It was a relatively calm morning, at least to begin with. I sat in the cockpit enjoying my coffee, looking out to sea, soaking up another beautiful sunrise. There were grey clouds in the distance but nothing that looked as fierce as previous days. More intense rain cells than full-on squalls, or at least that’s what I hoped. The sun was shining where I was though, so I enjoyed the moment, the coffee and the serenity.
Not long after I’d finished my breakfast and was sitting down writing my blog from the previous day, my much-enjoyed routine, I heard and felt a large “thud” on the bow. Immediately afterwards my boat speed markedly dropped, and I lurched forward from the deceleration. My first thought was we got caught in a fishing net as the “thud” was too dull for it to have been a container, so my mind jumped to what I’d need to do if it was wrapped around the keel. I brought a pony bottle (small dive tank) for just such an issue but before I needed to worry about getting it out, to my surprise a 20 ft log about 1ft in diameter popped out the back of the boat in our wake.
I always find it takes the mind a little longer than expected to process moments like this. So much information in such a short period of time. It was a big enough log to have its presence felt but not large enough to have caused any major damage (I hoped) so I breathed a few deep breaths. Just another close call. How many more of these would I have I wondered?
Before I got back to my writing, I looked out over the bow and in the distance were some thick black clouds, probably 10 mins from hitting us, so I packed up my electronics and put them downstairs and tried to gauge the appropriate course of action. I put a reef in the main but kept the genoa unfurled. I can get that thing rolled up in an instant these days, so I placed the furling line around a winch and kept a watchful eye on the weather.
As we got closer the pressure increased but as expected its wasn’t too severe and maxed out at around 20knts. The cell didn’t look very dense either so I knew it wouldn’t last too long so wasn’t concerned. A few minutes later though, I heard a loud “BANG”. This was a new bang. One I hadn’t heard before and it did not sound good. As I looked up, I saw the boom was detached from the mast and held in place only by the sail. Adrenalin exploded through my system and I immediately knew this was a very, very serious issue. What was interesting was time slowed down and a calm fell over me. I methodically started to think through what I needed to do. Seconds feeling like minutes.
Step one was settle the boat, so I put the engine on and brought the boat head to wind. The sails were making quite a racket by this stage, so I quickly furled the genoa. I then put on my shoes (it’s too slippery on the deck when its wet for bare feet and much safer with shoes on when there’s an issue) and PFD, grabbed a hand full of sail ties, clipped on, then dumped the main halyard. Needless to say the sail came down quickly so I secured it as best I could in the pouring rain and did the same to the boom which was now also on deck as the vang had detached and the toppling lift shackle had broken with the line flailing 10ft above me in mid-air.
Once the boat was sorted, I came back inside the relative protection of the dodger, out of the wind and the rain and took my initial assessment. For those non-sailors amongst you, the gooseneck is the hinge that connects the boom to the mast, not dissimilar to the gooseneck on a bike which connects the forks with the main frame. It’s a critical part of the rig and its simply not possible to use the mainsail if the gooseneck is broken. Unlike a rip in the mainsail, if the gooseneck casing was broken there’s no way to fix it so I was dealing with a very serious problem.
I find that when things go wrong out here there’s a small part of my stomach that starts to feel the enormity of how remote we are, how far from help of any kind we are and how fragile we are. Thankfully my brain is able to keep this demon at bay and push it down. The last thing I needed right now was to panic. No. What was needed was a clear head to work through the issue and come up with a solution. There’s always a solution when you have a clear head.
Once the weather calmed down, I headed back out to make an assessment of the damage. I expected to see the housing ripped apart but to my grateful surprise, it was still in one piece, albeit a little battered. The housing (like a hinge) is connected to the mast by a pin and it’s the pin that failed. Remarkably, I was able to find the pin and while it was bent and damaged, it too was in one piece.
I realised that, with a bit of work and creativity this was in fact fixable. I’d dodged a massive bullet but whether I could get this all sorted was now up to me.
First up I needed to dismantle the current set-up so I took the main off the boom along with the reefing lines, caught the toping lift (after about 10 mins) with the boat hook and cleaned up the various sheets and lines that were in a mess at the mast.
I then got to work on the pin which needed to be straightened and a shear smoothed out, which my large hammer and cordless angle grinder were able to sort out in 30 mins. I then needed to work out a new system to secure the pin as the previous bolt had sheared off. Thankfully I was able to find a similar sized bolt so drilled a new hole in the housing and pin to ensure it didn’t fall out again.
Next step was to reattach the boom. Using the toping lift at the outboard end I was able to raise it high enough on my shoulder at the mast to wrestle it in place. It took a while as we we’re still motoring at 5knts and the waves made movement or lifting far more challenging than on land. Getting the pin fastened was a tricky job and took over an hour but ultimately was a success.
It was now early afternoon and as I stepped back to look at the boom, exactly where it was meant to be, a few tears welled up in my eyes. I may just be OK. Breath, Rory. Breath.
I tell myself to keep working slowly and methodically and focus only on the task ahead.
As I was pulling everything apart, I noticed the first reefing line had various defects from wear and tear over the past 3 weeks, so this also needed to be replaced. It took a while to run a new mousing line through the boom, but after about an hour everything was ready for the main to be reattached.
Once the main was on the boom and ready to hoist I felt a twinge of nerves course through my body. It was moment of truth time. Would it hold? Had I missed anything? I triple checked and was pretty sure I hadn’t.
Pulling on the halyard, she went up without a hitch, the gooseneck holding firm and the sail and related systems in all the right places doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
My relief was palpable. I unfurled the genoa, turned the engine off and we were sailing again, just as the sun started to set. I had tools and equipment scattered throughout the boat, so I cleaned everything up and had a saltwater shower with a freshwater rinse using a sponge (thanks Jim). The dirt, sweat and worries of the day falling off with each subsequent bucket. I felt renewed. I felt confident and I felt proud (and also clean). This was the biggest gear failure test so far and we’d passed with flying colours, though whether or not the repairs will last to Cairns is anyone’s bet.
As I sat eating my dinner, a delicious chicken curry (dehydrated), the sunset a perfection of both beauty and of calm, a wave of exhaustion swept over me. It took 9 hours to complete the task which would have been fairly manual on shore, but at sea with a swell and the boat moving in every direction, combined with nerves, everything was more difficult. Heavier. More challenging. I felt that delicious tired you feel after a hard day’s work when you’re full of pride in the results of your handy work.
In the dying light I could see there were no storm clouds in sight and that there was a good chance this would be a squall free evening. The breeze was a solid 10-12knts and I was reaching, perfectly on my bearing for Pioneer Channel of 135degrees, travelling above 6knts.
Laying there, I was reminded by a line from the book I’m reading right now, A Gentleman in Moscow “If man doesn’t master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them”. I dozed under the stars, listening to the waves and the water and felt at one with my surroundings.
Thanks for the lovely message, dear Sara. Always great to hear from you.
That’s so awesome you’re able to share this with Lucas mate. Naryth and I have a shared love for boats and spending time together on a boat of any kind is certainly our happy place.
I’m so thrilled your joining me on this journey Michelle and that it’s providing some respite from the challenges the world is facing right now.
I love the quote: “It’s not the Golden years, but the Rusty Years” I’m going to use that one.
And yes, I’m going full cliché. Beard and long hair that I’ve barely brushed since leaving and certainly hasn’t been washed. My boys love Jack Sparrow, particularly my youngest but I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it for long once I’m on land. A hot shower and a razor will seem like such a luxury it’ll be tough to resist.
Will be sure to take a picture at 0’00’000
How wonderful to hear from you uncle Donald and to know that Ayrshire is following along on the journey.
Big shout-out to the good folks of Ayrshire! I wonder what granddad would have thought about this trip…? He was always so conservative, or at least that’s how I perceived him as a boy. Definitely not a risk taker that’s for sure. I don’t think he ever forgave me for not becoming an accountant
Rors – when I saw the heading of this post I thought, ah shiet I hope he’s ok – also when there’s a delay on your daily post I’m always sitting at home thinking ‘man I hope he’s doing ok and is safe’…as I’m sure everyone is. I knew it would be a fixable issue for you and figured you’d have a few spare pins on board?! So glad you were able to do some handy work and get things back in order. We’re also hoping that it holds for you mate.
If you’ve been reaching for a while I am sure you’re in good spirits. I’ll check your tracker once I post. Looking forward to tomorrow!
Granddad Hunter would have been very proud of you Rory. He may have been a quiet, private person but he loved it when members of the family did well … and haven’t you done well, He would have had a ball telling his bridge, golf and Rotary pals about your adventure.
Your various cousins and other relatives in Scotland (and Spain) have all become fans of your blog.
Here on the Black Isle (just north of Inverness) your journey has become for me the only bright spot in the dark days of Covid 19.
God speed and over the waves.
Watch the wind.
You are certainly having your highs and lows of Solo Ocean Sailing. What a RollerCoaster! One day its challenges thru squalls and mainsail tears, and the next its calm Zen moments, in the mirrored seas…
You must have been a “Dad’s Army” fan… “Don’t panic Captain Mainwairing”… said Jones. You are certainly not panicking with whatever the challenge, which is the right thing to do.
Keep taking those Cups of Tea, Gauloises / Condor moments, and time to think and assess before action. 🙂
After yesterday’s day of calm and reflection, this would have been a big jolt to your system. My heart sank when I saw the headline today, even before I got into the body of the text.
Each challenge presented to you makes you a more accomplished Ocean Sailor. But even every accomplished Sailor also knows, every day is a “School Day”, and the learning, challenge and experience is never done.
Well Done, doesn’t capture the strength, determination, patience, skill, knowledge, intuition and difficulty required in the achievement of this, let alone wielding an Angle Grinder and repairing the Pin!
I think there are now two books out there for you – One of your experience, emotions and events of the voyage and the second – How to deal with Trials and Tribulations of Solo Sailing in the Tropics!
I have been thinking today after your post, about the sailing lingo, esp Goosenecks, and how this is like a different language to new or non sailors.
As if the sailing terminology isn’t enough to contend with, we have also developed acronyms eg ABC of First Aid,
The WOBBLE of the Engine, (Water, Oil, Bilge (Engine), Batteries, Lubes and Electronics)…All mind boggling lingo, but essential for life onboard.
I have a friend, and very experienced Sailor, who still wears a red and a green sock to keep himself right, or left (Port or Starboard). This works well, except if we are in reverse! Thankfully we are going forwards, most of the time:)
I hope that Tree log didn’t leave any dunks in you Hull or Rudder and that the Anchor Locker, Bolts and Bilges are all clear? Hopefully you will soon be able to make additional stitching to the mainsail with lots of Zig-Zags and Cross stitches. If you run out of Sail Thread, Dental Floss or Fishing Twine are good substitutes!
Once again, your Guardian Angel was looking out for you. 🙂
Stay Safe, Fair winds
Dreich Scotland Today!
Hi Rory, Alan & Sharyn Doran here, haven’t seen you since Peats Bite so you may not remember us (your parents have been wonderful friends for the past 45 years.) Just wanted to say how much we enjoy your reports every day, what a great journey, we have always admired lone sailors such as kay Cottee and Jessica Watson. You are all great adventurers. Best wishes for a safe and memorable journey, kind regards Sharyn & Alan