Rolex Transatlantic – Day 3

May 24, 2005   

Around twilight we decided to take down our heavy asymmetric spinnaker. We were reaching our first goal -- the Gulf Stream -- but the wind was dying and the spinnaker was collapsing.
The crew flooded the deck to get the new lightweight drifter hoisted, and to take down the big spinnaker. The spinnaker halyard was eased slightly to start lowering the sail. Four of us were ready underneath to catch the sail and pull it down to the deck.
Suddenly we were caught in an avalanche of nylon. The whole sail fell on us and partly over the side into the water. Instead of an orderly takedown, the sail had come loose and fallen 100 feet in a couple of seconds, wrapping the crew in about 4000 square feet of fabric and making us pull its corners quickly from the sea.

We looked at the shackle that holds the halyard to the top of the sail. The line had chafed through. The shackle was in our hands, but the spinnaker halyard was now dropped inside the mast. Darkness was coming, and something had to be done. Otherwise that spinnaker halyard would be useless.

The first person ready to go up the mast is always Ashley Perrin. From California, Ashley rockets around the world sailing races everywhere. There is little she can't do in a boat; just this morning, she used the heavy-duty sewing machine we brought with us to repair a rip in a sail.

Tempest, like almost all big racing sailboats, has four halyards to raise the sails at the front of the boat. Two for the genoas and about three feet higher -- right near the very top of the mast -- are the two spinnaker halyards. All four run inside the mast, then emerge at the top. They are not interchangeable. You can't use a genoa halyard for a spinnaker, or vice versa. It is critically important to have all the halyards working, and now one is useless.

Ashley is hauled up to the top of the mast. It is not a fun experience. Every motion of the boat is magnified greatly at the end of a 100-foot pole. Even though Tempest is moving slowly in light air right now, the mast is swinging steadily. This is an ideal time to get the repair done, though, because in any other wind condition, the motion is likely to be worse.

Job: Slide a bicycle chain into the mast to lead a new line down to the bottom. However, the bicycle chain gets stuck. Despite jiggling and pulling, it won't go up and it won't go down. Nothing more can be done now; darkness is settling in. Bring Ashley down.

Ashley cannot come down! While trying to fish the new line down the mast, the bicycle chain has somehow entangled itself around the second halyard, the one holding Ashley 100 feet in the air. This is serious. Ashley must be lowered to the deck.

The crew sends the one remaining jib halyard up to Ashley. She must now take the end of the jib halyard (which exits below her), attach it securely to her harness, and untie herself from the now-jammed spinnaker halyard. It is difficult because all her weight is carried by the higher halyard, which she must untie. She manages to free herself from the stuck line, and is lowered to the deck as darkness settles in. However, the problem is now worse as the broken halyard is still not re led and the second spinnaker halyard is now at the top of the rig tangled with the bicycle chain.

So Tempest is racing with no way to hoist a spinnaker. These sails add one knot or more of speed when the wind is to the side or behind the boat. Nobody can afford to give away one mile per hour and hope to win a prize. Somehow tomorrow we must fix it.

While all this was gong on, Tempest slid into the Gulf Stream and started its downstream ride at about four knots.

We have many sources of information aboard Tempest: three computers – the boat's, the navigator's, and the assistant navigator's. We get pictures directly from circling satellites, we get data over phone service from another satellite, and we can trade emails with the world.Lesson Learnt:

  • Extra mouselines were put into the mast before leaving the dock in the jib sheaves but we didn’t do the spinnakers as we ran out of line at the time and didn’t get back to that job. These extra mouselines are important as it guarantees a fair lead and no tangles in the mast as you have time to get it right on the dock.
  • Always put chafe guard i.e. Samson Ice on all halyards where they bear on the sheaves.

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