Day Ninteen – Torn mainsail

It was a simple mistake. It was also a stupid one. One that could seriously affect the success or failure of this mission, making my isolation feel all the more acute.

The morning was cold and wet with thick, black pockets of cloud in all directions. It was obvious there would be many squalls today, so I got my gear on – shoes, PFD and jacket and made sure I had a solid breakfast and the boat was prepared.

The first squall hit around 9am HK time. It was coming from exactly where I wanted to go, making positive VMG tough if not impossible. To make matters even more challenging, once the squall had passed, the wind died to almost zero knts and what wind there was shifted through 40 degrees making progress challenging at best and all the more reason to not turn around when a squall hit as I’d erase many hours of hard work.

I decided to sail into the subsequent squalls, feathering the sails to ensure I didn’t lose too much ground. Or at least that was my intention. After lunch I was in the midst of the third squall of the day with a TWA of about 15 degrees and gusts of 25+knts when out of nowhere, there was a 40-degree wind shift and a gust of 30knts, which backwinded the jib, immediately spinning us around on a dime. I had no steering and the sheets, and the rigging were in all the wrong places. I honestly thought the rig was going to be ripped out of the decks and held on for dear life, waiting for something to snap. Thankfully it didn’t and a few minutes later the boat was facing downwind, so I went with it for a while and collected my thoughts.

After the 4th squall hit late afternoon I decided to follow my plan of the previous day and put the third reef in the main, furl the jib and motor into the weather as I was seriously tired by this stage and rather disheartened if I’m honest. Pioneer Channel was going to take me a month at this pace.

Complementing the grey, windy, and wet drama of the weather was Melville’s masterpiece, Moby Dick. All 135 chapters. I’ve taken to listening to audio books when the weather is bad as it’s a nice distraction and helps to both calm me down and also pass the hours while I’m watching the weather and anticipating the changes and adapting appropriately. Next up is Dickens but I haven’t decided whether it’ll be Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. Given Moby Dick is 20 hours I’ve got a few days to make up my mind.

I’m now in the single digit latitudes north, meaning the equator is just over a week away. Another huge milestone. Not only because crossing the equator at sea is a rite of passage for mariners of all kinds, but also because it means I’ll be out of the monsoonal wet season so far less squalls. It also means I’ll be away from the danger of typhoons. I’m starting to feel like I’m pushing my luck out here as each day gets me a day closer to the peak of the typhoon season and while I’ve had trying conditions with weather, a tropical low pressure system is a whole other story so the celebration when I do cross in a week to 10 days will be one of both excitement and great relief. It also means I’ll then be in the southern latitudes and home will only feel that much closer (and safer).

By dusk, the weather had calmed again so I decided to try to sail some more. I was exhausted from the days efforts which, on the back of 19 days of sleep deprivation, was resulting in my decision-making process being flawed and my mind was quite foggy. I took what I thought were all the bungies and sail ties off the main and started to raise the halyard. A few moments later I heard a giant tear and I knew exactly what had happened. I’d missed a sail tie and as I looked up towards the main, my heart sank, and I cried out in despair. I just put a 1-meter long rip in my main sail. My primary form of propulsion, the functioning of which was a prerequisite to get me home.


The enormity of what happened hit me immediately. I took three deep breaths and reminded myself what the great French sailors of old did when they had a major issue at sea. They’d get the boat settled and have a cigarette or two, while they calmed their nerves and worked out a plan. So… I dropped the main and lashed it to the boom, made a cup of tea (close enough to a ciggie) and just sat down at the helm and slowly drank the warm, soothing brew, while I gazed aimlessly into the dark of night, alone with my thoughts.

Was this a serious issue?


But could it be repaired?


Did I have the sail repair material I needed?


I calmed down slightly and started to work out a plan. It was now night-time, and I decided it wasn’t a great idea to try and fix this in a hurry. The hole was so large that I only had enough of the heavy-duty adhesive Dacron to try and fix it once, so I needed to get it right. I also needed rest. Everything would look better with some rest.

My sleep was fitful, and I couldn’t shake the butterflies in my stomach, but I got a couple of hours in between AIS alarms going off and large waves. Tomorrow would be another day and I needed to trust in my ability to be resourceful and fix the problem. At least for now I was heading straight for Pioneer Channel at 132degrees, albeit under engine.

I’ve got this, I told myself. Even if only by my fingernails, I’ve got it.

Postscript: Please excuse my typos and poor grammar of late. Very tough to type in these conditions and my brain isn’t functioning at 100% due to exhaustion (and being thrown around in a virtual washing machine while writing)

9 Responses

  1. Rors – my effing god – always a possibility you hope never happens. I am hoping by the time you read any comments here that you’ve managed to get the main fixed well and are on your way in good spirits. I’m wondering if I Shld send any sail repair hacks or my presumption is that your ground crew is a hell of a lot more prepared and capable than any assistance I/we could propose. Prayers and positive vibes being sent your way brother. Keep. On. Going! The equator is nigh!

  2. Rory – you really need to stitch the repair – the adhesive backed Dacron alone most likely won’t hold – can you use the sail with the third reef in? If so wait until you get to the doldrums – get the sail off the mast and down on the deck – once you have the adhesive backed dacron in place mark out with a pencil or pen where you want the stitch holes and prepunch the holes (bread board / hammer / nail or similar )… then pass the hand sewing needle back and forward back and forward back and forward until it’s all stitched …. slow and methodical …..

  3. Tough Rory, it’s happened to us all. To prevent a recurrence have you some bungee to use for reef tingle ties? It would stretch if you forgot to loosen all the ties. They are only to keep the middle of the sail from flapping so they don’t need to be strong – don’t make them strong enough to rip the sail.
    Repairing the tear is easy but don’t overlap the edges of the tear in the main, put the edges just touching and use a repair tape as a patch either side to join them. That way you won’t create a tight line and encourage a repeat tear. Then sew the whole sandwich together and on you go – wiser.

  4. Dea Rory, I just wanted to send you a little hello and cheer from Switzerland. David and I have taken to both read your blog on a daily basis and it is transporting us away from the daily grind and putting our own little trials and tribulations into perspective again and again. These are difficult times but our day today on the whole will be easier than yours, by the sound of it! We are amazed by your endeavour, impressed by your writing style, moved by your honesty and completely in awe of your knowledge of sailing. We still have a lot to learn. We did get the RYA dayskipper ticket and did the offshore course (completion foiled by bad weather and inability to sail at all in conditions that wouldn’t have stopped you for a second). We are now studying for the permit to sail on Swiss Lakes!! A very dismissive term in French (that captain Haddock of Tintin used liberally as an insult and is translated into English as Landlubber) is ‘Marin d’eau douce’ which is now literally what we have become. But every day we travel with you on your adventure. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Rooting for you to stay safe and impatient to read you tomorrow.

  5. Eeek. Rory,

    Not what you needed. Patience, time, a dry sail, and an effective patch with the Sail repair kit. It’s recoverable.

    I saw you heading due west at 2knts as I went to bed, and did wonder why and what, and hoped all was ok.

    You are underway again now, and presume you have done the repair. Sailors do need a lot of skills in their kitbag.

    We ripped our spinnaker some 3m after only a week, and the good repair (with a wee Red Cross penned with a Sharpie and a Green Ouch!) .. lasted the entire circumnavigation. 🙂

    Good Luck

    Bonnie Scotland

  6. Hello Rory and Followers
    I have nothing to offer.
    No words of wisdom.
    Nothing profound comes to mind given I’m lying on an over-priced lounge, drinking a really good pinot gris in one of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs wearing cashmere slippers (yes I should be shot).
    Rory- you are missing:
    1. The line for sourdough at the local bakery each morning. It is obscene given restrictions
    2. You can’t jog at Balmoral Beach in the morning- every fucker known to man is down there despite the freezing (Sydney definition) conditions
    3. You can’t book a decent restaurant within a 20 Km radius

    Look, I know it’s all drama, drama, drama out there but please; we ladies have only been allowed back to the salons this week!

    Rory – you know I used to be an Intensive Care Nurse before becoming a lawyer. I have never, and will never, experience what you are going through (no words, your courage is astounding) but all I can offer is a little dark humour along the way and a gentle reminder that comedy during chaos is extremely therapeutic.

    Watch Seinfeld, Veep, 4 weddings and funeral- whatever.

    This blog isn’t about me but I have seen much . Like you, I have lost a great deal.

    If I can offer anything at all, it would be this.
    I have quite literally held many dying hands.
    Not once . . . not once in over 20 years has one dying human spoken of affirmative action in a negative way. That is, I have only heard regret when paths were not followed that should have been.
    So, sleep well when you can.
    There will be no regrets.
    No death bed confusion, regret or confession for you.
    Just new beginnings.
    You are extraordinary.
    Confronting I’m sure for all of us in our comfortable cocoons but unlike most of us following, You. Have. Lived.

    In awe.


  7. Hi Rory, what an amazing journey, may be we should say what amazing journeys and headway you have been making reading all your posts, thank you for sharing, thank for reaching us and showing our own vulnerabilities.
    On a sailing note, I will have plenty of questions when you are back, probably you can help Beneteau to make sure their boats point better when you are back, are you able to manage sleep? Did you manage to find the right rythme for sleeping, hope your main will hold on, keep gliding, watch the stars and like we said in dragon stay high and fast! Amitiés Marc

  8. Rory beat of luck. You have a lot of people round the world following and sending you love and courage. Kia kaha as we say in NZ – stay strong!

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Rory Hunter


Entrepreneur. Chief Executive Officer, Song Saa Collective. Pioneers of sustainable development in South-East Asia. The collective includes Song Saa Resorts and Song Saa Private Island in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago. 2006, co-established the Koh Ouen Marine Reserve, Cambodia’s first-ever marine protected area. The reserve has since expanded to 400 square kilometres and has gained the support of Monaco’s Prince Albert II. 2013, founded the Song Saa Foundation, an independent NGO dedicated to preserving Koh Rong’s underwater sanctuaries, providing alternative means of livelihood for its residents and bringing much-needed healthcare and education to the region. Speaker at international conferences, including the G20 Summit in Brisbane in 2014. World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Member of the prestigious Young Presidents Organisation. Former advertising executive and worked for multinational firms including Saatchi and Saatchi. Graduate, Harvard Business School; studied sustainability and resilience, Stanford University: Global Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; BEcon, Sydney University. Completed the Coast to Coast in 2015, one of the world’s toughest endurance races, set in New Zealand, in 17 hours; offshore sailor, downhill skier, long-distance runner and proud dad of two boys.