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Lost the rig

My description and takeaways for a nasty event. I will humbly accept feedback. This event took place in October, 2019.

It was the first day of a 12 week beer can – lake sailing - race season; racing every other Saturday. Typically, we manage to get in three races each race day. During the last leg of the second race on the older 30 footer, the two of us were pressing hard at 5+ knots beating windward in a 13 knot breeze with gusts to about 18 knots. The sea state was very comfortable with a steady wave cycle of about 12 or 15 inches but very tolerable. Water temperature was approximately 65 degrees. Things were looking nice for our finish. The boat wasn’t overpowered at all on port tack with about 470 sq ft of sail area between the main and the genoa. We were moving pretty respectfully with the boat nicely heeled at about 5 to 8 degrees. We had put several boats in the 12 boat PHRF fleet behind us.

That’s when we heard a loud BANG! Then, in fast succession (almost simultaneously) another load BANG! Less than two seconds later the entire 38 ft tall rig went over the port side. The boat lurched to port and then settled flat with wire, rope, and sail cloth everywhere. A quick check proved neither of the two of us were injured. The rig was folded in half just above the spreaders, totally destroyed and hanging under the boat still attached by the roller furler, back stay, three shrouds to port and one shroud to starboard. Additionally, the sheets for the genoa, and main sail were all under a lot of tension, Our 10 sq ft rudder was now nearly 480 sq ft but there was no control and the fresh breeze was pushing us into a channel between an island and a point of land separated by a shallow bottom about 200 meters wide.

First things first. Neither of us had any injuries. Second, the boat was at the mercy of mother nature; we had no steerage except for the breeze against the freeboard and the chop on the water. We needed to get control of the boat as much as possible to prevent going into the channel. (Avoid making things worse). We dropped anchor in about 54 feet of water with two hundred feet of rode to stop our movement into more shallow water in the channel.

Once stabilized, we discussed our next course of action. First, use the VHF radio and call for help. Our club discusses use of channel 72 for race committee and competitors for communications during each race. The race committee dispatched a 16 ft skiff to provide aid.

The rig was a mess but it was secure where it was. It could be helpful to release some of the stays and shrouds to let the rig go behind the boat or to fall to the bottom of the lake for later recovery. At the least, release of the furler at the deck would help. The rigging was still under a lot of tension and now was not at all laying at the convenient angles for removal you typically see in the boat yard. An attempt was made to stabilize the furler and then remove the pin securing it to the deck – something requiring basic tools or maybe a wire or bolt cutter. I carry bolt cutters on both of my boats for this very problem should it ever occur. I assumed others carried tools for the unthinkable also. I had a Leatherman and a folding rigging knife on my hip but it wasn’t enough. I needed at least another pair of pliers or screwdriver to remove the cotter pin from the clevis. That should be a simple enough matter to address. A request to my partner for a plier or screwdriver was met with a response that the toolbox was removed from the boat. There were no other tools.

We knew starting the engine was not possible due to potential fowling of the prop from the birds nest of wire and line beneath the boat. The race committee skiff arrived but did not have any tools aboard and did not have anything for towing other than dock lines aboard.

In relatively short order it became obvious our options were limited. I requested a tow by radio from the race committee skiff to a beach near our berth where the boat was maneuvered parallel to the beach. The boat had a 5 ft draft but the rig was suspended at least 15 feet below. So, the boat was pulled onto the beach until the rig was aground. An anchor was dispatched from the bow and from the stern, both to be secured around separate trees to hold us in position allowing us to address the rigging mess below.

The rig was prepared for removal by securing a fender via a 20 ft dock line to each visible end of the rig to mark the ends when the rig sank to the lake bottom. Dock lines were used to have line long and strong enough to lift the rig. A request ashore was answered with the delivery of two sets of bolt cutters to cut loose the quarter inch diameter stainless shrouds. Additional pliers were also obtained but unable to complete pin removal at all remaining clevis attachments. One bolt cutter was three foot long that was dull and wouldn’t cut the wire. The other pair was 15 inches long but was able to cut by taking multiple ‘bites’.

With the rig cut away and laying on the bottom of the lake, the bow and stern anchors secured at the trees were released and the hull was towed to its slip. The rig was pulled onto the beach using the winch on the boat owner’s Jeep.

Event analysis and inspection revealed rigging failure due to corrosion at the top of the swage fitting on both lower starboard shrouds. First failure of the starboard aft lower shroud, then the starboard forward lower shroud, both in the same manner and at the same location. The root cause is failure to inspect and address corrosion issues in the rigging. Contributing cause included a new sailor with little rigging knowledge and experience, and an experienced guest that did not inspect the rig when coming aboard.

We have located another mast and are in the process of re-building the rig as the cold weather permits. We expect to be able to sail her again in about 4 to 6 months.

While the Captain or Skipper is ultimately responsible for his vessel, in the case of inexperienced sailors, experienced guest crew members should take precautions and coach appropriately to ensure the vessel safety.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT:
• Check for injuries FIRST.
• Call for help
• Stabilize the boat (get control to prevent matters from getting worse)
• Remain calm and thoughtfully prioritize problems and adapt appropriately.

WHAT WE DID WRONG:
• Have a tool kit on board.
• Include bolt cutters in the tool kit.
• Assumed the rig was good to go
• Rigging needs to be inspected at regular intervals. Cursory inspection every time the vessel is boarded, more detailed inspection at regular intervals
• While the Captain or Skipper is ultimately responsible for the vessel, inexperienced sailors need appropriate coaching to ensure vessel safety
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Re: Lost the rig

Battery powered angle grinder with cut off wheels are great demo tools
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Re: Lost the rig

I would say that it sounds like you did about was well as you could have under the circumstances. The thing to remember is that there is no single right way to handle any of these crises. You do the best you can under the circumstances and with whatever information that you have available at the time. Its always easy to come back after the fact with the woulda-coulda-shoulda's. By and large those are in the same category as "ya know what I should have said...." Yes maybe, but besides the point. The things that you did right, were as right as they could be and the sequence was about what anyone would have expected. The point being that whatever I say below is not meant a criticism in any way, but are merely being proffered as alternative ideas.

For what it is worth, I have lost rigs on two different boats. Both times I was amazed at how little drama occurred as the mast went over the side, and at the sheer difficulty in dealing with the aftermath. The term 'stabilizing the boat' can have different meanings to different people and in different situations. Like you, in both of my cases there was hazard to leeward. In my case the hazard was close enough that, after making sure everyone was okay, stopping the boat from being lost became job #1. Getting help came second in that case.

In both cases, help was not coming nearly soon enough to keep the rig from damaging (or in the case of the Folkboat with its mast stuck in the bottom to leeward and wind and wave dropping the boat onto it) from having the stub of the spar sink the boat. In both cases we chose to bring the rig aboard. In the case of the Folkboat, (the larger of the two) we rigged blocks and ran lines back to the winches and hauled the mast up to the surface parallel with the boat, and removed the sails and boom. Using the boom, and rigging some more control lines we were able to to bring the mast on board the boat. (Obviously a Cal 2-30 mast is a lot heavier than a Folkboat mast so that might not have been an option.)

Looking at the photos of the ferules, the breaks are so clean and right at the top edge of the swage, my guess is that you might not have been able to see this one coming even if you had looked. Its not like the ferule was cracked, or that there was gobs of rust to give you a clue. Neither does there appear to be random broken strands, More to the point, we always hear of people talking about having original rigging and the like, at some point, rigging will fail. The cost of a new rig can exceed the value of many older boats. Installing ew standing rigging while not exactly cheap, is better than losing the entire rig and sails.

I can also say that I have tried using bolt cutters to cut away rigging. Even moderate diameter rigging can be extremely difficult to cut with a manual bolt cutter. last time I needed to help remove a rig in hurry on a boat, we used the bolt cutters to cut the cotter pins close to the edge of the clevis pin and then drove the cotter pin out with a hammer and small drift. (that reminds me, I need to buy one of those small dia. drifts) Plan 'b' was that we cut the cotter pin flush with the clevis and drove the clevis out. We only did that on one clevis and it was not as quick as it sounds.

I am glad that you are okay and are able to get the boat back together.

Jeff
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Re: Lost the rig

Using an angle grinder is 'easy' I once lent my grinder to a friend to zip off some protruding fasteners. He went thru several zip discs before he got the hang of it. From this I surmise it's not as easy as you thought and a bit of practice under controlled conditions may be in order before stuff falls down.
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Re: Lost the rig

Agree with Jeff.
I have only one dismasting adventure, and that was about 15 miles off of the WA coast. Same failure result when the mast failed instantly at the spreader. Caused by unseen and invisible stress corrosion just down inside one of the swages of one of the weather side lower shrouds. Single spreader rig on a Ranger Yachts 29.
When the one fitting broke, the other lower instantly failed when the SS hardware snapped from the sudden load on it.

We were able to pull all the pins and cut free most running rigging. Deposited the whole rig about 150 feet deep.
Same "hairpin" of the spar, and the main was jammed at the fold and went down with it.

We had no injuries, either. That boat's rig had been sailed hard in a salt water environment for over a decade, and the standing rig was way overdue to replacement.... something I did not realize at the time being new at delivery crewing.

I used to get kidded a bit, since I was driving to weather when it happened. BTW, true about the speed of the accident. I was enjoying steering thru a moderate sea, when I heard and felt a loud 'bang' and then realized that there was no longer a lapper jib to look at! No warning or preview of the drama.... sunny day, too!
The sailing was fine, and then in a millisecond it was all quiet with only a thumping of the horizontal spar section on the deck edge, and the boat gently rolling in the swell.

Again, so glad no one was hurt.

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Sail # 28400
Betamarine 25 (new 2018)
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Re: Lost the rig

Quote:
Originally Posted by RegisteredUser View Post
Battery powered angle grinder with cut off wheels are great demo tools
YOU ARE SO CORRECT.
Any tool would have been more helpful. We had just one single Leatherman aboard.


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Re: Lost the rig

Quote:
Originally Posted by olson34 View Post
Agree with Jeff.
Caused by unseen and invisible stress corrosion just down inside one of the swages of one of the weather side lower shrouds.

When the one fitting broke, the other lower instantly failed when the SS hardware snapped from the sudden load on it.

We were able to pull all the pins and cut free most running rigging. Deposited the whole rig about 150 feet deep.
.
Unseen corrosion is a scary issue. A microscope inspection may not see it inside a swage fitting.
I believe if we had one additional pair of pliers we could have pulled the pins.


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Re: Lost the rig

I would say that you handled it well. You didn't mention PFDs, but I assume that because you were racing that all were wearing them.

How old was the standing rigging on the boat? Because I was unsure of it's age, in December of 2019 I purchased ALL new standing rigging for my boat. I KNOW that the rigging on my boat was at least 12 years, possibly 18 years old.

I had a similar dismasting experience while teaching the third day of an ASA 103 course. On this boat it was a combination of a bunch of little problems that compounded to result in the eventual dismasting of the Lippincott 30. That boat was a school boat, and should any of the smaller issues been addressed there would not have been a problem.

Briefly, that story goes like this;
  • That day was windy - gusts of over 30 knots - but this should have been good experience for the students.
  • The boat was old, and instead of blocks at the stanchion bases for the roller furler, there were only "eye straps," aka "inchworms." I had mentioned that these should be replaced with proper blocks to the owner, and he stated that he was going to get to it "sometime."
  • There were no "readily accessable" spares aboard. The boat was in a never ending refit, and the interior was torn apart. Parts of the boat were thrown into little plastic bins aboard, and there were tools all over the place in the cabin.
  • The boat had been used for training earlier in the year. I had assumed that the boat and all her systems had been thoroughly inspected before she was put into service. Thie course that I was teaching was ASA 103. I teach the full inspection of the vessel in ASA 104.
  • The boat also had no fuel gauge, so I had to believe the school owner when he told me that the fuel tank had just been filled.
As we left the marina under power and headded out the channel, I felt that we were getting a bumpy ride in the chop. To steady out the boat, I decided to let out A LITTLE headsail, which would put us on a beam reach, starboard tack. About a third of the way down the channel, I noticed that one of the leeward upper shrouds had disconnected from the chainplate! I dove below and searched for something, anything, to replace the cotter and clevis pins that were now gone. All that I could find was a machine screw and a nut. I ran back up the companionway ladder, and on deck to fix the issue.

As I was reattaching the shroud to the chainplate, I noticed that more headsail had unfurled than I had initially let out. I assume that either the line had stretched, or the wrap on the drum wasn't tight and more line had paid out as the sail strained in the high wind. Regardless, I could not furl the line because the friction from the six eye straps, combined with the heavy wind, was too much for anyone to furl the jib. My plan was to get out of the narrow channel, fall off the wind, and furl the sail. Just as I got back into the cockpit the engine died....

My best guess was that the tank had NOT recently been filled and that the bumpy ride had allowed the fuel dip tube to pick up air. This still should not have been a problem, as we were still under head sail power. All we needed to do was get to the end of the channel, tack or gybe, and sail back up the channel to pick up a mooring. The channel in question is about a nautical mile long.

Once we made it to the end of the channel, I had the helmsman try to tack. The wind was too strong, and we weren't going fast enough, and the boat stalled. We got back underway and I had the helmsman gybe (great practice!). We made the gybe, but with an inexperienced helmsman we couldn't point high enough to make the channel, so I had them gybe again and try to point higher. This was better, but we were now heading in the wrong direction. One more gybe, and we still weren't pointing high enough. I therefore took the wheel and executed two more gybes and we were now pointing for the channel. Things were looking up! Just then there was a loud "BoinK" as the screw sheared and the mast snapped cleanly in two at the spreaders, and fell into the water, taking the VHF antenna with it. Class was now OVER!

This was a class so everyone aboard was wearing a PFD. I checked that the crew were OK, and then went forward and dropped the anchor (stop things from getting worse!). With the anchor set, I then surveyed the damage and noticed that the mast was banging against the hull. I grabbed two dock lines and secured the mast against the hull so that it would not hole the vessel. Thankfully a student came forward to help me out.

I waved down a passing sailboat and requested assistance. He replied that he would arrange a tow for us from the marina where we were based. While we waited there I went below and tried to bleed the motor with a pair of vice grips, and again to get the motor started with no luck. With nothing left to do, the students and I had lunch in the cockpit. I now carry my own handheld VHF whenever I teach.

Eventually, we were towed in, and that boat was out of commission for sailing lessons for the rest of the year. The school continued to use it, however, for docking lessons.


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Re: Lost the rig

The specific reason for the rig failure in my post above was that a fifty-cent cotter pin had failed. However, it was a combination of MULTIPLE failures that allowed the situation to develop into full blown rig failure.

I carry multiple spare cotter pins, clevis pins, turnuckles, toggles, a fuel pump and a water pump and I always have at least TWO spare handheld VHF radios aboard my own boat.
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Re: Lost the rig

The PFD thing is a really important point. Without a mast the motion of the boat becomes positively dangerous with the boat rolling and pitching so erratically that you cannot walk on the decks and pretty much need to crawl. Even crawling it was hard to stay aboard.
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