On equipment failure

This post is unusually short. It’s probably related to the fact that I’ve written it on a piece of wet paper in the middle of the crossing…


Where would it be more adequate to write about equipment failure then in the middle of the pacific, 1200 nautical miles (more than 2000km) from the nearest land?


Everything will eventually break. On a boat, the trick is to mitigate the “when”. A water maker that stops working at a marina isn’t as critical than a week later in the middle of an ocean crossing. I guess that’s why a lot of cruisers, myself included, are overzealous in their maintenance; because of the inherent risk associated with gear failure. So I always end up buying the best equipment, and spend a lot of time and efforts to reduce the stress, cycles and heavy use on everything that I can see or hear. Fear is a powerful thing.

Running rigging failure. The sheave completely exploded on us. Luckily, we had something ready to keep going until we found a machine shop where we got new sheaves made.


Yet, we still suffer from equipment failure. It’s part of life, something that we all seem to accept. No matter the brand or the price, pretty much everything is manufactured for a specific lifespan, be it in years or cycles. And I know pretty well; put a “marine” sticker on something and all of a sudden, there’s a 10x markup. Most time it makes sense; I tend to trust more my safety on a 75$ shackle made out of 316 stainless steel rated for 20 newton of load and tested over thousands of stress cycle then the similar in look 3$ “metal” shackle at HomeDepot. Call me crazy, but I want to believe you get what you pay for. Or at least, you should. Call it the capitalist version of karma?

So every failure comes necessarily at a higher cost. When our 3 years old fridge broke down in Panama, we ended up paying over 3000$ in parts alone to keep going. For a compressor and some tubes. It doesn’t even have a fancy water dispenser or great me with a “Good morning Captain Awesome” every morning.

You get what you pay for? This water strainer is 450$. That’s just a fancy mosquito net catching seaweed so they don’t go in the pump of our toilet. It lasted 6 years….


Ok so sure. It costs a leg. But what if you’re a successful BitCoin billionaire? We’ve certainly met some out here. Well, being able to buy the needed parts is often the real issue. While sitting in the cockpit, drinking a coffee in the early morning and gliding gently down the waves as we’re slowly sailing away toward French Polynesia, I would be hard pressed to find a store near by.

Sometimes, the failures just sucks. Cass’s sandal broke and she had to walk 7 km with a barefoot to find the only shop on the island.. 120$ they charged for a new pair of cheap sandals… So yes, we now carry spare sandals. And spare sandals for the spare sandals. One cannot be too cautious!

If you can’t fix it, you don’t need it

Well known saying in the cruising world


So, with no store in sights or exorbitant prices once you leave the continent, we end up carrying a lot of spare parts. (Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo many.) And at a very high cost. Both literally (I spent thousands in spare parts for our engine that I’m truly hoping never needing) and figuratively. Spare parts take up a lot of precious storage space. They make us heavier, therefore slower. Empty Pablo of all the hoses of all possible size and length, hundreds of feet of spare electrical wires, thousands of bolts, nuts and screws or just the random assortment of bits of wood, chunks of stainless “in case I need to build something”, plates of aluminum (“because if we don’t carry those, we’ll need them”) or just gallons of epoxy and yards of fibreglass. Or the 10 gallons of various oil? That fridge I talked about before? We now carry a spare compressor, some cans of refrigerant with the technician gauges for refilling it, a spare electronic board, 3 remote thermostats for said electronic board, a few fans for it, etc etc etc. And that’s not even a critical system! Removed all of that, remove half of the tools and spare tools(!) and I’m convinced we would save at shave at least 1 day on this crossing, save hundreds of dollars in fuel and sail so much better.

That scrap of 3/8 aluminium plate? The perfect blank to make a new chain stripper when the original one broke in the middle of nowhere


But no shops in sight. So we do carry a lot. And true to Murphy’s law, it’s never the things that we carry that we need. But in a weird twist of fate, I’m convinced that it’s because we carry all of these spares that we don’t need them. It would suffice for me to give away our 55lbs spare anchor to suddenly need it the next day. It’s like insurance. It’s because you have it that you don’t need it…


We’re day 11 on our crossing. The ITCZ “seems” to be behind us with light winds picking up this morning – which makes it almost safe to say we’ve reached the mid-point of our crossing. So far, we’ve faired better than I was expecting. Oh sure, we had a thing or two that broke, but nothing of consequence.


Our latest failure is by far the most annoying right now. While going on deck at 1 in the morning to pull out the whisker pole, my headlamp gave up. Without warning, it was suddenly pitch dark all around me. For a second, all I could sense was the wind in my ears and feel the boat roll under me. Then I realized that a 16′ long pole was free and would swing back at me as the next wave would try to make me loose footing. Our top-of-the-line headlamp let us down when I truly needed it. The situation turned scary bad real fast, and only luck (and the fact I’ve done this manoeuvre so many times I can literally do it my eyes closed) got me safe, back in the cockpit. Cass reached out for hers, only to discover it wasn’t working either. The rain had been clearly stronger than their “waterproof” claims. How can you go from 2 very good headlamps to nothing? Bad luck. I’m now writing this with the light coming out from my cellphone. Not a smart move we would all agree. But out here right now, my phone is probably the least useful item on this boat… And I need a light.


Everything fails. It’s just a question of time. On a boat, it sometimes make you feel your safety is on borrowed time. I guess that’s why cruisers always talk about equipment failure. It’s the first thing you think of when you wake up, and the last thing in your mind when you fall asleep. Go around a bonefire on a beach and it seems like everyone is trying to compete about the worst failure that happens to him. It’s not about scaring other. There’s always something to learn. A mistake that we could avoid, a brand to stay clear of, a way to install something that could have been better. But most time, what you realize is that it’s a new spare parts you need to buy. Because if you have the spare part, you won’t need it…

I know we’re all looking happy. But don’t kid yourself; some real horror stories of autopilot failure is being discussed there!


Anyone has a good recommendations for headlamps?

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14 comments

  • Lynn Creasy August 6, 2022   Reply →

    Thanks for the good read and a couple of literary chuckles! I hope you are now having fair winds and minimal equipment failures! Still love our logo!

  • N. Pelletier August 7, 2022   Reply →

    Merci pour les nlles. Soyez bien prudents. Je suppose que la chaleur doit aussi faire partie du “trip”. Endurable” pas de clim, mais du vent à profusion?

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