June 24, 2014-How We Blew Up the mainsail
By 8:00 PM we were hauling. The wind was 24 in a squall and still building and the boat was broad reaching at 7.5 knots. We had the full main up, maybe more than we needed but the wind came up quickly and at the moment we seemed OK and we were happy for the speed. Except that the autopilot alarm kept going off as the computer complained that it could not keep the boat from rounding up. I went back and took the helm. One good hard pull on the tiller and the boat swerved down and we came back onto the course.
Then the boat jibed; a sudden, unplanned, un-wanted, accidental jibe. Not my first but surely my most disastrous. The preventer kept the boom from coming across and that probably saved the rig, but the main tore right up the middle. It was a hole big enough to fly a drone through.
Judy came up, “What’s going on?”
“We jibed. Stay clear of stuff, I’m going to jibe back. The main is torn.”
But I couldn’t jibe back. The back-winded main, that part of it which remained whole, held the boat pinned down. I looked at the swirls of water in the glare of our stern light and saw that we were not making any forward motion. We were on our side and just sliding off to leeward, the rudder useless.
I tied off the tiller and together we eased the preventer and centered the main and got some way on, then tacked around, but it was slow, and took two tries, the main flogging constantly and that first tear was just the start; suddenly the mainsail simply ripped to shreds. It was an awesome sight.
“Look at the main.” I said.
Judy didn’t want to. Anyhow, she knew it was gone.
Somewhere in this mess the windex departed, so that was gone too.
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
We got the sail down, pieces of it all over the rig and over the side and tangled up in the runners and reefing lines. It took a couple of hours to get them untangled and cleaned up and it was difficult work with the boat rolling mercilessly in the pouring rain and darkness. We kept our harnesses clipped on and worked with hand tools and flashlights; the engine running slowly ahead and the autopilot steering again.
Now the shreds of the main are rolled into a ball and stacked on the quarter deck, a reminder to the skipper of his errors, and we have motored on to Playa del Cocos without having any further incident, but the emotional scars will not heal as quickly. This incident has left us shaken. We’ve heard stories of disasters like this happening to other boats but we’ve avoided them for all these years. Maybe we thought we were invincible. But it happens quickly and when it does there is no going back to the time before; you can’t unwind it, you just have to deal with it. Some of the memories of that squall will stick to us for a while, like looking aloft and seeing the entire mainsail flying in the wind like so many white streamers and like me hanging on to the boom for dear life while trying to undo the shackles on the clew, Judy holding a flashlight and urging me to hold tight as I swung from one side of the boat to the other like a rag doll.
And the total disorientation I felt when trying to figure out which way to safely turn the boat on that black night in that gusting and shifting wind. I kept looking up where the windex should be to see the wind direction but it wasn’t there and all the numbers on the B&G basically meant nothing. I remember one moment when I finally got a mental image of it: “OK, the wind is 165, we are heading 30, so I’ve got it; I have to turn right to tack.” Sounds easy now but then, when our course up till then had been 290 and the wind 110, it took time to make that new mental image. I was glad the shoreline was miles away; at least we had sea room.
So now we have to buy a new main. It’s no surprise; the cloth was old and getting brittle and just earlier that day I saw that some stitches on a previous patch were opening up new holes. I just hoped it would make it to Mexico but it didn’t. We put on the racing main so we can sail again, and we’re looking for a windex or some sort of substitute for wind direction aloft, and we have to start thinking about where and how we’ll get another Dacron main. But that can wait for Mexico. Right now we are going to get ready for another leg:
wingssail images-judy jensen
We’ll leave for Nicaragua in a few days.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica