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Recognizing Indaba

Posted by Tom Benedict on 14/05/2012

I recently learned a new word: indaba. “Indaba” is a conference held by the Indunas (the headmen) of the Zulu tribes in which much is discussed, but because of the large quantities of home brew served at such conferences, very little is actually accomplished. In colloquial usage it refers to expending a huge amount of effort to get what seems like a simple job done.

Oh boy…

There are tons of stories I could tell from work that fit this to a tee. At the moment our telescope is shut down because of something that seems so simple, but becomes more complex day by day. But because this story is ongoing and because it would be too easy for feelings to get hurt by what I write, I’ll share a recent story of my own instead:

The sailboat we bought came with three sails: two mains and one foresail. In an earlier post I mentioned that the foresail overlaps the mast, so it’s actually a genoa rather than a jib. But the overlap is on the order of 5% or so, so the whole jib vs. genoa is really just a technicality. Anyway, the jib attaches to the forestay with a zippered pocket. This kind of arrangement is typical on small cats like the P-Cat. It also means your sail has this ginormous zipper that it depends on. Completely.

When I bought the boat the previous owner went through the sails and pulled them all out for inspection. When he pulled out the jib the zipper pull came off in his hand. “Oh well,” he said. “That’ll need to be replaced!”

Well yeah!

The boat took so much work to get ready for the water, the jib more or less sat around for weeks. Eventually I got around to it and started looking for a zipper pull. Zippers come in all sorts of sizes and styles, so I had to take a look at the zipper to see what kind of pull I needed. Then when I tugged at the zipper, several teeth promptly broke off and fell into my hand. I thought to myself, “Oh well. That’ll need to be replaced!” Well… yeah…

I ordered a new zipper almost 30′ long. It wound up only being a few feet longer than I needed, which was perfect. The idea with a jib zipper is to sew a too-long zipper in place, trim to length, then treat the lower end of the zipper so the pull can’t come off the track. I had just the one I needed.

Except I didn’t have the right thread or needle. So I placed yet another order and packed the sail away until I could work on it. Eventually the thread and needle came, so out came the sail once again. While trying to get the old rotten zipper off, I gashed the sail with my seam ripper.

The rip was short and not in the main body of the sail. Nothing that couldn’t be repaired with Dacron repair tape and some more stitching. So I placed yet another order for the Dacron tape, and packed the sail away yet again. When the tape arrived I pulled everything out. After the patch was on and stitched  in place, I just had the zipper to go. Fifty feet of zig-zag, and I’d finally be done!

Except that my machine couldn’t punch through the reinforcing at the head of the sail. There must be seven thicknesses of sail cloth at that point, and my poor machine just didn’t have the horsepower to shove the needle through. Rather than kill the machine I packed the sail up, swapped back to kite making needle and thread, and put the machine away. Then I boxed up the sail and sent it to Sailcare along with a note:

In addition to the sail cleaning, I need the zipper sewed on properly. The old zipper had rotted away, and I thought my machine was up to the task. I was wrong. Unfortunately I didn’t figure this out until I was halfway through the job. Do what you have to do.

I have had more embarrassing moments in my life, but this one ranked up there. I’ve also had more than my fair share of simple jobs like this one where I spent more time and energy than should’ve been required to get them done. But this one is right there at the top of the list.

Indaba. Now I know what to call it.

– Tom


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