Long-time cruising sailor Vincent Bossley is sailing with his sister Barbara and British sailor Leonard as crew through French Polynesia in the South Pacific, heading for the island of Mahini, part of the Tuamotos, on his yacht Tere Moana. However, a blissful journey is about to be shattered by one of the most dreaded incidents on ocean voyages...
Making good time sailing into the advancing twilight of yet another magnificent tropical evening, Tere Moana is settling in for a good nights' progress toward Manihi. Skipping along on a port tack, her cutwater effortlessly slicing through the faintly ruffled but slinky water, she knows she is cutting a fine image.
Pride always comes before a fall and with no warning whatsoever and certainly with no foreknowledge on her part or the crew a thundering crack shatters the evening calm. Barbara and I race up the companionway to see Leonard staring skyward at a lazily swinging starboard intermediate shroud. It has parted at the upper spreader tang, dropped into a half hoop and now drooping out to starboard.
Aghast, we three stare at one another. Having heard and read many stories of yachts losing their rigs at sea, thousands of miles from the nearest yard, because of failed rigging, we are speechless for a few moments. The scene before our eyes spells disaster if they cannot effect a solution quickly.
Tere Moana brings her head around through the wind, and into the hove-to position. She is most remorseful but hasn't time to worry about that now. Fortunately, the weather is benign and we determine that providing we remain on a port tack, the port side rigging will take the very considerable strain.
Equatorial darkness is now upon us, so we secure the swinging end to the starboard lifelines and plan to jury rig another shroud in the morning. Immediate crisis over she returns to her heading, gingerly gathering speed again with no apparent problem.
Over an obligatory nerve settling cup of coffee, her shaken crew discuss the problem. Firstly, Manihi Atoll being sparsely inhabited and therefore unlikely to be of assistance is struck off the itinerary. Her course is altered to Rangiroa Atoll which has the greatest population in the Tuamotus'. Fishing is the mainstay income earner for most of these atolls and that means boats, ropes, cables, wires, will be in abundance - sailors are the same the world over!
Into our second cup and with our minds more settled with some reasoned thinking, the major implications of the problem appear to recede for the moment. Given that if all things remain equal, most of her sailing will be on the port tack the entire way to Tahiti, where we know all things marine are available. We are carrying a considerable length of spectra rope and this will be fashioned into a replacement shroud tomorrow. This Spectra line has an even lower stretch factor than Kevlar and if it can be drawn down tight enough over the spreaders and onto the deck fittings it may suffice until we make landfall in Papeete.
When Mother Nature is in the frame, nothing is equal. She carries out her vocation at her discretion. Running a printout from the weatherfax shows no alteration in the weather pattern anywhere in the area of the ocean we are sailing - just the steady SSE trades the whole way across this sector.
Within an hour of our mishap the forecast proved wrong - Vincent Bossley
Within an hour of our mishap however, cloud covers the night sky, blackening out the stars. The rising wind backs, bringing rain with it, and our little ship is continually buffeted. It is suddenly squall-like, with winds up to thirty knots and likely to come from any direction.
Thirty minutes into these conditions, the captive hoop of steel wrestles itself free and commences a pattern of wild arcs amidships. Its main target is the mainmast and every few seconds this eleven millimetre diameter steel punch wants to embed itself into the aluminium spar. The tang originally attached to the end has long since disappeared into the sea with a loud hiss, leaving a lethal steel rod hell bent on penetrating anything in its swooping path. Aluminium, wood or a skull would make no difference, in that all would accept the flying projectile to a depth dependant on its own physical resistance.
Her mainsail had been dropped earlier at the beginning of the squall attack, and she is sailing under genoa only, therefore her sails are under no threat of damage. How to quickly secure this flailing missile and survive before it wreaks major havoc?
With a now heaving deck her skipper, lifejacketed and clipping onto the jackline, scrambles portside. Barbara and Leonard, shining the weaving spotlight in the general direction through the rain, observe the wet and glistening shroud flashing back and forth through the beam - they are thankful to be in the cockpit still. Her captain, crouching low and dodging it at the same time, attempts to catch it as it swoops past.
By the time it reaches the end of its arc to port it is way too high anyway, and out of reach - so plan A is not going to succeed. By now, it has whacked the mast many times already, fortunately, not always head on. Barbara and Leonard, seeing the black shape slumped in the port scupper think I have given up or been hit.
I rise again, this time with the port side halyard loose in my hand and following several misses manage to catch the tip in the slack halyard, whip the cord around the steel as many times as possible, draw it down taut and fix it to a port side pad eye. Job done, I straighten and scuttle back into the cockpit grinning from ear to ear. You can't blame me for thinking I am a hero now, not admitting that it was a pure stroke of luck the shroud caught in the halyard on its wildly gyrating path.
However, the possibility of any further immediate damage being eliminated, Tere Moana is content, allowing me to bask in my thirty seconds of fame. Tomorrow is another day, when options will be examined, but for now cosy bunks are awaiting. Filled they are, leaving the remaining crew on watch to ponder what might have been.
Next morning, gently swinging from her mast head, I survey the scene all around me. A brilliant tropical morning, swept fresh and crystal clean by the overnight rain, leaves a scintillating picture. The canopy overhead is without blemish, but for several fluffy and harmless looking thunderheads dotted low on the horizon in the south west quadrant. Probably hovering over some distant speck of land, but being so far off, cannot be seen over the horizon.
Pumped full with a tranquil joy of being alive, I turn my head to the job at hand. Dawn breaking, as it had this morning, into a beautiful unruffled day with only a light breeze on her stern, I had decided a trip up the mast was in order to see what could be done about her errant shroud. He would also inspect the swage on her forestay, freshly mended in Galapagos.
Normally at sea, a trip up the mast would only be contemplated in an emergency. Five degrees of movement on deck translates to a fifteen to twenty degree arc up here. It is imperative that the mast is clamped firmly between the thighs of the climber to avoid swinging out and slamming back into the spar.
The swage is flawless. Three thousand five hundred nautical miles in their wake, and still perfect. Drinking in the view, lingering as long as is practicable without the crew on deck becoming suspicious, distracted (it's a twenty metre drop to the deck!) or just leaving me up there, I hail the deck to lower me to the intermediate spreader.
Hooked to my belt is the spectra line, and in my pouch a replacement tang. Glancing down the whole length of rope all the way to the deck, I am momentarily fascinated by the convoluted gyration it takes from in close to the mast, to way out over the sea. With its woven diamond blue and white pattern it looks much like a very long and very lazy python, snaking all the way up to his rear end!
It is relatively easy to double loop the spectra cord through the tang, hook it into the keyhole in the mast and drop the two loose ends down to deck level for attaching to the deck fitting. On the way down I check the leather spreader end covers for wear. Back on deck with several inner thigh skin burns, the results of which are deposited somewhere up and down the mast, the episode is shared over a cooling beer - cannot rush these jobs at sea!
Thoughts of lazy days in those far off, but approaching ever closer, fabled south sea islands, spur us on, and Leonard and I set about drawing down the jury rig shroud as taut as our combined strength will allow.
With no block and tackle system available that would work in this situation, we will have to rely on pure physical strength. Being on the starboard side, the slack side, we surprise ourselves as to the degree of tension we are able to exact upon the brute. Even tension with its twin intermediate shroud on the port side is not so much an issue now, as having in place a rig that will keep the standing rigging upright without breaking or collapsing.
In the event, the product of our exertions lasts admirably all the way to Papeete Port. Meanwhile, the arrival, courtesy of Barbara, of a platter of steaming scones liberally coated with globs of rapidly melting bright yellow butter part way through the operation, undoubtedly inject us with sufficient hairy chested drive to crank down that extra pound or two required.
The completed assembly, without too close an inspection, looks passably shipshape. Strong enough for fair to moderate weather anyway, and we admire our resourceful handiwork from the cockpit. Both Tere Moana and her captain pray for the Trades to hold until Tahiti. (They do.)
Don't forget to check out Vincent Bossley's website?nid=81359
, where, as well as some good reading, you'll find his charming book, 'The Voyage of the Little Ship Tere Moana', and his very valuable guide, '101 Dollar Saving Tips for Sailors.'