Saturday, January 16, 2016

What happened when we lost the forestay

Well, plans are always very nice on paper but in reality, often end up just that! Last week I wrote in anticipation due to our crossing to the Netherlands Antilles. Everything was planned and the weather conditions were the best but, after six hours of great sailing and more than 30 miles traveled (of almost 450 separating Martinique from the first island of the Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire), the forestay that supports the mast and includes the roller furling system for the genoa decided it was time to came down!
It's one of the worst scenarios on board, worst than that I think just the mast breaking, a hole in the hull or a fire!

We're following a direct course to the destination, straight downwind and with our sails open in butterfly (main sail on one side and the genoa to the opposite side - our boat has no spinnaker pole so we just had to manage with the ropes), making an average of 5 knots, it would make up more than 100 miles per day and predicting a four day trip! Even the windvane had decided to work well and the only electronic consuming battery was the chartplotter with the chart and the VHF radio. while dozing, was thinking about what we would eat for lunch. We had a choice of menus between stewed chicken, stewed pork with vegetables and octopus stew. All ready to eat with bread, rice or pasta.
Suddenly, and without anything sign since the wind wasn't strong enough to force greater caution, a loud noise. Immediately afterwards, I see the genoa shaking violently from side to side only secure by the small cable from the roller furler and hanged by the halyard that hoist it to the mast. The cable from the drum is not ticker than a string to dry clothes, not really ready to handle more than one thousand kilos of force produced by the open sail!

With life-vest on, safety teether clipped to the cable that runs from one end to another of the boat, I came forward and grabbed the first cable I found to hold the genoa to its original position in the bow. system was not damaged and was operational, allowing to roll the sail in its normal position, although it needed a little bit more of effort! Once the sail was wrapped and safe there was another problem to solve, also of extreme urgency. and if this continue, was at risk of falling. To replace the forestay I used the halyard that we normally use to raise and lower the dinghy. It rises to the top of the mast, so I tie it to the bow roller to stabilize the situation temporarily. Then, it was necessary to lower the main sail and also lower the boom to the decreased the pressure on the mast. Once it was down, the pressure on the mast and on the whole situation considerably decreased and it could be considered of safety. However, after a few minutes, because the genoa continued to move with the violent motion of the boat, the halyard that was used to hold the mast started from the tear apart. It was necessary to find another cable to fix the situation and secure better the genoa, preventing it from moving at all. Fortunately the solution found was enough to reach safe haven.

After the situation was under control was time to contact our Brazilian colleagues who were about two miles ahead and let them know that we would change course back to Martinique. Didn't had time to explain the situation very well but we could tell that all was well on board, Maria was still sleeping!
When we turned around was about noon and were almost 32 miles of Sainte Anne, Martinique. But now we had to go against seas of over one and half meter high and winds of 15-20 knots. In fact, all he had helping us before to sail to ABC was now against us and we only had our old engine to help. There were many hours of engine, never taking the chance to push it too much because if it died we would be completely adrift.

I decided to tack the wind, instead of motoring directly to it, at least until less than 10 miles off the shore of the island when the sea should began to diminish. We arrived at 5 miles from the Martinique coast at about one in the morning and then, yes, the sea calmed. As we were closer to Fort-de-France than the South (Le Marin, Sainte Anne) we decided to go direct to the capital and anchor safely in a place he knew fairly well and had no problems navigating at night.
At four in the morning Maria and I had eaten, taken shower and were ready to go to sleep. The next day there was much to do!

Even today we are still trying to resolve the matter. The cable and the sail in the roller furler are already on sailboat deck and the broken part (a screw that holds the cable and connect it to the chainplate in the bow) has been removed. We couldn't find a replacement locally so we decided to make one in a local metal shop. We hope it will be done in good conditions so that we can put it in place and re-install the sail in place.


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