We are on our way down the west coast
of the US. We had a crash gybe in the middle of the night (don't these things always happen in the middle of the night?) Fortunately, no one was hurt and we managed to get control of the boom & mainsail
despite the traveler car being destroyed.
I think this might be interesting for others - there are some learning
points here - the biggest one is that a boom brake
needs to be backed up with the line on a winch
and not just through a clutch
. Feel free to ask any questions you want - I'll try to answer
Disclaimer - Vinni and I have been at sea for over 6 years now - we've made every mistake you can think of, and probably quite a few that lie outside the boundaries of imagination. Here's the story, pics at the bottom. One pic shows the stripped brakeboom line. The other shows the second juryrig we made to keep the boom centered.
WE managed to limp into SF a day or so later on only a poled out genua.
Just so we have something positive to boast about - sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge meant that we had made landfall in both NYC
and SF - on the same boat
- not too many cruisers can say that.
That evening, as we approach the critical point of rounding Cape Mendocino, the wind
freshens; blowing 20-25 knots and the swells rise to 2-3 meters. It is still comfortable sailing, our mainsail
is in the second reef. Capri
blasts along making 7-8 knots.
We got 2/3’s of the way round the Cape before the acceleration winds began to pick up. It is now gale force (30+ knots) and the swells have risen to 3-4 meters (12-14 feet). Worse, we have to gybe. Carsten hates to gybe at night. It is difficult for him to orient himself out on the foredeck in the dark when he has to take the poled out genua in from the one side and pole it out to the other. Adding in that the deck
is rolling and pitching in the high waves, the wind
is shrieking, and he is, as he says, “not a happy camper”. But there is no way around it, we have to gybe to get closer to shore and out of the swells that are growing larger by the minute.
Despite Carsten cursing up on deck
, the gybe is uneventful. Carsten takes over the watch and I go below for some well-deserved sleep and a chance to get warm again.
I wake when I hear a huge crash above my head
and the Capri
jerks around like a top. We’ve had a crash gybe. A big wave came from the side, throwing Capri around. Carsten could do nothing and the wind got behind the mainsail. Carsten says, “Shit, you need to come up right away”, as he shines a flashlight up on the sail to see how bad things are.
“We have a major problem”, he adds.
We have a boombrake mounted to prevent a crash gybe. Unintentional gybes can easily happen when you are sailing at 150-160 to the wind and the waves are running 4 meters. Our boombrake is supposed to either act as a preventer stopping the gybe or at least act as a brake, slowing the entire process down so everything happens in slow motion and there is no damage. Other boats have lost
their entire rig in a crash gybe.
So how did it happen if the boombrake is supposed to prevent it? The line from the boombrake goes through a clutch
that keeps the line taut. With the line taut, the boombrake allows no movement of the boom. When we look, we see that the outer covering of the line has been peeled back like a banana peel. Once this happened, the clutch can’t hold on to the inner core
, which is not as large in diameter as the line with the outer covering. The line then simply slipped through the clutch and the boom gybed.
So why didn’t we also have a preventer mounted? A preventer is another line that is stretched from the back of the boom to a point far forward on the deck, making it impossible for the boom to move. First, because the boombrake should function as well as a preventer. In fact, the boombrake DID function. The reason the outer covering of the line stripped off was that the boombrake was holding the boom (and sail) against the tremendous forces applied by the wind. Secondly, Carsten feels we have so many lines running up on the deck that he is in danger
of tripping (and potentially falling off the boat) if we have many more.
What could we do? Not only had the boombrake line stripped (that was a minor problem to fix), worse, the shackle on our traveler was broken in half. This was a serious problem. Without the traveler, there is no place to hook the boom.
To put it mildly, we were in deep ****.
The boom was slammed tight up against the shrouds and held, plastered there, by the wind. We couldn’t sail with it like that. Our first order of priority was to somehow get it back to the middle so we could drop the sail or figure something else out. Until we did that, we could not control the boat
. Worse, if a wave threw Capri in the wrong direction, the wind would get behind the sail and we would have another crash gybe, just in the other direction. This time there would be no brake at all. The first gybe, the line covering stripping and the shackle breaking on the traveler must have lessened the speed and force of the gybe.
Carsten acts quickly, diving
into the cockpit
locker and coming up with a long line with a carabiner hook in the middle. He dons a lifeline and crawls out on the deck as the waves crash over him. I’m desperately trying to hold Capri on a course so we don’t get another crash gybe in the other direction. If Carsten gets hit by the boom, he’ll die. Carsten manages to get the carabiner hooked into the block on the mainsail sheet and then he runs them back to a winch
(through the genua car blocks) on either side. Now he can crank in the sail to the middle and control it.
Carsten then ties the mainsail block to the remnants of the traveler car with a length of Dynema. Dynema is ultra-strong rope
. It will hold anything, almost no matter what the load. Meanwhile I’ve tried to lay Capri with her stern directly up in the wind. The reader has to understand here that in these high waves, it is simply not possible to turn Capri into the wind. If we try that, we risk broaching, or worse, a knockdown.
Now I’m unlucky. A freak wave crashes in from the side, throwing Capri around and we have a new crash gybe. The soft shackle of Dynema Carsten has rigged, parts
with a pistol shot as the line is cut by a sharp edge. Carsten curses up a storm, some of it aimed at me (fair enough). Not only did the crash scare the hell out of him, he almost lost
a finger as the lines tightened. Fortunately, it was only “mashed”. Carsten dons his lifeline once again and crawls out on deck to retrieve the boom that is now plastered up against the rigging
. Same procedure as before.
We’ve got the boom centered again. Carsten mounts a new and heavier soft shackle in a different way so there is no way it can be cut. We agree that we need to drop the mainsail and continue on the poled out genua. The mainsail, of course, doesn’t drop by itself in this heavy of a wind. Someone has to go on deck and haul it down by hand. Once more Carsten grabs his lifeline and crawls up through the waves running over the deck. This time he ties himself to the mast
so he can use both hands to haul the sail down. We’ve agreed that we can run only a reefed genua. We roll the genua halfway out and we’re making 6-7 knots. The waves are still enormous.