Sunday 8 December 2019

Disaster Averted

Venture Capitalists like me, who invest in young technology companies, tend to fall into two categories. There are those who "optimise the upside" and those who focus more on "downside protection". While I have high hopes for all my investments, I am definitely in the latter camp, and I always like to have a plan to deal with the worst possible outcomes, or better still to take pre-emptive action to minimise the likelihood of a disaster.

During the past few days, as we near the end of the voyage, I have been thinking about what could go wrong on the boat and what I could be doing to reduce this risk. In recent days I have said on a number of occasions "We should be ok – as long as we don't lose our genoa." I must have tempted fate.

Every day, in the morning and late afternoon, I do my rounds of the boat,
walking along the side decks, onto the foredeck, looking for signs of
chafe or wear on the rigging. It is around 5pm and I am scanning the deck
when I see it. Our big genoa is attached to a forestay, a 12mm wire stay
that runs from the top of the mast to the end of the bowsprit, hugely
strong - as long as it is well attached. At the base of the forestay,
there is a furling drum that allows us to reef the sail and this drum is
connected to the bowsprit with a stainless steel fork and a large clevis
pin. This fork takes the entire load of the stay and the clevis pin is
prevented from sliding out by means of a split pin - or at least it should
be. To my alarm, the split pin has sheared off and one arm of the fork has
come off the clevis pin and is slowly opening under the load. The
unsecured clevis pin, seesawing back and forth, is all that is holding the
forestay and has only about 2 millimetres left inside the fitting. I
estimate that we have minutes, maybe less, before we lose the forestay,
the genoa and goodness knows what else.

My mind racing, I run back to the cockpit and call for help. I fit my
lifejacket and harness line, summarising the situation for Mervyn, and
then I head back to the bow. My first instinct is to furl the genoa but
then I realise that any twisting motion might cause the pin to slip out
and I stop to think. With Mervyn at my shoulder I clip myself on to the
guardrail and shuffle out along the bowsprit on my backside to get a
closer look, conscious not to get too close in case it comes apart in my
face. I decide to hammer the clevis pin back into the one remaining fork
to buy some time, then I lash the stay to the bowsprit to stabilise the
situation. I knock out the sheared split pin with a hammer, using a drill
bit as a centre punch and slip in a new split pin. Then I start lashing.
The 8mm dyneema rope I am using has a breaking strain of 14 tons so it's
easily strong enough; the issue is chafe. There is no way that we can bend
the fork back into shape and reattach it but by fitting a large shackle
onto the side of the fork that has opened, I can get a nice smooth lead on
another lashing, which I also take down and around the bowsprit to prevent
it from opening any further. I make four more individual lashings,
running fore and aft from the furler to the bowsprit, so that if one, or
even two, chafe through, the others should hold. By the time I have
finished, it is starting to get dark but I think we have done enough and I
decide that we can continue to fly the genoa until morning when I will see
if my repair has moved, or chafed.

Meanwhile darkness has fallen and Andrew is waiting for me to start the
generator so that he can cook his spicy salmon steaks and roast potatoes
in the oven. We sit around the supper table hypothesizing about what
might have happened if we hadn't seen the problem in time; and the
scenarios don't bear thinking about. The one redeeming factor is that the
mast is actually held up by the inner forestay, a much more substantial
fitting that is bolted down to the cross beam with large steel backing
plates. The support for the mast has not been compromised, and this
reinforces my conviction that a cutter rig, with two forestays, is the
ideal conservative rig for an offshore cruising yacht. After the
adrenaline rush from repairing the forestay I am suddenly feeling quite
tired and slip quickly off to sleep, but It is a stormy night with high
winds and I flinch in my bunk at each gust and wonder what daybreak will
show. Nick very kindly stands a longer night watch, allowing me an extra
hour's sleep, and when I come on deck I feel quite refreshed. With
hindsight, the watch system that I designed, which gives me a greater
share of night watches to compensate for not standing a mother watch, is a
mistake and puts too much burden on me and I resolve to improve this next

When dawn breaks I clip on to the jack stays and inspect the repair. None
of the lashings appear to have moved, I can see no signs of chafe and the
clevis pin has not moved since I whacked it home with the hammer. I am
relieved and pleased with the state of the repair. It's not pretty, but so
far it seems to be doing the job.

"No, I don't believe it!" I exclaim. There is a look of panic on the faces
of Andrew and Rosie, imagining what fresh disaster is about to befall us.
"Can you believe that Andrew has written his entry in the log book in
black pen, not BLUE?" Personally I don't think that it's that funny but
it seems to cause everyone else much amusement.

Continuing In the character of Victor Meldrew, I have been complaining to
anyone who will listen about the fact that my new expensive oilskin
trousers aren't waterproof. Sitting grumpily at the helm with a wet
backside, I bad-mouth the manufacturer at every opportunity. Nick also
complains that his shorts are damp after wearing his trousers, which
happen to be the same colour as mine, only some years older. No one else
seems to be suffering from this affliction. Even Andrew, wearing a pair of
light nylon slacks, designed for a walk in a Hampshire drizzle rather than
an Ocean squall, smugly proclaims that he is dry as toast. It is only when
Nick and I are in the cockpit together during a squall that we both reach
for the same pair of damp trousers, while another pair, new and bone dry,
remains untouched, happily swinging from its coat hanger in the wardrobe.

Over a lunch of pasta salad and fresh fruit, prepared by Magellan, Rosie
the arrive-ist announces that we have 580 miles to run and this provokes
the inevitable question from the quartermaster, who is keen to use up his
provisions, trying to reduce the apple mountain to a reasonable height
before we dock. I suggest that everyone writes down their ETA, the time
that they think we will cross the finish line, and I will seal the bets in
an envelope, which I will open in a bar in St Lucia. Barring disaster,
and based on recent events, that can't be entirely discounted, we will
arrive in St Lucia on Wednesday, but at what time? Anyone reading this who
cares to enter the sweepstake should submit their bets in confidence to me
by email and I will add them to the envelope. To give you the same data as
the crew, at 1645 GMT on Sunday the 8th December we have exactly 572 miles
to run to a waypoint just north of Pigeon Island which is approximately 30
minutes' sailing time from the finish line. We are on a course of 270 T
and the bearing to the waypoint off Pigeon Island is 256 T. The wind is
forecast to remain roughly the same over the next few days, 18-23 knots
from ENE to ESE. The winning prize will be awarded, in absentia if
necessary, in the bar in St Lucia.

1 comment:

  1. Holy sh!t. That was a close one. I suppose your going downwind so the mast relies heavily on the Back stay but it's the rolling and slapping of the sail that's causing the vibration and movement at the bottom. If you had had the kite working it would have just been loading the halyard and the top swivel (plus inboard pole end and chafe on the guy) - I guess what I'm saying is that whatever the sail plan there are wear and tear concerns and potential gear failure points. The key is that you are the master of innovation and it shows that the hammer is a useful "persuader" for a naughty boat (Basil Faulty "that's it, I'm going to thrash you!"