Not Such A Nice Day's Sail

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Thu 22 Apr 2010 22:14

Position: 54 07.35 S 071 00.52 W
At anchor Puerto Hope, Isla Capitan Aracena
Wind: Mostly west, F1-5 light air to fresh breeze
Weather: Rain. Cold.
Days run: 27 nm

As darkness slowly gloomed towards a dull grey dawn, a look outside had me wondering whether I should just crawl back into my nice warm bunk for a few more hours. It was raining a slow steady drizzle. I really do not enjoy sailing in the rain, but I screwed myself to it, telling myself if I wait for a nice day to go sailing in this part of the world I will die here. The weather fax showed that a front had gone through overnight and another was coming but probably not for a day or two, for today I figured we would mostly have westerlies, maybe backing into the northwest later. So while the rain dampened my ardour for the day's sail, the winds looked relatively favourable for the direction we had to go in.

After breakfast and all was secured which didn’t take long as there were no shore lines to recover and the dinghy had remained on deck, I started to weigh anchor. I had payed out 40 meters of cable yesterday for the peace of mind of a secure night, now I had to recover it all with the Armstrong patent windlass (actually it’s a Muir). As I counted the strokes and rested every couple minutes I thought to set the mainsail with two reefs to help take the weight of the chain and make life a little easier. This works pretty well as the Sylph sails slowly up to the anchor, snubs at her chain, rounds up into the wind, drops back a little and pays off on the other tack then repeats the process without the need for anyone on the helm, and all I need to do is to crank the chain in as she sails up to the anchor then wait for the next cycle. All was going well and I was telling myself all the advantages of a manual anchor winch as I puffed at the hundred and sixtieth stroke, or something like that, I had lost count several times by then. I thought of the exercise I was getting, the simplicity and reliability of the winch, it‘s relative cheapness (this last a big factor in why Sylph has a manual anchor winch), saving in weight, and so on and so forth. As I meditated on these things, puff, puff.. I heard a clink. I paused, looked around the deck and anchor winch, could see nothing and concluded perhaps it was just a kink in the anchor chain straightening out. I continued weighing. I was down to about 12 meters of chain to go, we were in about eight meters of water and the anchor was almost aweigh, when I noticed that the drive pinion was coming adrift from the body of the winch. The bolt on the other side holding it in place had come undone and fallen off - that was what the clink sound was.

"Damn!" I said, and too be honest a few other well chosen words. 

Despite the anchor being at very short stay we were still holding for the moment. I ducked down below got a few tools that I thought that I could use to get the pinion back through the gear and bushing and sat in the rain, with emulsified oil seeping out of the holes where the pinion should have been, making an absolute mess and making it almost impossible for me to hold anything. The pinion just would not go in, especially as I had to line up a keyway on a tapered shaft. Meanwhile, as the rain continued to fall steadily we had started to drag and were slowly drifting down the bay. Fortunately there was plenty of room and I had no need to panic. I paused to consider options. Reset the anchor and repair the winch or get the anchor up, get underway and fix the winch later. I thought the former was undoubtedly the sensible thing to do but I was loath to have to haul all that chain in again. In any event to reset the anchor I was going to have to finish recovering it as by now it was trailing a whole bunch of kelp and I would have to clear that before I could set the anchor again. The anchor, 12 meters of chain and large clump of kelp was way too heavy for me to haul in by hand so I got the snubber, attached the chain hook to the chain, attached the snubber line to a spare sheet and continued winching the anchor in with a sheet winch. I could only haul in about two meters at a go before I would have to tie off the anchor chain and reattach the chain hook further along the chain, in between |I would motor back upwind a little so as not to drag on to the lee shore of Puerto King. Eventually the anchor was inboard. Stuff it, I thought, let’s get out of here and fix the winch later. By now it was a bit after ten.

Out in the channel we had a following wind for a few miles before we departed Canal Cockburn and turned north into Canal Magdalena. The wind still had a bit of south in it so we were broad reaching for the first half of Magdalena, but further north the channel turned slightly west of north and the sounds and mountains caused the wind to come from all over the place, sometimes doing a complete 180 degree shift without any warning. But the tide was very helpful, adding about a knot and a half to our speed for much of the day. Whales, seals, penguins and cormorants helped to keep me amused while trying to sail in the fickle and frustrating conditions. Even a feather had me fascinated at one point, as this small white weightless object blew along inches above the water, surfing the small waves but never dipping into them and being captured by their surface tension. It slowly overtook Sylph, crossing her bow and was lost to sight ahead of us. It had me pondering the marvellous bit of biological engineering that is a bird’s feather.

We eventually lost the wind completely a few miles short of our destination for the evening, Puerto Hope, and motored the last few miles to drop anchor in the serenity of a well protected tranquil cove at the head of a short sound.

Down below I dried off a little and reconsidered the anchor winch. There was a good chance I was going to have to pull the whole thing apart which would mean unbolting it from the deck for the plate to access its insides is on its underside. It was now only a bit after three, the rain had eased a bit and I thought I would have a go at fixing it again by trying to feed the pinion through without dismantling the whole winch. I donned overalls, sea boots, rubber gloves to cope with the grease and a broad brimmed hat to keep the rain off. It was fiddly and messy but I am very pleased to able to report that the winch is fixed. After it was all back together I stood on deck in the silence of the cove and gave out three loud “Hip, hip, hooray!”s.  My voice echoed around the steep rocky hillsides and over the still waters.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

The skipper put the covers over me as he got out of bed this morning and that is pretty much where I stayed for the day. There seemed to be a bit of fuss on deck for a while but it has all quietened down now. Just waiting patiently beside the heater, I know it will go on soon, then I can get some more … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.