Testing, Testing, Testing!
01 February 2019 | Great Harbor Cay
EVS: Post Blow
It is common to test systems (e.g. sound systems) before putting them to use. “Testing, testing, testing” is a common predicate to many procedures or operational tasks. We try to emulate this before using Gratitude, but sometimes, our good intentions fall by the wayside.
This year has been no different, but has been exacerbated by the fact that Gratitude sat unused for over a year and a half. In a prior post (“There’s always something”) we wrote about performing deferred maintenance on Gratitude in Stuart, FL before we departed for the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it seems we did not do enough.
We left Stuart intending to sail south down the coast toward Lake Worth both to make some southward distance to obtain a better angle to cross the Gulf Stream and to experience the weather. We decided if it was too rough, we could tuck into Lake Worth and await another weather window. The seas were relatively calm, the winds fairly benign (at that point, less than forecast), and we were making good time, so we decided to “go for it” and head across the Stream. We were traveling with Burt and Prue on Exuberant and they made the same choice. The conditions soon changed, however, and we encountered strengthening winds and our angle of approach to the Stream was less than ideal. We crabbed along trying to go up a down escalator, which appeared to move faster as the winds increased. After being slowed more than we wanted, both vessels decided to make a turn to port to get a better (i.e. more perpendicular) angle on the Stream. That, however, put us at a worse angle to the waves and the winds continued to build. About 9 hours into the crossing, Van noticed one of the sail track cars had pulled out of the mainsail track. Because the boat was doing fine and the winds were not extreme, we decided we could “soldier on” and deal with the main later. “Later” came in an hour when Van noticed that several more track “slugs” had pulled out, almost as if the mainsail had become “unzipped” from the mast. We had no alternative but to round up, head into the wind, and wrestle the mainsail to the boom. By now, the winds were quite strong (approaching 20 knots) and the seas very lumpy. Although Van was wearing a harness and was hooked to the boat in multiple locations, the pitching and rolling of the boat made the task of getting the sail down (it normally slides down the track by itself, but remember, very little of it was in the track, so it had to be helped manually) far larger than was comfortable. Indeed, Van had to practice the “one hand for the boat and one hand for himself” rule in spades, so the task was doubly hard. Finally, the sail was retrieved and lashed to the boom with sail ties (try tying knots one handed while being tossed about) and we resumed course with just the jib and mizzen sail.
The next day, in the comfort of the marina in Great Harbor Cay, Van was “cranked up” the mast to inspect the track, only to find multiple, uniform hairline cracks the length of it and several locations where the track had been deformed when the sail was unzipped. Research on the internet and in sailing forums turned up information that the situation was not uncommon and is due to UV damage. We have been in contact with the manufacturer and a “fix” is in process, but in the meanwhile, we are moving about without a mainsail. That is not a huge hardship as we often sail with just the “jib and jigger”. It does look somewhat funny however.
The situation resulted in many conversations to the effect “the mainsail is new, we never used it or tried it out before we left HHI, and we should have tested it before we started the trip.” While true, it is unlikely that any simple hoisting the main (indeed, we had done that several times at the dock back home) or even day sails would have uncovered the situation. It took the stresses of high winds and rolling seas to reveal the defects.
Of course, we were not alone in this discovery that systems should be tested. Other sailing friends had the same conversations when they discovered (as they were preparing to leave FL and then during the crossing to the Bahamas): their batteries were dead (replaced before departure), their freezer compressor had failed (replaced before departure), their SSB antenna wire had broken off (repaired at anchor), their anchor windlass remote had a fault (work in process), and their generator overheated (caused by a broken impeller— repaired). The “Admiral” insisted that she had told the “Captain” that he should have tested the systems before they were getting ready to depart.
Maybe that is why the expression is “testing, testing, testing” and not just “testing”!