In the final installment I look at what to do when the rig fails when you are far at sea and on your own.
In 1999, en route to Tortola from the Chesapeake Bay, a new 50ft Gran Soleil that my father was helping deliver from the Annapolis Boat Show, leapt off a wave and snapped her starboard upper shroud with a calamitous BANG! There were three people on board – my father, his friend, and the yacht’s captain. They immediately slammed the boat onto the opposite tack, taking the strain off the broken rigging and narrowly keeping the mast aloft.
“It was like a piece of spaghetti,” my father says, recalling the event.
About 300 nautical miles south of Bermuda, the skipper went aloft with a spare length of rope and lashed together a temporary shroud that allowed them to limp back to the island.
The mast on the Gran Soleil was supported by solid rod rigging, which on commissioning was never properly bent around the upper spreader, ultimately causing excess stress and failure. The captain’s quick thinking, clever jury-rig and conservative sailing, saved the day.
During the 2009 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the yacht Liberty suffered a broken chainplate on the port aft lower shroud. It proved a more difficult jury rig than the Gran Soleil, with potentially more dire consequences – when it happened; the yacht was mid-Atlantic, with still 1,500 miles to sail.
The crew set about enacting a repair. The toerail was considered, but thought to be too weak, and in any case, the shroud was too short to reach it. Instead they took a spare halyard, and rove it as tightly as possible through the foredeck and midships cleats, using the primary to winch it tight. The shroud was affixed to the line and tensioned. The repair worked, and the yacht made a safe landfall in St. Lucia a few weeks later.
An even cleverer solution is to replace the actual chainplate. The same piece of Dyneema (see sidebar) that can be used to lash down a jury shroud, can be used to make a loop, which, with some thinking, can be affixed to a bulkhead below decks and led through the hole in the deck where the broken chainplate had been, creating a stronger attachment point.
Too often the initial reaction after a dismasting is to cut away the spar as quickly as possible for fear of punching a hole in the boat. Evaluate the situation first – that broken spar can be your best hope for a jury-rig, if it is not imminently threatening the hull. Instead, figure out how to get it safely back aboard and save as much of it as possible.
Yves Gelinas, a French single-hander, known for inventing the Cape Horn self-steering system, saved the rig from his Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud after he was capsized and dismasted northwest of Cape Horn. He limped to Chatham Island (near New Zealand) under jury-rig and spent months repairing his mast from the scraps he saved. Later, he carried on round the world. If you do lose the mast, experiment. Stepping a spinnaker pole and setting small sails upside down can get you safely to port.
It’s impossible to describe the myriad scenarios involving rig failure at sea. The (hopefully) obvious point of this series is to avoid that kind of failure in the first place. Anything can happen at sea, and usually in the blink of an eye – do not panic. Stay calm, discuss the situation and brainstorm a list of solutions before attempting one.
Today’s technology has made it easier for repairing a broken shroud at sea. A length of Dynex Dux (a type of treated SK-75 braided rope), pre-spliced at one end and kept stowed below decks offers a near-permanent solution (my yawl Arcturus is rigged completely with the stuff). Attach the upper eye to the mast tang, lead the shroud down and around the spreader tips (careful to prevent chafe with a piece of rubber hose), Brummel-splice the bottom end a foot short of the chainplate, and use regular Dyneema rope to lash it down to a bow shackle affixed to the chainplate like a toggle.
Andy Schell worked as a yacht rigger for Southbound Cruising Services in Annapolis, MD, while outfitting his yawl Arcturus for a trans-Atlantic crossing, which he and his wife Mia completed last August. They landed in Ireland (with the mast intact!) after twenty-three days at sea from Newfoundland. He and Mia work as a team delivering yachts. Find them online at fathersonsailing.com.