Good Ship Sisyphus

Not wanting to prejudice Dragonfly with the sobriquet of SS Sisyphus I’ve casually glided over many and most of her travails.  All things on or near the sea suffer a corrosive deterioration that will infect even the most stalwart and healthy systems.  Dragonfly, now in her 14th year, can suffer multiple system failure, especially in those systems sensitive to the salt water environment, that on terra firma should last a lifetime if not generations.  Fortunately not all things happen at once, more like a slow motion cascade of occurrences that keep the crew and mostly it’s captain in the steady pose of that mythological character, Sisyphus, crouched below a mass pushing uphill against overwhelming and daunting obstacles, and in Dragonfly’s metaphor, across the seas.

The windlass motor is a good example.  We probably changed that out at least six times after various fixes both on board and at a local motor repair shop.  Each time something else seemed to be the culprit.  It didn’t help that the replacement parts that Dragonfly recently purchased apparently lacked quality control in manufacture.  Even with an unlimited warranty and free replacement, that doesn’t help when you are far from phone and FedEx.

Humor, luck and un-ending ingenuity keep the captain smiling at the toil that would easily thwart lesser mortals.  As on all cruising boats, the captain has to be the engineer and crew as well as decider of routes and watches.  Off-watches aren’t always off, as there are problems to solve, crew to help and answers to provide.

The main sail is another example:  After paying double the quote for sail repair and seam reinforcement at a sail loft in Sarasota this Fall, Dragonfly’s main parted exactly on one of the seams they’d paid to have reinforced.  Go figure.  It took four of us two days to hand stitch the 12′ rip and the luft and leech damage.

In the case of Dragonfly, it’s a matter of chasing the jinx rabbit from hatch to hatch, engine to motor, panel to rigging all the time prioritizing what can be done when.  And, of course, what resources remain in the stores that can be fashioned to the occasion. She’s a large vessel, with more than most lockers, spares and parts, but it’s easy to deplete the normal supplies and materials, her demands so great and continual. Pattern recognition becomes a Darwinian trait most desirable when trying to associate a fix with some part languishing in an obscure locker.

Alas, the triumph of one solution is quickly occluded by those further issues needing attention in the serpentine line running along rigging, cables, systems and bulbs.  Note the propeller shaft coupling parting from the transmission.




Fueled by the challenge, or caffeine, the captain steams on with nary a breath or concern for waiting prospects. When I finally had the courage to mention the word Sisyphus in regards to Dragonfly, Al’s instant response was “Sisyphus was a pussy”.

Truth be sewn

Truth is more unbelievable than fiction I’m sure someone has written.

Fortunately Jill has been chronicling all the travails of Dragonfly’s passage south to the Virgins but we don’t generally see the copy as we’re too involved in the making of the story.

Sewing the Sail should be the title of this missive as we’ve just spent two whole days remedying a rent ripped clear across 12’ of main sail near the top, about 60’ in the air above deck.  As happens on Dragonfly, many of these challenges seem unwarranted.  We had just left Samana harbor in the Domician Republic to stage ourselves for a pending weather window to move south to the western coast of Puerto Rico.  We had just cleared the basin, when shortly after having hoisted the main while heading into the wind and setting for a starboard tack the sail simply “popped” and parted leaving a clean horizontal opening on a seam from the leech line to luff bolt rope.

In the air it looked like a 6 or maybe 8’ tear, but once down on the cabin top it proved to be almost 12’ and simply the parting of two panels once held by triple stitching and most recently paid to have re-enforced.  On inspection it seems that the sailmaker concentrated his 40 hours billable time elsewhere even though the invoice states “all seams” were re-enforced.

Undaunted, our captain continued under jib alone, across the Samana Bay and we found refuge in the lee of a spit across from this region’s famous caves.  The following two days were divided into first gluing the sections of material back into alignment and then the 2nd day the four of us stitched from one side to the other in pairs.  It’s possible to pass a needle thru two (and in the case of re-enforced patch areas four to six) layers only after drilling the fabric with a needle-sized drill bit.  Experience told us that you must run the drill bit in reverse, so as not to unravel the fabric, and essentially burn your way thru. Fortunately the trauma to the sail was swift and minimal so it was mostly a matter of arranging work-space on the cabin top and effecting a material-stretching mechanism.  Using contact cement, including the 30-minute curing times, we crept across the seam using bodies, slings and water jugs to keep the wind from prematurely separating our efforts.  In addition to just gluing the seams back we fashioned a number of semicircular patches to bind the fore and aft sections of the rent so that our next day’s stitching would suffice until a proper sailmakers zig-zag sewing machine could finish the job.  And as is always the case once you start looking for weak spots we found several more in the area that got similar treatment.

Day two we once again cozied up to the shoreline to cut the wind and began about six hours of stitching for the four of us.  Two drills, four sets of pliers, two needles and waxed thread enabled teams to work from each end to the middle and back again leaving a double row of stitching 12’ long.


Samana is tropical anchorage on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic just about a long day’s passage from the Turks and Caicos’.  Of course any passage duration depends on weather and sea conditions, and although not uncomfortable , the time was almost 8 hours longer than expected.  As we’ve experienced in our smaller Tobago 35, winds are often on the nose or so close that it’s difficult to make headway toward your destination.  Even Dragonfly goes slow when the winds are less than 35 degrees, however when we put the “iron genny” in gear, Dragonfly still manages 5 knots in the worst of conditions.  On this last passage we experienced everything from no wind to 37.8 knots of wind, so we had ample opportunity to try various sail configurations.  What was interesting was that we’d go off watch and 3 hours later start a new watch and find that our elusive destination was still 19 hours off.  We’d chosen to head further down the Dominican coast ahead of the front so that we’d have a more idyllic anchorage to layover in.  It just took us so long we missed the local New Years celebration and even the Time Square celebration an hour later via Sirius radio.

Never having visited the Dominican Republic it’s been interesting to study up on the history of Hispaniola since Columbus retired here.  Once a major sugar source for the western world they now import sugar from Venezuela.  They had been an early producer of gold before the Spanish overran Central America, but we learned that the Canadians have just started mining gold again after 500 years employing 20,000 locals.  Their only major exports now are tropical fruits and any fish they catch only gets consumed domestically.  Without an Almanac or Wikipedia it’s not totally clear many of the facts we like to learn like literacy or GDP.

The DR feels, and looks not unlike Guatemala or Honduras at it’s coast lines where there are mountains such as traveling up the Rio Dulce.  The street scapes of the single town we’ve visited are so similar in their cinder block facades and the wares and merchandise all similar to any central american town.  Lacking a supermarket they have dozens of “mini-marts” or stalls in the Mercado that sell the dry goods of daily life and produce is sold from roving pick-up truck beds or in the two dozen stalls in the central mercado.

Above is a photo of ice for a fishing boat that would be hand (or bucket) loaded from a shoreline to the fishing boats 20′ out in the water.  And next is a home-brew dive compress better known as a hookah they almost all the fishermen use to walk the bottom picking up conch or spearfishing.  It was particularly interesting to see how the local celebrated the new years day by having a street party with large speakers atop various cars blaring their choice of the most popular dance tunes.  What was most  funny was they were directly across the road from the dozen of side by side outdoor 20×40 combination beer stands with cement slab dance floors.  Speaking of dancing the entire country has a latin salsa hip swing that seems to come as often a an american teenager says “like”.  And BTW our captian Al has that same virus any time he gets within wavelength of those rhythmic beats.