Friday, 18 July 2014

The grudge match. Man versus main sail.

Sailing, is a very levelling experience. It seems to work on the basis of mean reversion, allowing very good days to be tempered by very bad ones, but the good staying still slightly ahead,  sometimes having been polished in one's mind to allow the bad days to be edited out or forgotten. Which explains why people still buy boats. 

Sailing long distances is also a humbling experience because just when you are used to the idea of thrashing around the sea on an heroic scale week after week without check, just when you become convinced that you really do know what you are doing and you've got in all licked, something will kick you hard in the shins. It won't be something heroic you can explain away to future grandchildren but it will be something pedestrian, dull and completely unworthy of your otherwise great achievements...and the unimportance of that will make its effect exquisitely horrible to recall. You will not be defeated by something heroic at all, but something simple you learn when you first learn to sail. This morning was one of those humbling occasions designed to bring you down to earth.

I had slept really badly. Blogs, logs, tide tables, passage planning and a very welcome text from Australia at 1.40am all conspired to keep me up until around 2am. After about an hour's sleep the expected wind hit and I was woken to hear the rubber tender, which was secured at its bow and stern with its motor still attached and which had been unusually left in that state overnight, being turned into a demented animal straining and tearing at its ropes seeking its freedom. A visit on deck at 3am followed, situation to be monitored but it was not able to be rectified on my own. More crashing and thrashing followed until at 4am I got up to try and raise it from its position and prevent any impact damage to the motor. So, barefoot and not dressed for polite society, with no life jacket and in clear defiance of the culture of safety I propagate, I found myself struggling with the demented tender pitching and crashing while standing on the transom with waves sloshing round my feet. Entirely stupid, entirely ineffective. Fortunately, David had woken and come out to check what was going on and was surprised to see me at 4am doing tender taming, but together we managed to exorcise the bad spirits which had taken over our previously faithful tender.

Back to bed, and with not much sleep having been had, I later woke up at 0730 and prepared for our departure for Tobermory. A careful passage plan, difficult adverse tides, and a long 12 hour day was promised, but with a fresh and productive Easterly wind blowing  over a slight sea state. A difficult job, but nothing to trouble us 'pros' or so we thought!!

Within a few minutes of slipping from our mooring in a 20 to 25 knot wind, gusting 30 knots, we were raising the main, sensibly putting in a double reef, just in case. It's a very tall mast with a huge amount of reefing lines all flying around the place, and it and I have an awkward relationship. We have history, and it's not been good in the past, but we have patched up our differences, in short I expect the main sail and I to work efficiently together but with no love lost. 

So, up goes the main sail, up the very tall 19m mast and immediately it was clear that our d├ętente had been suspended. The second reefing line was jammed in an inexplicable mess at coachroof level and needed manual intervention from me to unjam it. The coachroof is an area of very exposed slippery surface protecting the occupants from any danger or exposure...like being up on the coachroof. It is about 12 feet above the quite choppy sea and requires some inner resolve  to go up there. So, a problem with the second reefing line. Oh dear! Up I go onto the coachroof to sort it out. Then we hoist the sail again for the second time. Success! But then we discover that one of the cars has been missed out and so the sail has to come down again. Damn! Up I go onto the coachroof again and take off and redo the halyard attached to the head of the sail. Up goes the sail again for a third time. Perfection...a deeply reefed main, perfect until the strong 27 knots of wind subside within minutes as forecast. So the main sail is eased and the second reef is allowed out and the sail is allowed to get larger, and more belligerent. Up goes the main now ( fourth time) with only one reef. But look! One of the spreaders is now caught behind the stays as the roach of the sail can get trapped when on first reef, but only if you are unlucky. By now we know that we are unlucky and the battle between sail and man is not going man's way. Down comes the main a little to free it and up it goes again for the fifth time. Not free, so down it comes again and up again, sixth time. By now, the wind has whipped up again to around 30 knots and we need to put in the second reef again. But there is now yet another problem. The sail needs to be taken down head to wind or it won't go into its lazy jack collection system, but this wind is allied with the sail in an unholy grudge match and is waiting to catch us out. It does so, and pushes the large main sail down and out of its lazy jacks allowing acres of sail to cascade around and what looks like kilometres of cord to fly around. The reefing lines, seeing the fun which the main sail and the wind has had with us, join in too and in the high wind thrash around and knot multiple Gordian creations at high level just out of reach. 'S##%^{}!' I articulate to the heavens. Up I go onto the coachroof yet again to sort it out, third time lucky. Surely we have now all been punished enough? And so up the main goes yet again, seventh time, but one final taunt is in store. The reefing lines are now in the wrong place, we are all looking exhausted, we have not yet had our breakfast and have been continuously shouting at each other to make ourselves heard over the wind and thrashing sails positioned as we are in various odd parts of the boat. In the excitement, a clutch is left undone making the main sail go up and look like a massive white sack of potatoes. Down it comes, an expletive from my seldom used Anglo Saxon repertoire, a pause for collection and an intent to start from the beginning, atone for all my multiple sins, and success, it all goes up like clockwork.  What could possibly have gone wrong?!

The genoa of course is not, and has never been, part of this malicious pact, and goes up and down, reefing and unreefing serenely without a fuss.

The rest of the day has been spent with high winds, reefing and unreefing the sails, achieving very good speeds, but then suffering as the tide goes against us (now we have wasted an hour being humbled by the Enemy, we are in the wrong place to work the tide, and the Sound of Liung is ahead of us waiting to have its fun. Ho hum!

We are not going to make Tobermory today, this being the first casualty in the whole circumnavigation to date, so will run for Loch Aline instead. We also need fuel so will collect it tomorrow morning as we pass Tobermory. As I sit doing my blog, 32 knots of truculent and unpredictable wind are pushing us along at 6.6 SOG knots on two reefed sails after the tide is taking about a knot.  The Scottish Islands are whizzing past in all their glory. It's about to rain. We have just entered a submarine exercise area which often like to stalk yachts causing much confusion to the depth gauge readings as they do so. What could possibly go wrong???

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