By Bugs Baer
Another stuck spinnaker halyard, another trip up the mast, another difficult takedown, another loss of time, another good recovery.
The air went lighter, and by midmorning was in the 19-25 knot range. ''Light'' is relative. Twenty-five knots at home calls for small craft advisories and a hurried race to shelter. But out here it means our speed slowed to the low tens and high nines, so a bigger sail is needed.
We had been flying our heavy asymmetric, a relatively easy sail to manage, but we needed more area and a sail better suited to the almost dead-downwind conditions. This meant a change to the oversize spinnaker -- over four thousand square feet. We pay a handicap penalty of over an hour for having this huge sail aboard, but our navigator says it more than earns its keep in extra speed.
So all non-sleeping hands came on deck, the clew of the sail was spiked, many hands pulled it down -- and it jammed again. Didn't we see this movie yesterday? Up the mast goes Tomas Mark, and finds the same problem. The layer of the halyard has chafed and bunched up again. So the same halyard switch, the same takedown (no crew knockdowns today) the same halyard replacement, and the same puzzle about why it happened.
It takes two hours to be ready, but finally the new sail goes up, and the speed jumps. Although the wind and waves are not particularly difficult, our biggest spinnaker is hard to handle. I happen to be the helmsman, and find it difficult to keep the bow from swinging too far to the right or left.
Everything is fine for a while. I even wave my hands in the air for about five seconds as the boat slides smoothly down the face of a wave, perfectly balanced. My show-off trick is soon punished by the sea gods. I let the bow swing too far to one side, the big sail oscillates to the other, and suddenly we are heeled hard over to the right in a wipeout roundup. Everything above and below decks tumbles to starboard, dishes clatter in their cupboards, and everyone grab handholds to avoid falling. I feel like a pariah. A few hours later, when I am off watch and sleeping in my bunk, two of our best helmsmen consecutively lose control and wipe out. I feel better.
Halyard repairs go on. Tomas has found that there is a small chafe point at the top of the mast that wears out the halyard cover, but not the halyard core. Ashley designs and makes a kind of harness for the top of the mast to hold a halyard away from the chafe point, and Tomas installs it. We hope this solves the problem.
The big spinnaker remains difficult. It begins to wrap itself around the topping lift, one of the horror shows of racing. A huge bulge of fabric in the center of the sail can lose its air if the helming is off. The bulge floats backward and wraps around the headstay or a topping lift. It can wrap over and over, eventually tying itself into a wire-tight knot. It can be untied only over a long time, or by cutting the whole sail down.
The crew is quick to pull the wrap free, before the knot can form. We take the big sail down and go back to the smaller one.
Despite the morning delay in getting the big sail up, noon positions show that we have gained ground substantially on all our competitors. Are we in better wind, or are they more worn and slowed than we are? We haven't stopped pushing for a minute, and perhaps this is paying off.
We are, at midnight, fewer than 400 miles from Lizard Point, the first finish line. We are still projected to be there by midnight Sunday. The second finish line is at The Needles at the Isle of Wight, 140 miles farther. Weather forecasts predict continued good sailing winds. We now feel it is likely that we will carry good winds to the finish, and hold our lead. But we all know that five hundred-plus miles is still a long way to go. Leads can vanish.
We had a good sign, perhaps. We passed another whale today close aboard. He was going his way, and we were going ours, and we didn't bother each other. Perhaps the sea gods have forgiven my hubris.
Ashleyâ€™s notes: We ended up increasing the number of times up the rig a day to check the damage as we couldnâ€™t afford to end up loosing another halyard in the rig or damaging the spinnaker as we were getting very close to the UK and were still winning the race overall.