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Going it Alone- Failure and Self Reliance at Sea

by Daniel Johnston on 1 Jun 2011
Lee sailing - Going it Alone Lee Winters
Lee Winters, solo sailor and campaigner for SOS childrens villages provides an insight into solo-sailing:

Keep the standing rig up and the water out. It is a simple mantra but is the essence of sailing solo. I am not a racer. I don’t maintain a strict travel schedule. My boat epitomizes classic plastic, but she is seaworthy. That is until 9000 nautical miles into my singlehanded circumnavigation my forestay parted in the South Pacific.

I set sail alone over two years ago from the small Texas town of Kemah situated in Galveston Bay on Texas’ Gulf Coast. The day I left I’d never gone offshore, overnight alone before.

My boat and I were both untested. The only thing I had going for me was a wealth of knowledge gleaned from every sailing book I’d thumbed and a cache of determination that bordered on lunacy. Fear and naysayers be damned, I was going to sail around the world.

Some 20 months later I was working my way North from Rarotonga to Palmerston Atoll when disaster struck. Winds were moderate and the sea was just easing after a week of strong winds. I’d just woken and was putting a pot of coffee on when I felt the bow shudder.

Running on deck I saw the jib fill, raise the furling drum over the lifelines, and drop into the sea. Nothing but the jib sheets and furling drum line held the mangled mass of sail and aluminum furling foils to the boat.

I wish I could tell you that the first thing I did was run forward, grab the spinnaker halyard, and secure it to the bow stem. That was my second action. At 20* S latitude in September it is hot. Birthday suit hot. My eyes caught the end of that broken forestay and saw a razor sharp, stainless steel cat of 19 tails. Pants. I put pants on first.

The forestay parted two centimeters above the lower sta-loc fitting. I lashed the end of the broken stay to the mast pulpit and turned my attention to the wreckage hanging off my port side. When the furler hit the water the foils broke into four sections now cutting and gouging my jib.

I grabbed the jib sheets and on pure adrenalin began heaving the tangle from the sea. Eventually the foils followed the sail onto the side deck. As I turned to find ties to lash them to the deck another roll of the boat dumped the lot back into the Pacific. Watching the sail fill with water I was gutted.

Adrenalin gone and sail ties in hand I began working smarter. With each roll of the boat I took up slack on the sheets and let the opposite roll bring up the shattered remnants. An hour later everything was secured on deck and I began taking stock.The wreckage was such that there was no salvaging the roller furling unit. The system was antiquated at best at over 25 years old. My jib however had only been commissioned three years prior.

To salvage the sail I was forced to cut the luff tape off with a sharp knife freeing the sail from the furler foils.

Cleared of sail I began throwing the 3 and 4 meter sections of aluminum overboard like harpoons. Getting the sail down below and the deck cleared of debris I started searching my mind for forestay options.

Jury rig number one was an ugly solution. I was committed to continuing on to Palmerston Atoll some 200 nm to the Northwest. I was lucky that the stay broke just above the deck fitting. 1 x 19 rigging wire doesn’t bend without deformation, but in that moment I didn’t care. With no small amount of anger I doubled the end of the wire over on itself. Using several cable clamps I secured a very ugly eye in the stay.

Digging through every shackle on board I gathered an extra turnbuckle, two anchor shackles, and a chain link connector and began filling the gap between the stem head fitting and the eye in the broken forestay. Using the full throw of both turnbuckles the rig came under tension and I limped onto the mooring at Palmerston a few days later.

Lee eventually cobbled together a temporary fix and made it all the way to the Whangarei Basin, Northland, New Zealand. We thought it only fitting that after his plight and given the good work that he is doing for promoting SOS villages a cost price Harken furler might come in handy.

Follow Lee as he makes his way back home here: www.sailingforsos.com




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