The Good the Bad the Ugly
26 April 2010 | En route to the Marquesas
Warning: this article was written by the captain who may have been slightly delirious from sleep deprivation...
First the Good:
Helen and I were having one of those special moments - we usually have two such indulgent moments each day, one with morning coffee and the other with a Gin and Tonic in the hand at about 5:00PM. We were making such good progress; the kids were going well, the skies were blue, we were finally in the Pacific - 'our' ocean and we were looking ahead to wondrous South Pacific islands and friends joining us.
We were also waxing lyrical about Nika, our beautiful boat who has been looking after us so well, going fast in light and heavy winds, lovely simple uncluttered decks and systems, big open space down below, etc etc.
Richard, an old friend of mine, would call such indulgent reflections an attack of hubris and it certainly was. You can never be sure about things out in the middle of a vast ocean, and things past don't necessarily signal what is to come...
Then the Bad:
Last Sunday afternoon, the Autopilot broke down as mentioned in my last blog update. We had to hand steer the last 800nm taking about 5 days and 5 nights. Let me tell you after three days of hand steering that it is reasonably tedious, if not difficult, to steer a yacht in a straight line hour after hour. It is almost impossible to do it in the dark of night with a lumpy following sea when you are so tired that you start to nod off whilst standing on your feet!
For the night watches, Helen and I have been steering one hour on, one hour off with the off-watch person sleeping in full wet weather gear and lifejacket on the cockpit seat in case quick action was required. Any time spent eating, doing jobs or even going to the toilet is time lost for sleeping! During the day, the steering is easier but we tend to steer for longer spells - sometimes four hours.
and finally the downright Ugly: things that go bang in the night...
Actually, it was about lunchtime on Tuesday. We were 500nm from landfall, when we all heard the big BANG and frantically looked about us to see what it could be. Helen spotted one of the D2 wires hanging limply from the end of the first spreader. The D2 is a 7mm diameter stainless steel shroud which helps to hold up the mast. It is supposed to be anchored into the mast just below the second spreader and goes out to the end of the first spreader. There is one on the port side and one on the starboard side. We'd broken the Port D2.
What to do? The mast was flexing side-to-side like spaghetti above the first spreaders, threatening to collapse. We immediately rolled away mainsail and jib and turned the engine on. This reduced loads on the mast but we started to roll severely side-to-side in the rough seas (the wind was gusting up to 28 knots). We needed to get up the mast quickly and attach some ropes to take the load but we faced a quandary (of course, disasters never happen at convenient times): Helen could not leave the wheel as we had no Autopilot so Jesse would have to winch and belay me up the mast.
With much trepidation, I donned the climbing harness and quickly got up to the first spreader where I removed the split pin and clevis pin and lowered the broken D2 down to Jesse using a rope. I started to shimmy up towards the second spreaders when I had a panic attack and almost couldn't go on. The mast was pumping 300mm side-to-side and the boat was lurching violently so that the further I went up, the harder it was just to hang on.
Mostly in life you have a choice of whether to proceed in the face of danger and sometimes you don't. I'm usually up for a spot of adventure, but on this occasion, I felt a primal pang of fear so great I almost baulked and came back down. If you've ever climbed a double-length extension ladder up a wall and when you've got to the top, you've had to commit to letting go the ladder and climbing the last final steps till your hands reach the gutter, that's a little like what it felt like.
Needless to say, I continued upwards and reached the second spreaders (about 12m above deck) and attached a series of webbing loops and spectra wire rope around the mast. Then it was back down to the first spreaders (what a relief!) where the various ropes were attached and pulled as tight as possible. Helen had a brilliant idea to go back up to the first spreader and take the final part of the 4:1 purchase down to a block anchored from the mooring cleat on deck and thence back to the primary winch for tensioning which meant we could tighten it without going back up the mast.
We could now raise about ¼ of the mainsail which we matched with about half the No. 3 jib to get back under sail and continue at reduced speed towards the Marquesas. We continued to feel rather stressed about the possibility of the mast still coming down as we rolled in the steep waves under reduced sail. We also used the engine a bit to keep up the speed to get there.
It was a huge relief to make landfall at Hiva Oa and to be met by friends with a bottle of champagne and ice cream was just tremendous!
We are now safely tucked up in the anchorage enjoying baguettes for breakie lunch and tea and everything doesn't look quite so bad!
We are extremely grateful for our friends on Rhiann Marie for helping us out with a new course computer which they had spare. As they are Scottish we have now nicknamed it "Wee Joch" instead of the original George! We also feel very grateful to our friends on Grace and Chappie who maintained a vigilant 3 hourly radio sked in case we had further trouble. Their support and advice over the 5 days was awesome! The sat phone worked a treat in the moment of crisis we were able to ring Bavaria for advice and Ian (Helen's brother) who is a rigger was able to talk through the mast issues.
The kids were absolutely terrific helping with dinners, schoolwork and generally looking after themselves. They ran the kids radio net each day which was great!
We are now recovering well and enjoying the company of cruising friends and having singalongs and swapping stories! We will potter around here for at least another week while we await parts being made by Ian (Uncle String!).
We feel we have had enough drama for the whole trip now and promise our blogs will be less gritty next time!!
A bientot mes amis! The Nika crew