Here's an email one of our crew got from a boat he was trying get on in the rally. I think they cast off on Monday. When we left for the open ocean, Oct.31, it was with forecasts from four sources: Passage Weather, Buoy Weather, our good friend, John Oldner (who has been helping us for three years), and Chris Parker (a professional weather router provided by the Salty Dawg Rally) with a reference in his S-Bound supplement on the 30th. (The day before he stated we would be better off leaving the 30th vs. leaving on the 31st.) However, all of our sources said if we were to get S & E of a LINE...(from one GPS point to another) by midnight Sat.2., 215 miles for us, on 11/2, we would be south and east of the harder NNW winds and seas from an approaching front. Thank God, we are now back in Wilmington, as not only were we sailing close hauled beating into the south winds and south east seas trying to reach our 3 day way point, on a rhumb line of 110'T to make 30N,070W in three days, 450 miles; the following happened.
As it turned out, a "monster" high pressure cell of 1046 mb came out of Nova Scotia with drastic compression of the pressure gradients, creating horrible winds well south and east of our three day way point where we were looking for more moderate conditions and NNW winds on our tail as we went down slope to the SE. Thus, instead of catching an ideal fast track, we would be in 35-38 kt sustained, g45 with huge breaking seas!!!
Prior to the following, enroute we were reefed and easily making 8kts close hauled (meaning almost into the wind but directly into the waves of 7-9 ft.), which was too hard of a beating, so we had to slow to 7. Which was still plenty rough. But at only 125 miles out about 1400hrs. on Fri. the 1st (our first day avg. speed slow due to 6 hr. motor around Frying Pan Shoals on a course of 160'T, and a Gulf Stream change, setting us north. Two hours short of 24hrs. the mainsail blew out. We are unbelievably grateful to our crew member, Emitt Smith from Annapolis, who we met through the wonderful Offshore Passage Opportunities service, knew exactly what to do and how to do it. With Emitt on deck, the most adept crew person on the winches, Carol handled the main halyard and main furling lines using one hand on the lines, and one toe on the winch buttons, while hanging on with her two remaining appendages.Our other crew guy, Howard Dworkin was right out there on deck with Emitt on his back lying on the cabin top gathering the sail in his arms as Emitt passed it down to him. A hard roll and a boarding wave (even having the boat slow, we had to be into the wind to get the sail down) slid him off the cabin top slamming him side ways into our tall toe rail, giving him various injuries. But, both crew hung in there and got the job done. Other than Howard getting hurt, I have to say it went very well. Emitt, having retrieved torn sails before, thoroughly briefed all of us on what had to be done. Of course we were harnessed and clipped in. It is very unfortunate that Howard was hurt, with bad bruises to his side, hip, and lacerations to his elbow. However, to his credit he stayed right in there finishing the sail retrieval and then never missing a watch.
Soon after getting the sail down, secure, and Howard's wounds dressed, the steering cables fell off the quadrant!!! Due to an installation error.This jammed the wheel while hand steering. Then the auto pilot tripped, but the wheel then went totally free with no rudder control meaning we were completely without steering, going in circles. I was able to reset the auto pilot, and we could then take a slow course under power down wind, settling the boat considerably. It took almost three hours to re-track the cables onto the quadrant, because the auto pilot had to make considerable small corrections. It was much worse with auto off because the seas moved the rudder back and forth much more vigorously. Finally, after the hardest mechanic job, I have ever done, was complete, bleeding as usual, we were underway again. This job, at the dock, would have taken only 15 minutes, tops. However, after nearly three hours we had drifted far enough north that it was an even closer to the wind and waves back to Cape Fear around the Frying Pan Shoals, which set us up for the next casualty. As we had to tack twice, WNW & SE, using the motor and only the genoa sail.
We had new cables and conduits placed this past summer, because the factory had installed them wrong. This time the technician forgot to put on lock nuts!!! Some hell will have to be paid for that.
But, on to the next casualty. When we were due east, after tacking south all night, of Frying Pan Shoals, we would have to motor directly into the W wind in confused seas of 5-7 feet. We had to have some sail stability to dampen the rolling, but the genoa could not go directly into the wind. Thus, we furled the genoa and let out the stays'l, sheeting it dead center with an over sight. We let it out too far and struck the radar guard hard, breaking it off. I immediately shut off the breaker, to prevent possible burn out. Fortunately, the guard fouled up there and did not go overboard, until we got to South Port Marina around 0100 Sun. the 2nd, when I could go up the mast later that morning to secure it. I found it was fouled on the power cable to the radome, kinking it badly. As yet, we do not know if the cable is damaged. It also damaged our steaming light and deck light. I can repair the guard, as it is just broken screws, too small for the job. Another inadequate job done in commissioning, in 2011, that we paid $1800 to some one we formerly trusted!
That same Sunday morning, we motored up river to Wilmington and the Bennett Brothers Boat Yard. Mack Sails in Florida, having seen pictures and talking with the Bennett Brothers Yachts Service Manager (a life time rigger himself) say that they can definitely repair the sail. We can share pictures when we replace the SIM card reader we lost. They also say that they can turn it around in two days, as a favor to the BBY S.M.. So, we can probably be fit to travel in about 8 days, vs. weeks.
Here is the working theory of the sail blow out: The boom vang failed internally, allowing the boom angle to drop and place a lot of stress on the aft end of the sail, because we were sheeted in hard. With the traveler down to take off some heel, thus the compression on the vang was tremendous. In other years we had depended upon the topping lift to support the boom, using the vang only to let the boom lift and belly the sail. We were told by a very good rigger to use the vang for boom support, as our high roach sail fouls on the topping lift, with the main up full. Reefed and in hard conditions, I should have figured the topping lift should have been more tight, helping to carry the strain and keep the boom angle correct. Hindsight!!!???
As yet we do not know if we have the courage to go back out there. Since we have 250 gal of fuel on board, a window of gently motor sailing would be very tempting.
However, you can imagine how timid we feel about going back out. The longer
in advance on the 500 mb charts. Why anyone would set sail into the GS at this time of the year with that thing coming down out of Canada is beyond imagination. It's akin to the Bounty decision to screw around with a hurricane.