Screws and strands.

More strands work their way lose.

21st March 2024

08 27S 100 13W – 09 50S 122 28W

When Donald Crowhurst left on his ill fated voyage in the 1966 Golden Globe race he watched with trepidation as the screws slowly fell out of his windvane. If his windvane failed then his voyage would end in disaster. We have felt exactly as Donald Crowhurst did* as we have watched our brand new rigging slowly fail and if it fails catastrophically then our voyage will also end in disaster.

After sailing in idyllic gentle trade winds where Ruffian simply scooted along Fiona took herself off for a daily deck walk. On these walks we check if anything untoward can be seen, monitor chafe and generally have a good look around. On her look around she was horrified to find that 1 stand (of 19) on our brand new port side lower had broken. If the lower failed then the mast would come crashing down and we were far from safety and far from rescue in the vast Pacific ocean.

Thankfully we’d thought about what to do in this exact situation, however the prospect of doing it filled us both with dread. We’d need to stabilise the mast, setting an emergency lower and this meant climbing the mast.

As the seas rolled under Ruffian Iain donned his seaboots and pulled the boson chair up to his waist while Fiona tailed the halyard that would hold him aloft. As he climbed the mast the gentle movements on deck were transformed into violent rolling the higher he got and once at the spreaders he hooked his legs tightly around the mast steps and set about setting the stay.

With every wave the mast steps cut into his legs and the spreaders bruised his torso. This was a job which needed 4 hands, 2 to hold on and 2 to complete the job, but completing the job took priority so he swung about taking more and more damage. Finally with the dyneema stay tied around the mast and secured he made his way down, just as a big rolling wave picked up Ruffian’s stern causing the mast to sway even more violently, nearly falling from the chair he grabbed onto anything that came to hand and was bashed violently in the process.

Once on deck he fought the adrenalin that coursed through his body making his hands shake and his speech unintelligible and we took to lashing everything together. We fashioned a dyneema loop through the chainplate and took to building tension in the lashing to remove pressure from the lower. Then Iain broke the bad news to Fiona, whilst aloft he had seen that a strand in the starboard lower had also failed.

While all this was going on the seas had been building and we decided that climbing the mast again was simply too dangerous. We’d have to wait for the seas to subside before we could go aloft and in the meantime Ruffian would simply have to limp along and we had 2300 miles left to limp!

Now we prepared for every eventuality. We sent emails to our emergency contact informing her of our predicament**. We had bolt croppers and hacksaws at the ready to cut everything away should the mast come crashing down. If the stay failed we had clamps, rope and a Stalok long stud, and if nothing happened we had books and cushions.

After days of limping along the seas finally subsided and Iain once again took to the sky. The emergency stay this had this time had some history. It had been gifted to us many years ago by Pip Hare with the immortal words “You’ll want this one day”. Quick as a flash Iain had climbed the mast, tied the stay and descended without a bruise in sight (well maybe just a few).

Now happy that the mast wasn’t going to imminently fall down we concentrated on maintaining Ruffian and clicking down the miles. Unfortunately as the miles clicked down so do the number of stands in the port lower, now having lost 4! We inhale with every shake of the mast and quiver as sails fill with wind and Ruffian rolls on the ocean waves. Just like Donald Crowhurst and his screws, we are ever vigilant over the remaining stands and fingers crossed they survive he remaining 1000 miles to the Marquises.

* We can only imagine how he felt as the worlds eyes were upon him and his future lay in ruin with his family destitute if things went wrong.

** Every sailing trip since 2012 we have filed a float plan with Rosie, she tracks our progress and would be the first contact from the Coastguard if we set of our EPIRB. Thank you Rosie, it is a great comfort to know you are watching us, even if it is with just one eye as your daughter competes in her Oppie on Lake Garda.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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