Sunday, April 8, 2012
I left the marina with strong winds coming out of the west. It didn't take too long to get out to sea where 6-10 foot waves were waiting for me. It looked like a mess out there - but I've been in much worse. I had the little jib up and it sailed well over the big ten footers. I had a little trouble on the way back as the boat kept wanting to head up into the strong gusting wind and I realized I had not let the mainsail out enough (I had it out on a broad reach but even that was not working!) After an hour of sailing out there in that, I came back into the breakwater and realized I had only sailed two hours! I need four hours to qualify for a day (for my captains license), so I sailed to the other end of the marina and back and STILL had an hour left. The sun had set when I got back at the entrance to the sea and I decided to head out into the waves at night for half an hour. I wasn't really afraid as I have been out in similar weather at night many times. The wind had calmed a little - perhaps from twenty knots to ten - and was right on the edge but not bad enough to warrant a sail change. I had raised the genoa again - just 20 mins earlier and was confident my shrouds were strong (as I check them often) and that the big jib could handle the load. However, because I had been out an hour in the waves, I should have paid some attention to the spreaders. In hindsight, I now have a suspicion that the
port spreader cross tree was slipping a little with all the tossing about that day. For no sooner had I got an eighth of a mile out and suddenly with a gunshot like crack, the mast was suddenly swept away right off the deck!
One moment the mast was on and the next it was gone. One of my worst nightmares - being caught in big seas and losing my mast - had come true. Thankfully the seas weren't twenty feet and breaking! Anyway, now the mast lay on the water with all sails. The motion of the boat slowed down instantly and now I was just floating around without any ability to steer the boat. By slowing down almost to a standstill, this made the boat ride the waves almost like you can imagine a rubber ducky would. But in losing speed, the rudder would not work. I knew I needed to get a sea anchor going so I could keep the boat heading up into the waves. So I opened the hatch to go check what I could do. I was half terrified of even opening my cabin to look, as opening the hatches made me vulnerable to taking on water if a big wave hit me broadsides. But I had to try! So after stepping into the cabin and looking around, I couldn't see anything that would work and realized I was just going to have to live with the craziness. So giving up on that idea, I decided to do the next most important thing which was to call in an S.O.S to the Harbor Patrol. While waiting for them to come, I then pulled on the rigging - trying to pull the mast out of the water. However, pulling on the shrouds was like wishing to make my hands blead, so I decided to try and pull on the softer rope halyards instead. That seemed to work and I soon had the top of the mast out of the water and winched in to the cleat. But it was SO heavy! I could barely do that. At that point, I remember seeing the Harbor Patrol boat coming out of the breakwater. Suddenly in the dark, I saw a big ten foot wave coming. The boat began to ride up its big front and as it came to the top, the wave jolted the boat - hitting it and pushing it forward with all of its might. A surge of fear welled up inside of me. I didn't like the boat so out of control. Nevertheless, this must have happened three times before the Harbor Patrol arrived. Thankfully this was the worst of it. When the patrol came - you can imagine how happy I was! Soon the rescue men had heaved over the waves a line. Catching it for dear life, I then attached it to the bow and we were off - dragging the twenty five foot mast behind me with the sails still in the water. As I was towed along, I was able to get the other half of the broken mast out of the ocean and attach it to the side of the bow. But getting the whole mast up and onto the deck was more than I could do or figure out at that time. However, it was at this time that it suddenly dawned on me that I could have attached my 100 foot rope to my big bucket and that this would have made a sufficient sea anchor! And afterwards (while going to sleep that night in the safety of my slip), it also dawned on me that if I had attached a strong rope to where the spreaders connect to the mast, I may have been able to pull the broken mast up and over the stern rail. Oh well. Something learned for another time! But more importantly, I hope I will have learned enough to keep me out of this kind of trouble - ever again! But knowing me, only time will tell."
Posted by Albie at 4:15 AM
"What if I had been demasted out in the middle of the ocean - what would I have done then?" So began my construction of my make shift mast! 'Sailing' or should I really say 'rowing' my Columbia 22 boat out into the marina late last night, I decided to work on my idea out there and still get my sea time. It was a beautiful night and I was the only one out on the water. Even not having sails, I still enjoyed the wind on the water and the night light reflections. Rowing against the light wind blowing was a little difficult but I soon got to the top of the finger channel and could just let the boat drift. In the quietness, I started going over in my mind all the different possibilities for building the make-shift mast. It was a little rough going as not many ideas were taking shape! And then the thought of standing the broken mast up against the bow pulpit started becoming a possibility. Laying out two boards horizontally for the mast to lie against (actually the mast was fitted snug between the two and could rest there), I then got the halyards secured at a metal eye at the top of the mast. Then while drifting down the harbor and trying to maintain some course, I lifted the heavy mast up and secured it quickly with strong rope. Suddenly I realized the boat was drifting too close to a boat on the dock and had to run across the deck and into the cockpit and turn the tiller. Meanwhile the mast was only secured half way and leaning dangerously close to shifting and snapping the wood and falling into the water. I had to move fast and carefully so that I didn't rock the boat. Having done that successfully, I then came back and secured it all the way. Having to strengthen the bow so that the weight of the 100 lbs mast was pulling against the forward shroud cleat and the two bow port and starboard cleats - instead of leaning its weight on the bow pulpit - took a lot of time and thought. As it was, it took me hours to make it properly secure and it wasn't till 3:30 am in the morning when I rolled into my dock! All the time I had doubts as to getting it up and how tight it was and if the make shift shrouds would work and if it would fall and pull the pulpit right off the deck! But after all that, I had done it and it was secure! But 'beautiful' it was not - unless you like 'pirate' looking rigging! So then I had to figure out what kind of sail to give it. At first I was thinking that an asian lanteen sail plan would work really well - but it didn't. Then I got out my small storm sail and ran that up the mast. It was okay but after taking it for a test run, it pulled the bow down and would not run into the wind. Later I learned this was because I have a fin keel and the mast being at the bow was not at the center of gravity/effort. So instead of pulling the boat, the sails power was turning it. Interesting huh! Well at that point I was out of ideas. So then later, I saw in my sailing book a make shift sail that had a spinnaker pole put up off the stern with the bottom edge of the sail taken up the halyard and the length of it pulled out to catch the wind across the deck. Not sure if you can get the picture of this but the sail is up - just the wrong way! So that gave me an idea to try my full sail and put it up the wrong direction from my mast at the bow. I guess I was hoping that because a lot of the sail caught the wind along the waist of the boat that it would drive the boat even into the wind - but no. I did get more power going across the wind and downwind though. So as of the writing of this - I still don't know how to get the boat upwind with a make-shift sail. You know on the ocean, that would possibly mean having to go hundreds or thousands of miles in the wrong direction just to get to land! So if you have any good ideas - leave me a message! I would love to hear them. :-)
Posted by Albie at 4:12 AM