The Fateful Mishap: In 1999, my dad was sailing a 46’ Gran Soleil sloop from Annapolis to Tortola, one week out and 300 miles from anywhere. Late one evening over the single side band radio, the three-man crew first heard the news of a wrong-way, late-season hurricane the forecasters dubbed “Lenny.”
Hearing the news, they took a vote, and my dad was the only one who wanted to turn around and high tail it to Bermuda. After a lifetime of sailing his own boats off the U.S. coast and to the Bahamas, this was his first proper ocean passage, and he wanted nothing to do with a hurricane – even if it was still 500 miles southwest of them. The others voted to keep sailing south.
On the day after they’d taken the vote, an upper shroud parted with a resounding report, turning the mast into a cartoonish piece of spaghetti. They swung the boat round on the starboard tack before the mast could snap, and with a southeast wind were now running north, away from Lenny, the only direction they could sail with the damaged rig.
I am very philosophical—things happen for a reason, there are no coincidences and ‘luck’ is simply the ability to recognize and seize opportunities the second they present themselves.
The Jury Rig: With some fancy footwork, someone raced forward and quickly secured a spare halyard down to the deck. This is the quickest and easiest way of saving the rig, something most sailors seem to understand intuitively—the quickness with which one will scurry on deck to secure a compromised rig is sometimes nothing short of supernatural. It was imperative to get the boat sailing so the compromised shroud would be on the leeward side, and not under load. Luckily for them, they were “only” 300 miles south of Bermuda, where they could undertake real repairs in a safe harbor.
Permanent Repairs at Sea: Mia and I are currently preparing our 35’ yawl Arcturus for an Atlantic crossing, and are aware that if something similar were to happen mid-Atlantic, we’re more like a two week sail from anywhere, and will be forced to deal with such a situation at sea.
The previous owner of Arcturus must have been equally aware of such a situation. We found a small coil of rigging wire, and several Sta-Lock fittings. The ubiquitous Sta-Lock and Norseman fittings have been crossing oceans for years, and often garner rather fuzzy feelings from their users when they are needed most. Our boat had been stocked with a wire longer than the longest shroud, and enough fittings to enact a do-it-yourself, permanent repair at sea, not easy but manageable and strong.
Bernard Moitessier, the legendary French single-hander, had an even simpler solution. His red ketch Joshua was rigged instead with simple cable clamps and thimbles. If he were to break or damage a shroud at sea, he’d replace the wire, loop it through the chain plate and around a large-diameter thimble, and clamp the wire ends together with three cable clamps, tightened with a screwdriver. Easy as.
There are now three types of mechanical wire end fittings, the newest from Hayn in England, dubbed Hi-Mods. They work on the same principle as the Sta-Locks and Norseman. I replaced the backstay on a friend’s Tartan 37 (at the dock, thankfully), and can confirm their ease of use should the need arise at sea.
Another solution has its roots in the days of the Clipper ships, when rigging was rope and turnbuckles were deadeyes. Colligo makes a shroud replacement kit that uses synthetic rope, aluminum thimbles and deadeyes & lashings. It’s an innovative do-it-yourself solution to the very serious problem of losing a shroud at sea—and an easy, permanent fix. Mia and I are actually in the process of rigging our entire boat with the stuff, convinced of it’s usefulness after speaking personally with master rigger Brion Toss, who’s thrilled to see “rigging put back in the hands of the sailor.”
The Bluewater Sailor’s Responsibility: Rigging is only one piece of an oft-complicated system in which anything can go wrong. Whether jury-rigging or enacting permanent repairs at sea—be it the ‘Moitessier Method,’ Hal Roth’s preferred mechanical fittings, or the classically modern synthetic rope and deadeyes—the responsibility of doing it “right” ultimately rests in the hands of the captain and crew.
My dad and his crew didn’t have aboard anything with which to enact a permanent repair on the rig in 1999, forcing them to return to Bermuda rather than continue toward “Wrong-way Lenny’s” ultimate path. If they had, I might never have heard his story personally.