by Christine Kling
In the photo above, I’m posing next to the church bell at one of the churches here on Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Do you recognize the bell? Yes, it is a gas cylinder. They can’t refill them here, so they put them to use as church bells. The striker (just out of sight behind a pillar there) is a tire iron. In a way, this is the ultimate form of recycling. Why get something purpose-built for the job when you can make do with what’s at hand? It doesn’t matter if you are in the Caribbean or the Pacific, so often island people make do with what’s available.
This concept of “making do” seems to be a skill that civilization and specialization is causing us to lose. I remember working as a teacher and trying to get students to use these problem-solving, critical thinking skills — and those muscles were so often flabby, to say the least.
Sailors know it as the art of the “jury-rig.” According to Wikipedia, that phrase has been in use “since at least 1788.” They define it as “makeshift repairs or temporary contrivances, made with only the tools and materials that happen to be on hand.” Back in the golden age of sail when boats were at sea for months at a time and they had no EPIRBs or SSBs or Sat Phones, jury-rigging was a way of survival.
Of course the ultimate jury-rigger was MacGyver. Remember him from the TV series from 1985-1992 (I suggest you look at the post-mullet hair style episodes)? He was a secret agent, but instead of having a “Q” to outfit him with the coolest gadgets, he devised his own from paperclips, a comb and a shoelace. I think it would be great if we had more heroes for kids today who could MacGyver.
As a thriller writer, I try to put my characters into deeper and deeper trouble. The problem is, sometimes I get them in so deep, I have trouble figuring out how to MacGyver them out of it. I’ve spent days trying out different ideas and manufacturing methods of escape — it is my version of writer’s block. Eventually, I always come up with something, and fortunately for me, there are only fictional lives hanging in the balance. If my methods of escape don’t work well, I’l only be flayed in the Amazon reviews.
On boats however, there are real lives at stake. And yachties in general seem to enjoy backseat driving and armchair quarterbacking – telling others how they would have done something better than the folks who were out there in the thick of it. Recently, there has been lots of discussion out in the world of cruising boats about the abandonment and rescue of the crew aboard a catamaran off the coast of Virginia that lost control of their rudders. They had lots more go wrong than we did, and they were in the frigid and dangerous waters of the North Atlantic in January. I would not presume to suggest they should have done anything differently.
However, I’m very glad that I was sailing with a captain who, like me, grew up watching MacGyver and put those problem-solving skills to work to figure out a way to get Learnativity to sail her way to Majuro. We were 211 miles south of our waypoint off the end of the island (or about 225 from the anchorage) when we lost control of the rudder, but in looking at the track we sailed I think we did over 250 with the jury-rig. It wasn’t like we figured it all out right away.
In case you want to take a look at our steering jury-rig, I’ve included a video below that Wayne shot with my GoPro when he’d finished tying up the rudder lines. Pay careful attention to the rising and falling of the transom in the seas. If you have a tendency to get seasick, watch it at your own risk.
Given that she is a steel boat, the rudder has zincs on it that Wayne used to keep the lines from sliding up. The ropes go around the rudder, and then they are lashed together at the trailing end and led up to either cleats or the radar/wind generator posts for tying off. On deck we were able to pull in by mere inches to move the rudder this way or that and steer the boat. It worked remarkably well.
Oddly enough, throughout the whole adventure we felt like we were doing much more than making do. We ate well, listened to music, laughed and had fun. Now, if only it can work out so well next time in my fictional world.
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