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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

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
Torn Dacron

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

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Blogger Jim said...

Can't imagine what it feels like to have a 43-foot boat knocked down and staying there. Couple of times we had to cut spinnaker sheets on much smaller boats and that was plenty scary. While you are busy taking the blame, you should give yourselves a lot of credit. Without your skill and teamwork this could have ended much worse--broken rigging, broken mast, hull full of water---

27 June, 2014 03:11  
Blogger Chuck & Linda onboard Jacaranda said...

Oh crap what a huge bummer. At the very least you have the racing main to get you further north. A very good sailmaker in the PV area you may want to check out. Tony Morelli one of the Morelli brothers. His brother is the famous multihull designer. Been doing sails for years in the US. Send me an email if you want his email address.

Just arrived in Ecuador last week. 5 days from Pt Armuelles. Nice and cool here.

Good luck sorting things out


28 June, 2014 02:10  
Blogger wingssail said...

It’s not so hard to imagine when you stop to think of the static force that results from something near thirty knots of wind on a 370sq ft mainsail (well over 1000 lbs), even allowing that some of it was shedding pressure through that big hole, not to mention the dynamic force of a wildly flogging sail, and if you sail one of these boats for a while it becomes imminently clear that the power of the wind and sea dwarfs to insignificance the power of a man to manage it and that this immense power always lays coiled and waiting for that one mistake which unleashes it.

That unleashed fury can explode lines and sails and smash rigging and masts and break bones and turn human flesh into blood and gore without an instant’s hesitation, and can toss people and hardware into the air and over the side and into the sea in a blink, and it is always there next to you, silent, waiting to strike.

Sometimes think you are in control it but in reality it is only lulling you. It is a large and powerful tiger on a very short leash.

On the other hand, I have to say, this machine is itself an awesome creation, a creation of man, a thing of glorious beauty and power and strength of its own that can withstand the insane natural violence, from the shaking of the sails in just shy of 30 knots of wind to the power which can hold the boat down against the righting moment of a four ton keel and when it is all over, it has survived, and, with the addition of just one new sail, ready for another go.

The people who sail it, Judy and I, who somehow escaped injury and death, on the other hand, simply feel lucky to have been in that cage with the tiger and yet were not mauled; not this time.

Chuck, congratulations on getting safely to Ecuador, glad it is cool there. Have a good time touring. I have Tony's details, thank you.

28 June, 2014 19:30  
Blogger wingssail said...

I answered the wrong question just then.

How does it feel?

When something happens, it's done, then you start to deal with it. First you realize you aren't hurt. Then you start to correct the problem. You don't feel much, it's not fear, you don't think you are going to die, or get hurt, you just start working to extricate yourself. You don't stop believing you will get out of the situation, you never do, until you don't get out, or the next thing happens. Then you start working on that.

First we jibed. It was a shock. Then, I wasn't hurt, Judy wasn't hurt, OK, I started to work on getting un-jibed, setting things right. Then I saw the main was torn. OK I had to get un-jibed and get the main down. You just do it. No feelings came in. That was later. Then you want to talk about it. See all the words I have written about this? I had to talk about it. That's the most feeling I had. It was later.

But when the boat was down on its side and stuff was all screwed up, You don't feel. You just act.

30 June, 2014 06:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just read this blog and the last one, I know there is another and knowing that ALMOST keeps the tears at bay.
Just so you know it might be to
Time to find that little spot in Mexico and stop scaring the sh t out of us.
Us being everyone that loves you two and that is pretty much everyone who knows you well.
My problem is that I can see and feel the tension in your muscles as you deal methodically with each disaster as it comes.
Not a beer. A LOT of beer.
I am thanking God.
I am so proud of you both. You DO. Most of us don't.
Keep writing. Then I know you are okay and I breathe.
lil sis

09 July, 2014 17:47  

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