Annus Horribilis.

That is not how a mast should lay.

22nd September 2023

Shell Bay, Rio Dulce, Guatemala – RAM Boatyard, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

In a famous speech in 1992 Queen Elizabeth II coined the phase ‘annus horribilis’. She’d had an truly awful year with scandals, divorces and a burning palace marring her year. None of these were her fault and all had a huge impact on her life. We thought that after leaving Nanajuana our ‘annus horribilis’ was behind us, little did we realise it was just starting again. Once again our plans are on the rocks, Ruffian is poorly and we’d be left picking up the pieces of other peoples incompetence.

After difficult times in Cayman (where Fiona nearly died), Cuba (where a French catamaran hit us) and Honduras (where our mast nearly fell down) we were pleased to be nearing the end of all our big jobs on Ruffian and had just 2 left, which we hoped would get ticked off in quick succession. Ruffian’s bottom needed painting and her standing rigging* needed changing. Thankfully we’d found a rigger with an excellent reputation, a great demeanour and the equipment to complete the job. We were bound for hauling at RAM marina and readied for just 5 days ashore.

Arriving early, things started to happen quickly and Ruffian was starting look bare even before she was in the lift. The sails were already off, retaining pins were pulled out of the mast, all the electronics were disconnected, a myriad of lines had been moused out and the boom lay redundant on the side deck. Julian the rigger flitted about, we felt like we were in safe hands and in no time we’d be floating again.

With our hearts in our hands we watched Ruffian being pulled clear of the water and the last of the drips fall from her keel. Like proud parents we followed her around the yard, watched as she was put in her new home and made safe. Its always scary watching a big boat taken from its natural environment, swing in fragile looking slings and then balance on its keel, but we’d now completed what we thought was the difficult part of the operation.

The travel lift motored away and in its place a crane lined up next to Ruffian where its cable was attached to the middle of Ruffian’s mast. People swarmed around her on the ground, while on deck there were people everywhere, disconnecting rigging, undoing turnbuckles and running lines far and wide ready to control the mast as it swung free of Ruffian.

Gently the crane took the weight of the mast and it slowly the mast cleared the deck. Julian delicately guided it in the right direction and all the slack on the lines was taken up. Then disaster struck!

Something suddenly failed, the highly loaded cable slashed through the air, the mast whistled past Julian and it crashed down through the roof of a building. After this cacophony of noise, silence pervaded the air. Everyone was in shock at this potentially fatal accident. The cable could have cut someone is half or the mast could have crushed a bystander. Checking that no-one had died in this potentially fatal accident we were relieved that there weren’t, everyone had survived unscathed. Within seconds, thanks to negligent maintenance, our plans were in tatters, Ruffian was bruised and damaged and all our hard work of the previous months was for nothing. Once again, all we could see in front of us is months of pain and work, while rage anger and anguish cursed through our bodies.

While the mast and spreaders had crashed though the roof, the foils that hold up the sails had become twisted and bent, there had been an explosion of electronics, lights and brackets and everywhere we looked all we could see was twisted metal. If the mast was bent or buckled then our lives were in for a massive change, if it wasn’t, then our lives were still in for a massive change.

Worrying about liabilities, insurance and documentation we put a stop to all activities and like a crime scene the area was taped off. After just a couple of calls and mere minutes, we had surveyor on site taking photos, giving us his expert opinion and making sure that we’d not be left exposed in the light of this disaster.

The task of extricating the mast from the roof then started and to the noise of screeching bending metal it was pulled clear. Dollies were laid out and finally it was safe and aground. We could now see the task in front of us. Electronics hung at jaunty angles, once straight headsail foils were bent beyond repair, every surface we looked at was scratched and dented, but we still worried about the straightness and integrity of the spar itself. Only with time and Julian’s expert eye will we have any idea what the road ahead looks like.

As we are embroiled in yet another disaster and 2023 really has tuned into a ‘annus horribilis’. In we weeks to come we just hope we will be able to deal with it with the grace, and dignity of Elizabeth II.

* Standing rigging are the wires that hold the mast in place.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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