16th October 2023
RAM Boatyard, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Apparently, every cloud has a silver lining, and at the moment in our world, there is a pretty big cloud. In the thick of our latest disaster we have found a silver lining, which if we’d not found it, could have spelt disaster for Ruffian in the middle of an ocean.
As RAM Marina put everything in motion for replacing the damaged items on the mast, and with Guatemala going into lockdown due to political unrest all our parts sat stuck in transit around the globe. With everything stopped we turned our attention to Ruffian and tried to make the best of a very difficult situation. Now that the mast off was the boat and safely sitting on trestles we could examine otherwise inaccessible parts of the boat; Ruffian’s chain-plates.*
The welder, César Alegre (means Merry in Spanish) passed his expert eye over the chain-plates examining them in minute detail and gave us a masterclass in the structure of steel, failure modes and what to look for. He was full of good news for us, impressed with the quality of the steel, and the neatness of the welds, giving us positive vibe after positive vibe. He only found 1 tiny crack that he wasn’t too worried about, could be easily fixed and presented no structural woes. We felt like proud parents who’s offspring was passing an exam.
Climbing inside the anchor locker he wasn’t quite so impressed as he looked at the inner forestay stem-head fitting*. In an understated manner he simply stated ‘Hmm. Small bit of corrosion. You’ll want to take that out and check it.’, but we knew that from the tone of his voice we really needed to check it.
Forcing his frame into the anchor locker through an opening that was quite a bit smaller than his shoulders, Iain struggled to scrape away the dirt and corrosion. The longer he toiled, the more convinced he became that ‘it would be fine’ and the longer he toiled the more painful the job seemed. Fiona knowing that if we think things will ‘be fine’ they rarely are and cajoled Iain into continuing while resolute in her conviction that it really needed close examination.
Struggling in the 37 degree heat and 100% humidity in a locker that had no air circulation or day light, our biggest spanners and sockets were deployed to take the fitting to bits. Slowly nuts were undone, tie bars freed and pins removed. Now it was just a question of persuading the old adhesive to give up its fight and pull the fitting off the deck.
After literally blood, sweat and tears Iain retired from his anchor locker hole to attack the fitting on deck. Armed with a rubber mallet and some sacrificial screwdrivers the fitting was eased, well forced, off the deck and the underside saw for daylight for the first time in 15 years. The tang that had been held firm by nuts, bolts, pins and adhesive was wiggled free and the whole thing ‘popped off’. César was right that this very much needed checking as the main tang was rife with cracks. They penetrated nearly the whole way through the 10mm steel, were pervasive, and threatened catastrophic failure at any moment. Fiona was right that it wouldn’t ‘be fine’.
Without César’s advice or Fiona’s persistence, not finding this failure could have proved catastrophic for Ruffian. Had it failed under load, the forestay would have pulled a section of deck off the boat, compromising its structure and this would only have happened in high seas when we would have been far from land and far from safety. This really was a silver lining to a cloudy situation.
Taking the offending fittings to César’s workshop, where we were surrounded by the most impeccable looking machines, he beamed. Not only was he right in his understated prognosis, but he also outlined how apparently ‘simple’ and ‘quick’ it would be to make a new one. To our untrained unskilled eyes it looked anything but ‘simple’ or ‘quick’.
César, in his workshop will be cutting, welding, polishing and fitting a new 316 stainless steel stem-head fitting for us. The silver lining that we have found isn’t proverbial, its very real as the steel will shine, filling us with confidence, that once the mast is back up; it’ll stay up.
* Chain-plates form the connection between the wire standing rigging and strong points on the hull.
** Stem-head fittings link a boats forestays with the bow of the boat
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