We have been told it was a matter of when not if we would have a breakage on the Atlantic crossing. Still I was hopeful that a departure check by a rigger, electrician and mechanic, plus a new boat the above factors might allow us to travel from Europe to the America’s without too much drama. In fact I was positively optimistic that we would sail the 3000 odd nautical mile trip fairly drama free, such is my nature.
I Am A Fool
It was only two hours into our second leg of a five to six day trip from the Canary’s to the Verde Islands, when the idea of no major issues turned to crap. Our trip had begun slowly, there was little wind as we left the Canary Islands and we were keen and ready to get on the move. The forecast was for low winds for the first three hours, then the forecast was for two to three days 15 to 20 knots. Our journey forward came to an abrupt end when our main sail went from the top of the mast to sitting in a mess on top of the bimini.
On this day we shall not pass.
So Why, What Happened?
It was the Harken 75 block that connected the sail to the main halyard that had sheared at the metal connection of the pulley. This was amazing. We had little or no wind, we were moving downwind slowly and there was nothing putting the block under any major strain, this breakage was out of the blue. According to the Harken website this piece of equipment was built to withstand 10.5 tonnes of force.
We feel we are the victim of a faulty part, even though Harken say they are the best, we don’t think this was the case for us. If this is the best, it’s not good enough.
What Really Upset Me
Only minutes before, our sail came down perfectly, it was a beautiful day as remarked by all. We had left pre dawn for a good start, the sunrise was spectacular and the mood on the boat was super high. As is the way of a good road trip we were each selecting a song to listen to and the rules where simple. Each song was the choice of the person but could not be excessive in time, no Pink Floyd 13 minute songs can be selected. At this point in time the Captain had first choice. Our yummy breakfast of fresh fruit and muesli had just finished and a fresh pot of tea was up next. Yep it was a happy time with only positive thoughts for the 755 nautical miles ahead.
The plan was simple. The Captain would go up the mast, bring the main sheet down from the top of the mast and replace the part, we would raise the sail once again and off we would go. Easy. As my father says “Men make plans God laughs”.
It is important to know that the Captain does not like heights, in fact heights terrify him, so going up a moving mast is not one of his favourite pastimes. For him, indeed all of us, this was a big deal, but when your the Captain and the boat is moving the buck stops with you. It was his job to go first and have a look at the problem then delegate if needed. Usually to go up the mast you use the main sheet but this was at the top of the mast, so it was decided to use the topping lift sheet, the rope that holds the boom off the deck.
The spinnaker rope was used to hold up the boom whilst we used the topping lift to lift the Captain up. As a safety option and second chance rope we also tied the gennaker haylard to his belt. As the Captain moved up the mast the two ropes coming from different angles caused issues with one coming over a shroud the other straight from the back. Captain not happy coming down to do it again.
This attempt, there was the no safety rope option. It was the topping lift and topping lift only. If it failed the result would be grim. As the Captain was winched higher I kept thinking of the topping lift and whether I could trust this pale grey rope to take my husband up and return him to the ground. My stress levels were rising. Added to the drama the wind speed had increased and having no sails up, the boat rock momentum was increasing. Any movement at the boat level was dramatically increased at the top of mast level.
Oh joy, looking up did not look inviting. Yet the Captain was not quite prepared to give up on retrieving our main, even if he was scared, his stubbornness would not allow him to walk away unsuccessful. Well not yet.
It is crazy to expect a different outcome unless you change the action, so after a team meeting a new plan was put in play. First was to stabilise the boat by putting the front sail out. Second was to stablise the Captain at the top of the mast. To do this he put on a life jacket with a harness so he could place the harness around the mast allowing him to hold in close. Final approach was to take some additional rope up with the intent of hooking onto the main haylard pullie to assist with bringing the main haylard down.
Up up up he went.
Once again the Captain was winched to the top of the mast. (Gael was certainly getting a workout this day..)
Once at the top, the Captain tied the new rope to the main in readiness to bring it down with him. He did not however tie himself to the mast as planned.
Introducing the new rope was the downfall of the operation. Unbeknown to the Captain who was under a great deal of stress at this point, he tied the rope incorrectly and now the main was never coming down.
Things Got Worse
The boat was rolling from side to side. The human very important to me, at the top of the mast, was being thrown from one side of the mast to the other. Each attempt to hold on to the slippery white mast failed, then for one long minute he was out of control. As the mast swung like a pendulum the Captain swung as well, twisting in the air like a failed acrobat. To watch it was horrible, to be in the air doing it must have been painful and terrifying. As the three of us watched below we all agreed that this was not sustainable and the rag doll Captain was at risk of serious harm if not brain damage if he continued. He needed to be brought down.. ASAP.
Once the Captain had gained control of his momentum he lost control of his mojo. Losing his composure resulted in the Captain screaming at us repeatedly to “Get me down”. While he was screaming I was yelling up “you have to listen”. Lost in his white knuckle terror and dry mouth fear he had failed to realise he was straddling a main stay, the only way to go further down the mast was for him to go up a little and unhook his legs. Unfortunately for him the part of his brain that was meant to keep him rational had gone on holiday, he was temporarily broken. Once he listened, we got him down quick smart.
The Captain returned but was not the same man that went up the mast. The returned Captain was sweating, grey, had bleeding shins and feet and dark bruising was appearing on his inner arms, inner thighs and shins. He looked a mess.
Boat 3 Captain 0
It was agreed the best course of action was to turn around as we were not that far into our journey and go back to Las Palmas, up the western side of the Grand Canary and get our boat fixed when in port and calm waters..
You may wonder why we did not send up one of the younger crew who both happen to like rock climbing. First it’s rare for anyone to raise their hand quickly to go up a moving mast, why would you, it is scarey and has a degree of risk, particularly going up without a second rope. Secondly the crew did offer but the Captain has a strong sense of duty and felt it was important he went up to fix the issue. On this day he was the wannabe hero.
Force 7 thought it a muppet show, Carol thought it was important to turn around, and I was grateful the drama was over and the Captain was safe, whereas he was just pleased to have his feet on terra firma. It was the crew that saved the day once we got into Port, with Carol and Gael taking it in turns to bring the main down and then up again once we had the part. Yay for crew. Sparing the Captain or worse me, having to go up made their presence on the boat gold!!
Then it was time to move forward after our two day delay.
It was good to get back on the watery road after our failed start and we completed step two on our Atlantic Crossing.
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