That ain’t working?

One of the aspects that has changed a lot when we moved from Landlubbers to Liveaboards is Problem Solving.

It’s very hands-on, not as fancy as playing the guitar on the MTV, and you DO get a blister on your thumb.

Back one year ago, to solve a problem at the office I would normally call a meeting, identify and analyze the problem, establish a project team, a project champion, assign resources, agree on a timeline, and some time later all would end up nicely on a powerpoint presentation, with the problem duly solved.

At home, I would generally have a go-to person to whom I would describe the problem – usually a few words over sms or email – and eventually the problem would disappear, I would draw a check, and life moved on.

Here, we need to take a much more hands-on approach to problem solving. Some times this is dictated by costs, others by timing, and some for pure circumstances. Here’s a few recent examples:



Our passage from Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo was almost uneventful, had it not been for one of our stanchion posts which woke up bent one morning. It was still functional, but one of our policies here is to not accumulate broken stuff, so I knew I had to fix it. The post is made of a thick stainless steel tube, and I would not be able to straighten it myself. So, upon arrival to La Paz, my goal was to find a stainless steel fabrication shop to service it. I started asking the personnel at the marina, without much success. Then a nice contractor at the docks told me he would put me in contact with a fabricator. But as days went by, it became clear the contact wouldn’t happen, despite his assurances it would. One day I went to a chandlery and asked for a recommendation. The guy did indeed have a place to recommend – Ferreteria Chicote – for which he drew a map for me. I started following the map, but anxiety grew as I found out most streets didn’t have their name signs. I went asking my way out, until I finally found the main landmark on the map – the restaurant El Toro Guero (Blonde Bull). The ferreteria was one block behind El Toro Guero. It wasn’t exactly the fabrication shop I was expecting, but Daniel – one of the welders there – assured me he would have my post straightened the next morning. I left the shiny, bent stainless steel there amidst a ton of parts of rusty scrap metal of various forms and sizes in hope it would not disappear in there for the next morning. I came back the next morning, and then the next day, and then the following day, and finally got the stanchion post back. The result was excellent. All for the price of an ice cream.

The bent stanchion post
The bent stanchion post
The map to Ferreteria Chicote, behind EL Toro Guero
The map to Ferreteria Chicote, behind El Toro Guero



Back in San Diego, we bought and installed wheels to our dinghy, for it is common to land on beaches here in Baja, and the wheels make the process of beaching much easier and safer. Problem is, right from the start, one of the tires was flat. Phil (s/v Coastal Drifter) graciously helped me inflate it back with his cool mini DC pump. One month later the first opportunity to beach the dinghy came. As we pulled it up the beach at Ensenada de los Muertos, the tire was again solemnly flat. First time out and flat! Upon arrival to La Paz, the dinghy wheel tire was on my to-do list and I trusted it would be the easiest one to cross off it. Not quite. When I went to the chandlery to ask a recommendation for the bent stanchion, I also mentioned my flat tire problem, and the guy at the shop told me he could fix it himself – his being an avid user of bicycles and familiar with fixing small tires. He removed the tube from the tire and took it to his home. The next day, he brought it back, having diagnosed the problem being the air valve which wasn’t screwed tight. I came back to Pesto, happy and surprised for having the problem solved with such generosity. But as I tried to put the tube back inside the tire, I made a large puncture on it ! Now I knew FOR SURE the tube was punctured!!! My ego and common sense together didn’t allow me to take the tube back to the same guy at the chandlery. So I went walking around town until finding a car tire servicing store. It was one of those large branded stores, and the employees there found much enjoyment in servicing Pesto’s tiny dinghy tire. They glued a patch on the tube, put it inside the tire, inflated it, and it stood tight for the rest of the day. I came back to Pesto happy for having the problem solved. The next morning, the $^&%@ tire was flat again … Two weeks later, we looked for a tire repair shop in Loreto. After three attempts, we ended up at Llantera Madrazo, where they vulcanized a large patch to the tube, and the tire finally kept its pressure for good.

The first outing, and it was plain flat! Little did I know by then how difficult it would be to fix that thing
The first outing, and it was plain flat! Little did I know by then how difficult it would be to fix that thing
LLanteria Madrazo, in Loreto, where this saga finally came to an end
LLantera Madrazo, in Loreto, where this saga finally came to an end



We left La Paz on a Monday morning, arriving to Calleta Partida in the afternoon. It would be just an overnight stay, but M/V Adagio was there and Paulo wanted to play with his friend Kevin. So I put the dinghy on the water, attached the engine to it. Paulo boarded with me and when we were ready to leave … ooops, the ignition button was broken. It has a small plastic head where you clip the key. I had the key, but the button’s head was gone – it must have been sheared off when we hoisted the engine the last time. The prospect of not being able to use the dinghy for the following week wasn’t fun. Neither was it to see Paulo’s frustration for not being able to see his friend. Obviously, that was one part I did NOT have a spare for. After pondering for a few minutes, I grabbed a small screw, a number of washers of different sizes, and improvised a new head. The engine fired on the first try and less than 20 minutes after detecting the problem for the first time, Paulo was onboard Adagio playing with Kevin. Problem solved (I just can’t forget to order a spare from Amazon soon).

Thew new - err, temporary -  ignition set up. It's not fancy, unsophisticated. But it works.
Thew new – err, temporary – ignition set up. It’s not fancy, unsophisticated. But it works.


Fixing stuff is a constant of liveaboard cruising. You live under the permanent suspense of what is going to break next. You play the spare parts lottery. You seek advice from fellow cruisers. You learn to problem-solve from a very practical perspective.

It is demanding, frustrating at times, and brings little recognition. But there is a special sense of accomplishment when you get that thing working again. You learn a lot about your own boat in the process, and get to love her even more.

Problem-solving while cruising: despite its perils, I still find joy in it.