A little spar problem
06 September 2010 | Herschel Island
Liz for Dermot
Sorry for the gap in blog posting. Incompetence on my part meant that I failed to include the text in my email on Sunday, and I am late in sending Monday's post due to tedious technical problems. So much to write about. No doubt though about where I must start.
At about midnight I had just clicked send on yesterday's blog. It was Sibeal's watch and she asked me to check on the engine throttle, which was charging the battery. I happened in the dark to look up at the sails and noticed that the main really didn't look "right". To my horror, I saw that the gaff had broken about two feet behind the main mast. Young Larry is a traditionally gaff-rigged boat. Most modern rigged boats have the biggest main sail that is triangular. A gaff-rigged sail is more square-shaped and the gaff is the wooden spar that hols up the top of the sail.
At the time we were sailing with the wind behind us. Our destination was actually dead down wind which paradoxically isn't always the easiest point of sailing as there is a risk of gybing (when the mainsail and the boom can violently crash over to the other side of the boat and cause harm to the boat or the head of anyone who might get in its way. To avoid this risk we had been sailing about 30 degrees off the wind and had a rope set up called a preventer to stop any gybes and indeed we had not gybed. The wind was about a force five which isn't unreasonable. We were going nice and fast but everything seemed under control and safe. It is still not at all clear why this should have happened. The bit of wood that broke did not seem rotten. It did break at the end of the fitting (called the throat) that attaches it to the mast so it could have had some form of pivoting force that caused it to snap but we aren't sure why.
Clearly this was not a high point. I called everyone upon deck and with a great team effort we managed to get all the sails and spars back down to deck level and mercifully the sail seemed intact. There was a real risk that it could have shredded itself. We wrapped it all up and continued on our way only slightly slower with just the front jib sail and the back mizzen sail. We planned to continue to Herschel Island and reassess things in daylight.
Not long after that I was woken by Maire to look at our first viewing of the Northern Lights! Wow. One of the Tuk residents had said we should see them soon and she was right. So much for only seeing them on calm nights though.
Just as we approached Herschel Island, Maire and I got a glimpse of a solitary whale- the first since I was on board. We arrived into the anchorage bay on Hershel Island in the late afternoon with bright blue skies. There is the remains of an old whaling station here and it looked like there was a lot to see ashore.
First of all however our priority was the gaff. We disentangled it from the (intact) sail and rigging. Next we undid all its fixings to the mast etc. a few days ago I mentioned a pole for the front jib sail. We have also been carrying a spare for this, attached to the rigging. Andrew had meant to take this off as an unnecessary encumbrance. It transpires that the gaff, the jib-pole and its spare are all the same length and size.
Andrew and Maire brought the boat from its designer and builder, Dick Coulture. We are deeply indebted to him in thinking ahead and building in such a backup solution.
Tomorrow's task will be to remove all the fittings from the old broken gaff, and the spare-jib pole and swap them round. We have made a start on this. It is fair to say that they are pretty firmly wedged into the fittings and that it isn't going to be easy but I am sure that we will manage somehow. Needs must!
Clearly this is a set back and you feel you isolation from outside support up here, but it could have been so, so much worse.
Once we had done as much as we could this evening we got another reward of a school of at least 8 beluga whales actually in the harbour. These are a unique and easily identified pale colour. Apparently their skin makes for the best and most prized Maqtaaq, if there is such a thing.
We then decided to have a stroll around the abandoned buildings here. I have to say that this is perhaps on of the most amazing places that we have visited in the Arctic.
To do it justice will probably take a whole blog in itself, so more tomorrow folks.