovered these screws are supposed to attach to nuts which sit inside the piece of hardware I was trying to fix. Worse yet, these nuts are held in place by the screws I was trying to drive … so, how the hell would I lock screws which depend on nuts that were set loose inside the hardware ?!? The project stalled, the sun set behind the horizon, the kids were hungry, and Adriana took over dinner prep for the night. My “low-effort fulfillment attempt” had turned bad and I went to bed instead puzzled and frustrated.

The next morning (today) I woke up still puzzled as to how to hold the nuts in place so that I could lock the screws. But the frustration had been replaced by determination, and just after breakfast I attacked the hardware in haste. Since I was being driven crazy by the nuts-conundrum, I brought Mr. Hendrix along, and the project instantly became a party.

I was still unsure on how to hold those nuts in place, but first I had to find them inside the hardware, and so I proceeded to disassemble the whole thing once again. Jimi was asking “Are you experienced?” on the iPod, and whereas I knew I wasn’t, I felt positive I would find a solution for the problem. “Purple Haze” gave me the hint, and it was during the beautiful melodic percussion of “May this be Love” that I finally had the epiphany: Straws. That was the answer to my puzzling problem – Straws.

See, the nuts sit inside tunnels carved through the hardware (pictures below). They can’t be reached while in there, and they slide free. It is the screws hold the nuts in place, but it is the nuts that lock the screws as well – hence the conundrum. However, while listening to Jimmy and his band, and looking at the hardware, I realized the tunnels were roughly the same dimension of the type of plastic straws that we carry onboard. If I could get straws to slide inside the tunnels, and cut them at the right lengths, they might hold the nuts in place for me to drive the screws through them.

Practice worked exactly as theory suggested. The colorful straws slid tight inside the pale grey tunnels of the aluminum hardware and held the nuts in place! I was up there, working at the mast, sweating under the blazing mid-day sun, but so happy for being able to drive the last screw home that I was still able to hear the wind whisper on my ears. And it said “Adriana”.

Accordingly, I tidied everything up, and rushed to the swimming pool to enjoy the rest of the afternoon by her side. My project wasn’t as low-effort as originally intended, but the solution found and the end result gave me even more satisfaction. And a few things were added from the Experience:

  • it’s always good to sleep over a problem – that I already knew, this was just a reinforcement
  • out of the box problem solving pays dividends in a boat (probably everywhere)
  • it is MUCH better to do boat projects listening to good music
  • man, Jimi Hendrix rocks !
  • Pina Coladas are an excellent reward for a project-well-done
The hardware - the grey aluminum part - and the broken end. As it broke, the bearings all came out. The manufacturer kindly sent me a replacement end part, as well as new bearings.
The hardware – the grey aluminum part – and the broken end (the black portion at the top). As it broke, the bearings all came out. The manufacturer kindly sent me a replacement end part, as well as new bearings.
The two black ends were now removed, and one of the nuts is shown on the photo.
The two black ends were now removed, and one of the nuts is shown on the photo.
Looking at the hardware from a different angle - the nuts slide free inside the two square tunnels highlighted by the arrows on the picture. The problem is that they needed to stand still at the right place so that I could drive the screws home. And the tunnels were too small for me to hold the nuts in place during the process ...
Looking at the hardware from a different angle – the nuts slide free inside the two square tunnels highlighted by the arrows on the picture. The problem is that they needed to stand still at the right place so that I could drive the screws home. And the tunnels were too small for me to hold the nuts in place during the process …
Enter the straw (quite literally). I had straws onboard that slid perfectly inside the square tunnels, keeping a tight fit. I then cut the straw at the exact lengths that would hold the nuts in place - each one of the nuts had to be exactly aligned with the four holes that you see in the picture, that's where the screws would have to be locked.
Enter the straw (quite literally). I had straws onboard that slid perfectly inside the square tunnels, keeping a tight fit. I then cut the straw at the exact lengths that would hold the nuts in place – each one of the nuts had to be exactly aligned with the four holes that you see in the picture, that’s where the screws would have to be locked.
Here, the hardware is partially reassembled and placed on the track again. The straws are holding the nuts in place while I am inserting the bearings, one by one at a time, all 86 of them ...
Here, the hardware is partially reassembled and placed on the track again. The straws are holding the nuts in place while I am inserting the bearings, one by one at a time, all 86 of them …
ll bearings went in and were lubricated. The hardware's top end was attached and the hardware is ready to receive the four final screws. Not in the detail below (next picture) that the buts are held in place.
All bearings went in and were lubricated. The hardware’s top end was attached and the hardware is ready to receive the four final screws. Note in the detail below (next picture) that the nuts are held in place.
It's such a bliss when theory and practice agree - note the nuts in place, awaiting for the screws.
It’s such a bliss when theory and practice agree – note the nuts in place, awaiting for the screws.
Locking the screws in place, finally.
Locking the screws in place, finally.
I couldn't think of a better way of celebrating today's achievement than employing straws on a far more "noble" use !
I couldn’t think of a better way of celebrating today’s achievement than employing straws on a far more “noble” use !

(1): For detail sake, I was lubricating the track where the two spinnaker poles attach to the mast. In the middle of the process one of the poles accelerated down the mast – due to the lubrication – and I wasn’t able to stop it. The car that holds the pole to the track on the mast smashed at the end of it, breaking its bottom upon impact, releasing all the bearings on deck. I contacted Hallberg Rassy – Pesto’s manufacturer – who in turn reached out to Selden – the rigging maker. To my amazement, they shipped me just the broken bottom part of the car, and the missing bearings (I was fearing I would have to buy a complete car set). Pesto was built 18 years ago, I am the 4th owner, and they still provide such great customer service – way to go Hallberg Rassy and Selden !!!

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