Friday 5 December 2014

ARC 2014 Day Twelve

Today was an eventful day with disaster narrowly averted and I am pleased to report that everyone is safe and well but with Fatty nursing an injured hand. 

It was a beautiful night last night with a big moon, steady trade winds and the perfect temperature for a night watch in shorts and T shirt.  We celebrated with a huge breakfast made by Paulus and as the sun climbed into a cloudless sky the wind dropped off and we decided to set the spinnaker again.

We have a few hitches unfurling today but the big red kite is soon up, powering us along on a beam reach, and everyone goes back to their mid morning jobs: Paulus in the galley as mother, Fatty on the SSB chatting to Amanda on El Mundo and Kerry on watch. I am just tweaking the spinnaker sheet when the fishing rod bucks in its holder and line starts running out, the ratchet on the brake making its mechanical chatter to draw our attention to the fact that we have a fish on the line. It’s a beautiful Dorado, around 4 kilos in weight and the new rod and reel easily recover the fish onto the aft deck where Paulus and I give it a generous helping of the welcome drink (cheap rum) to knock it out and then dispatch it quickly. Soon we have four good-sized fillets in the fridge with everything else over the side and the decks rinsed down.

After lunch Paul and I are in the galley making a marinade for the fish ceviche when we hear a shout from Kerry. We race up on deck to see the spinnaker flying free thirty feet away from the boat, no longer attached to the bowsprit, wildly out of control. It is immediately apparent that the tack fitting that connects the furler to the bowsprit has failed and the whole mechanism is now flailing around, still attached to the spinnaker high in the air and snatching at the line like a huge wild bird.   Paul and I race up to the foredeck and I find that the furling line, still connected to the thrashing spinnaker swivel, is now wrapped around the guard rail, which is not designed to take these sorts of loads and is bent out of shape and in danger of being ripped off the deck.

I call Fatty to let the spinnaker sheet fly to dump the power and to her credit she does this immediately, probably saving the guard rail and the whole spinnaker assembly in the process. I only discover later that the heavy spinnaker sheet, under huge load, has whipped through the palms of her hand giving her some bad rope burns. However at this stage I am unaware of anything other than how to tame this thrashing sail.  The first job is to remove the strain on the guardrail so Paul and I secure the furling line to a deck cleat to give us time to think. From the bow I can see that the heavy machine screws securing the pad eye to the bowsprit have sheared off under the huge loads and if we are to recover the sail we need to secure the furler to the boat as quickly as possible.  We use a short length of line to temporarily control the foot of the sail, allowing us to shackle the furler onto the stem head where it is secure and the immediate danger has passed.

However, attached to the stem head in this way it would be impossible to operate the furler because the stay fouls on the guardrail so we have to find a way to secure it once more to the end of the bowsprit.  We run a length of dyneema inside the length of the hollow carbon bowsprit and secure both ends to the windlass on the foredeck leaving a loop protruding from the end.  De-powering the sail once more we take the strain of the sail on a temporary lashing and transfer the furler onto the loop at the end of the bowsprit and we are back in business.  This arrangement is the alternative method of rigging the furler so I feel confident that we have a very good solution. Re-grouping in the cockpit we are all exhausted. Kerry is nursing Fatty’s rope burns and Paul and I are drained after the physical exertion of taming the runaway spinnaker. Fortunately the only lasting damage is the guardrail that will have to be straightened out when we get to St Lucia.  It could have been a lot worse.

Paulus, who has been an absolute rock all day, providing the muscle on the foredeck, now turns his hand to the galley and serves up to the cockpit a cold spicy ceviche of dorado, only hours out of the ocean, fried chorizo with a squeeze of lime juice and four vodka and tonics: a great way to finish a very eventful and rather dramatic day on Juno. Kerry has bandaged up Fatty’s hand and sent her to bed for an early night with Paulus gallantly standing in to do her night watch.  I was very impressed how we worked as a team to deal with the runaway spinnaker, with everyone stepping up to the challenge, acting calmly and decisively – what a great crew.

The boat is back on the rails, broad reaching at nine knots, however we are being overtaken by another yacht, still flying its spinnaker overnight. I can’t imagine how we would have dealt with our drama on a heaving deck in the pitch black, or furling the spinnaker at night in a squall with 30 knots of wind trying to rip the kite to shreds:  so the wild red bird is caged, firmly zipped into its sail bag on the foredeck where it will remain until daylight – even if it does cost us a few positions on the leader board.

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