Atlantic Challenge -Damage update from 14.37N 38.46W

Peter and Sarah Shaw
Mon 14 Nov 2016 22:50


Stormbreaker log Monday 14th November 2016  

14.37N 38.46W


We have had a couple of challenging days but the conditions have improved and we are working on our strategy for a safe arrival in Barbados.

We  departed Mindelo on Wednesday 9th  with most of the fleet . Strong North Easterlies kicking up a big sea – Stormbreaker handled these conditions very well and we raced along at up to 9 knots .Later, as wind speed and wave height increased we reduced our sail area with  two reefs in the main and a greatly reduced headsail  Stormbreaker felt well balanced .With the wind almost directly behind us and big following seas the concern was  to avoid a “Crash gybe”

 What is a crash gybe  - with the wind behind you and the mainsail pushed right out at 90%  to the boat you have a choice on which side to set the main -  port or starboard, once chosen it is vital that the boom remains on that side irrespective of the motion of the boat- if the wind catches the rear of the sail it will fling the sail and boom  across the boat with great force and at great speed  this would happen VERY fast and the boom would CRASH from one side of the boat to the other.There are a number of ways of preventing this with the use of lines running from the boom to secure it in place – these are not unsurprisingly called Preventers. Stormbreaker has 2 preventers to protect against a Crash gybe.


Stormbreaker’s  autopilot steers the course we select,  we can select the rate at which it operated to ensure a tight and steady course is maintained . In big seas this rate is set to maximum however in extreme conditions there is always the risk that a big wave will throw the boat sideways and before the autopilot has time to adjust a crash gybe could occur.

So  Stormbreaker was well set up for the conditions however  early Thursday morning  a HUGE wave crashes into her  and spins her around – before the autopilot could adjust the gale force wind catches the back of the sail and hurls the sail and boom across the boat- both preventers instantly snap under the huge forces, the movement is violently halted by the mainsheet which is designed to take the load of many tons  however all this energy must be dissipated somewhere!  As the autopilot adjusts to bring us back on course and the wind returns to the correct side of the sail, the boom and sail return to their original side with an enormous crash and a terrifying vibration is transmitted through the boat. All this happened in just a couple of seconds.


In the pitch dark we could not establish what damage had been caused – crash gybes can easily bring down masts –Stormbreaker’s was still up however we urgently needed to drop the mainsail as a further jibe would inevitably bring down the rig.


To drop the main we needed to turn around into wind and head directly into increasingly mountainous seas. With two exhausted crew and in the pitch black this would be a challenge.

It took over an hour to drop the main in the howling wind and enormous seas, it was not possible to inspect for any damage – this would have to wait for daylight. We both collapsed exhausted into the cockpit unable to carry out any of our normal watch keeping duties, we had to leave our fate in the care of our good ship Stormbreaker.


The following morning brought no respite to the conditions but daylight to inspect for damage.  Life jacketed and connected by lifelines I made my way forward to inspect mainsail, mast and boom. A glance at the ruffled sail did not indicate any obvious damage however as I lifted a section of hanging sail close to the mast my blood ran cold and my mouth instantly dried.


The boom is connected to the mast by a substantial Stainless Steel fitting known as a Gooseneck- this articulates and takes all the loads and keeps the boom attached to the mast. The unit had exploded and only small tangled remnants remained –the boom was no longer attached to the mast- so why was it still there ? When a mainsail is reefed, a  small rope runs inside the boom down to the lower mast to return to the cockpit- this small piece of rope was the only thing stopping the 6 meter boom, the huge mainsail, countless blocks and fittings from going over the side and falling into the still foaming Atlantic Ocean.  


I had to work very quickly as with every wave Stormbreaker lurched violently and the rope would be unlikely to last much longer.  I managed to lash the boom to the mast with as much rope and wire as I could find. I secured the rear of the boom with the toping lift and the front with the main halyard. 


The boom was now secure but the question remained - how were we going to cross the remaining 1700 miles of the Atlantic without a mainsail!