In a jam!

Scott-Free’s blog
Steve & Chris
Wed 19 Jun 2013 02:09

Wednesday 19th June 2013


Oh dear!  What a day!


We lifted the anchor soon after 0700 for an early trip back to Taiohae Bay to get stocked up ready for the trip to the Tuamotus.  We decided to put the mainsail up before leaving the bay as it would be quite lively outside.  We’re not quite sure what went wrong – we’ve been unfurling this sail for the last five years without a problem.  We are very aware of the dangers of furling mainsails getting jammed and have always been very careful to maintain the necessary tension on the sail as it comes out.  Well, we must have still been half asleep or maybe we have just become too cocksure of ourselves, because we got it two thirds out and it wouldn’t budge any further.  I looked up to see a real mess where the sail had jammed in the gap in the mast out of which it has, for the last five years,  glided smoothly.  Oh, shit.


We tried to pull it back in – no joy.  We tried to ease it out – still no joy.  It was well and truly stuck.  The only thing for it was to leave it as it was, turn around and go back and drop the anchor again.  Once re-anchored, Steve went up the mast and tried to pull on the jammed bit of sail while I alternated between trying to pull it out and trying to pull it in.  This still met with limited success as we really needed someone on the clew outhaul (in the cockpit) and someone at the furling winch on the mast at the same time as someone was up the mast.  We asked Rod to lend a hand, and Steve went up the mast again (not bad for an old man of 60, eh?  This involves him in climbing up the mast steps, and as the sail was out he had to go up the front of the mast, which involves getting past the radar cage.  Too frightening to watch I’m afraid, I just held on tightly to his safety line!)


So with Steve telling us when to wind on our respective winches, we eventually managed to get the sail unjammed and almost completely out.  However, there was a bight about halfway up the sail that kept trying to come out with the sail, and in the process of trying to tighten the sail on the furler we must have put too much tension on the sail and it ripped about a metre in from the clew outhaul, a vertical rip from the foot up to the first row of stitching.  I can’t type what was said.


We took all the tension off the sail, and Steve grabbed a handful of it in line with the bight and pulled.  The rest of the sail unfurled and it was completely out.  At that point we realised that that’s probably what we should have done rather than put more tension on the sail.  A lesson learnt, but unfortunately the hard way, as we now have a sail that is no use. 


There is a sail repair loft back in Taiohae, so we will have to take it back there to be mended.  We just hope they do a better job than the bodge they made of Rod & Mary’s sail.  Too exhausted to even think about leaving now, however, and knowing that the entrance will have become even livelier in the past few hours, we will stay here today and take the sail round to the repair loft tomorrow.


We have replayed countless times what happened in an effort to work out what went wrong.  The only thing we can come up with is that we just did not pay attention.  Usually when we unfurl the main we do not go completely head to wind.  We have found that if we do this, a bit of wind gets into the sail and pulls it out at the same time I am pulling on the clew outhaul.  If Steve unwinds the furler faster than I am pulling out the sail, it doesn’t matter because the wind takes up the slack.  On this occasion there was absolutely no wind.  This meant we needed to work together to maintain the tension.  We did not.  User error.  Our own stupid fault.