On to Galapagos…
Bang! It was 01:30am, very dark, blowing F4-5 in a choppy sea and, although I had never heard that sound before, I knew instantly what it was. Still slightly groggy at the start of my night watch I spent the next second travelling towards denial, no the rig is not that old and then back to reality “I really have lost a shroud, what now”?
Camomile was 447nm into a 937nm passage between Las Perlas and Galapagos on the 2009/10 Blue Water Rally. The wind had recently started to blow from behind so we were sailing under our twin headsails poled out with a twizzle rig.
Deck lights on! It was the port lower shroud and it had parted low down around the turnbuckle. It was now snaking its way through the air like a whip with each rolling movement of the boat.
Engine on! I fought to turn the starboard bow to the wind and waves to reduce the boat’s rolling movement. Then I noticed that the mast was bending to port alarmingly in the middle with each roll of the boat, snapping back with a rattle as the remaining starboard lower took up the slack. I knew I did not have much time before this became a dismasting!
Broken shroud, what now?
I put the auto pilot on and went out on deck as Sue came up the companion way. Grasping the loose end of the shroud which I noticed still held the turnbuckle I heaved it towards the cockpit where I handed it to Sue telling her “don’t let go of this”. Just at that moment the autopilot decided it was not going to hold its bearing into the wind and the bow sheared away from the weather increasing the roll instantly. Again I struggled for control, adding more engine revs to regain our heading. After what seemed like an age she responded and the movement lessened.
We had to stabilise the rig and fast. I grabbed the turnbuckle from Sue who had, with gritted teeth, heroically stopped it from thrashing around the deck and unscrewed the lower bolt which left me the body. I planned to pass a line through this so I could tie it directly to the chain-plate leaving the removal of the broken toggle, which was still attached, until later. Grabbing 12mm braided line Sue and I went out on a pitching deck where she held onto the shroud while I passed six turns through and around heaving it down as I went. The shroud flapped but seemed to hold and the mast was still moving, but not nearly so badly. I started to think that we were getting to grips with it but I was about to get my second surprise of the night.
A large lurch and….Bang! The lashing snapped like cotton. I was shocked at the forces involved and realised that only steel was going to hold in these conditions. Sue went to the cockpit locker where I keep a selection of stainless shackles while I hung onto the shroud feeling for myself as I did the relentless pull at every roll of the boat. I took the shackles and Sue hung onto the shroud again while I linked a short chain of them together passing one through the lower opening in the rigging screw barrel. I planned to pass the lower shackle in the short chain through the chain plate loop as Sue held on to the shroud to stop it whipping away into the darkness. This turned out to be very difficult as the shroud was continually being pulled away as I attempted to put the shackle pin through.
By now it was about 02:15, we were getting exhausted and we were also both very frightened, each trying not to show it to the other. Sue shouted at me “you can do it! Keep trying!” Again and again I came tantalisingly close to pinning the final shackle and time and again the shroud snatched it away. Sue told me later that this was the moment that she felt we should be cutting the rig loose altogether as the 50’ mast flexed like rubber away from it’s loose shroud. I was thinking “we will not let this beat us”. A momentary lull, perhaps a double wave, I don’t know. What I do know is that the pin went home and I got 3 turns on it before it snatched again, this time fast against the chain-plate.
The rig was more stable now but it still had no shroud tension so the middle of the mast was still loose against the lowers. Sue grabbed four sturdy braid lines from the cockpit locker and I passed 2 bowlines around each shroud leading the bitter end to our 4 forward winches. I
took more 14mm line and passed turn after turn after turn up and through the chain plate and rigging screw body not so much to reinforce the shackles but in an attempt to dampen the shock loads going into them. This done I tightened the 20mm lines winch by winch bending the shrouds into tension back and across the boat. The result was a cat’s cradle of creaking lines but it held and the mast finally now stood straight and fast.
Stable but what now?
The time was 03:00 and we were shaking with exertion but elated at having got the situation back under control.
However although we had the rig upright, we could not use it to hoist sails. It was nowhere near well enough supported and I had no idea what damage might have been done higher up the mast while we were trying to get it under control.
The choice was to return 447nm upwind to Las Perlas or down weather to Galapagos. Without the sails we only had the engine however we did have enough fuel in jerry cans to motor more that 600nm. Given that down weather would stress the rig less, we would have the Bluewater Rally fleet around us and that returning could also prevent us visiting the “enchanted isles” altogether it made sense to continue on the further 490nm run to Galapagos.
A call for help
Having reached a decision we put out SSB calls to the rest of the fleet and reset our original course. We sent an email to Blue Water Rallies
explaining what had occurred and letting them know that we would be in need of spare parts when we got there and could Tony bring them when he flew out to support the Rally stopover.
We made voice contact with S/Y Briet at 06:00 and the Skipper Duco kindly agreed to call Tony via Iridium to alert him of our situation.
In the meantime I had carried out a deck level damage assessment and was shocked to find that the starboard shroud toggle had snagged sideways on the chain-plate while slack and looked as if it could have been close to shearing off. This would have left us with no lowers and a certain dismasting. Far far too close for comfort.
We motored through the rest of the following day, finding that around 4 to 5 knots kept the boat fairly stable which in turn kept the stress off the cobbled shroud fixing.
Support from the Rally
Blue Water Rally control had been busy too. They put out an SSB email to all the boats close to our position. Lucy Alice, an Oyster 406, steamed towards us and was the first to arrive at our position. It was a huge relief and comfort to see them appear over the horizon of an ocean which had, until then been empty and very lonely. We both knew that there was little they could do at that time but her skipper Ian offered calm advice and gave us such confidence saying “don’t worry we’ll get you there whatever it takes”. It was a turning point for our morale; at last
we started to believe we could still do it. We were joined a little later by Enchantress, an Aphrodite 44, and escorted by both boats, one to port and one to starboard as we motored on into the Pacific Ocean together.
Richard Bolt from BWR had in the meantime been in frantic conversation with XW Rigging owned by Ian Cochrane (an ex Westerly rigger, hence his company’s name and a past owner of a Sealord too). He reacted quickly, he knew the parts I needed and would provide 7 of them so that I could replace all the toggles throughout the rig. Thanks Ian, fantastic! Would I please check though that they were all left handed threads and that the diameter of the thread was all the same throughout to ensure that the right parts were sent.
This resulted in yet another memorable moment as, because of the time difference and the urgency of getting them sent, I had to carry out this check in the dark. So it was that I found myself crawling around on all fours with my harness and a head torch on gripping a micrometer in my mouth going from shroud base to shroud base trying to see which way the rigging screw thread ran and measuring the diameter of each. Bizarrely enough it was only at this point that I questioned my sanity, who would have thought it!
By this time we had had offers of help and support from across the fleet including emails to Richard informing him of who was flying out to Galapagos to join which yacht and when. In the end the parts went with some friends of Jackamy, whose owners Paul and Derry laid on a special delivery to their business address in the UK and bent over backwards to make sure it got off the ground and headed towards us as quickly as humanly possible.
Back on Camomile spirits were high as we were joined by yet another rally boat Briet, skippered by Duco and we all started to look forward to crossing the Equator and becoming Neptune’s latest shellbacks, but that is another story.
During this time I was carrying out regular checks on the state of the jury rig but my observations were leading me to believe that it was weakening. I could see through the “mummification” of line that one of the shackle pins had started to bend. I knew that this is a favourite pre-failure mode for shackles so I had to do something about it. I did not have a spare toggle assembly so I dug deep into my tools and bits locker and found just the thing I needed, a piece of 5mm thick flat bar. As I carry a heavy engineer’s vice and a club hammer on board (subtly had no place here) I soon fashioned this into a “make do” toggle at least as strong as the original one if not quite as pretty. Fitting this would stop
the rot and possibly even allow us to put some sail up if the upper rig was sound.
The next challenge would be to replace it in a seaway as the cobbled shroud linkage would have to be disconnected completely. This would bring back all the problems of the first time except that we could now do it at a time of our own choosing. Two things were against us though. Firstly the sea would not settle and secondly the rigging screw body end looked as if it might have become burred by the shackle that was now fastening it and, if so, would have to be removed from the lower shroud to be re-worked with no way of securing the shroud while this took place.
3rd time lucky?
With trepidation I called the yachts escorting us to brief them that I was planning to make a manoeuvre to find a “sweet” direction to steam in causing the least stress to the shroud which was currently on the windward side of the boat. I would then strip the fixing away and replace it unless the burr on the turnbuckle prevented it.
Some little while later with all the tools in place I turned Camomile for the first time since she had lost her shroud. I found a good direction although it was still far bumpier than I would have liked and started to remove the outer lashings of my joint.
As the chain of shackles was revealed my heart sank. Not only was the rigging screw body seriously burred but several of the shackle pins were showing signs of fatigue. I had to abort fitting the new part immediately as to do otherwise would have put the mast back at risk but I could not leave the chain as it was with over 300Nm still to go.
I set about building a second line of shackles to back up the first taking the tension out of the rigging by slacking off on the winches for just long enough to get the last pin in so that when tightened it would share the load. I then re-bound the joint with line putting tension into it as I went. I was not sure, in the end, whether this binding would have done anything if the worst happened and shackle chains failed but it might give me a few minutes of reaction time so I thought it worthwhile.
Onwards to Galapagos
Once the last binding was on we turned the boat around and set our course for Galapagos again hopeful that this time the fixing would fare better.
We motored across the Equator listening to the tensioning lines creak at the crest of each wave and checking every few hours that the shackles were not distorting. Finally, after 490 of the longest nautical miles we
have ever travelled we nudged our way into the anchorage at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos.
The modified fix had lasted all the rest of the way without incident and with no further signs of fatigue. When we walked into the adopted rally pub that afternoon to see the rest of the crews again we were met with a raucous cheer and a round of applause. We knew that we had arrived!
Safely at anchor now I stripped the joint down to replace it with the made up toggle and made ready to go up the mast to inspect for any damage. I checked all the lower and cap terminals and fixings which amazingly and to my huge relief were without any obvious signs of damage. All I had to do now was enjoy the Galapagos while I waited for the new parts to arrive from the UK and thank all the kind people who had supported us so well through this difficult time.
To read a response to breaking a shroud follow – https://yachtcamomile.wordpress.com/job-list/response-to-shroud-breakage/