Genie - welcome! And great point about the various names for the spinnaker - aka..."asymmetrical investment", "hood ornament" or my favorite "mistake". Are you an anthropologist (social or other)?
And, hey, your tales fit in here just as much as anyone else's - racer or cruiser. Doesn't matter at all. This isn't an exclusive club, dude - though some wanted to make it that at some point. It's kind of like the UN of big sailing. As pointed out then, it's purely about pushing limits. So how about one of those BFS's?
Good to have you.
No, I am not an anthropologist - though I've read on the subject - I'm just a broken down, old sailing ex-sculptor.
It doesn't take much encouragement to get the sea stories started.
You might be interested in seeing my blog from the 2005 Transatlantic race. Some of you might have seen the Discovery channel documentary about that race, with Gary Jobson as the director/narrator. I was on the Staad Amsterdam with him - a 250 ft square rigged three masted ship - and I must say that for someone used to sailing fore and aft rigged, small (by comparison) boats it was a heck of a trip. Unfortunately my camera was not working and I didn't know it so I have no picture of my own on the site and only have a few photos supplied by the ship's staff and the official race photographer. Still, I think it's an interesting read (of course I would, I wrote it). Go to Claudiomarzollo.com and click on the Transatlantic race link.
Back to BFS. Back in the sixties there was a race held on Long Island Sound that was run in late October and although it had a formal name, which I now forget, it was generally referred to as "the Gearbuster", with good reason. I never sailed that race without breaking something. Those late Oct winds are usually quite different from the August calms of the area. It was a late evening start at the western end of the sound and went to the Stratford Shoals lighthouse and back. By the time it got dark (moonless, of course) the wind had picked up as we sailed along the Connecticut shore in a SW wind. We were racing, so we kept the chute up and never saw the squall till it hit us.
I have no idea how hard it blew since when it hit it not only knocked us down but also somehow managed to impale the head of the chute over the top of the mast, thus removing our anemometer and all the antennas. With the chute thusly impaled it was impossible to bring it down or muzzle it (this was in the era before spinnaker socks, though a sock would have been above the impaling mast, making it useless). We let go the spinnaker guy and by pulling the sheet in were able to bring the sail somewhat into the lee of the main. The runaway spinnaker was still seriously heeling us but refusing to disintergrate and the Connecticut shore was getting closer and closer. The possibility of starting the engine was never seriously discussed (we were racing and fully intended to finish the race, no DNF allowed) and anyway with that much sail up and the puny two bladed fixed props raceboats had in those days I doubt it would have done any good.
Next thing I know - I have a stupid habit of volunteering at the wrong time - I'm in the boatsun chair going up the mast with my trusty knife. It was actually pretty easy at the beginning because as long as I was between the forward and after lower shrouds I was able to simply walk up the mast due to the extreme angle of heel. The upper part of the mast was harder but I had a line going down from me to the deck so that if I lost the grip on the mast my belayer would be able to keep me from either going into the water or banging into the mast. Once I got to the masthead the tricky part was making sure I was cutting the spinnaker and not the halyard I was on. I never did get close to the water while up there so I guess the salty liquid in my seaboots must have come from a different source.
Now, I know the safety police are going to be all over this one. What were we doing carrying a big spinnaker in those conditions, why was I even allowed to go up a mast in the dark while the boat was bouncing like a bucking bronco, why was no one wearing pfd's or harnesses - oh, did I forget to mention that? I was young and stupid and like all young men, I felt immortal. I didn't even realize the biggest danger was not the obvious one of getting loose from the mast and bouncing around, the biggest danger was
that the shaking of the loose chute and my added weight aloft would tear the shrouds, headstay or backstay out of the boat or cause a fitting to fail, toppling the rig, along with me, over the side.
Obviously that didn't happen, or I wouldn't be telling the tale. Am I happier with more modern safety procedures? Of course. On my boat now I carry state of the art inflatable pfd's and harnesses, rig jacklines and sail much, much more conservatively, since I'm not racing. Everyone uses the gear at night or when it blows, though I don't make wearing it mandatory in gentler conditions. And I'll probably be a scofflaw when pfd's are required at all times, as they are now on many races.
look back at that incident with horror, thankful the worst case scenario didn't play out, I would certainly be horrified if one of my grown sons did something like it, I'm glad my parents never heard about it (I was single at the time).
More than forty years later I remember it vividly, and still feel a thrill in the memory and until I lose all memory I will never forget it. Was it worth the risk? Probably not. I certainly wouldn't trade the last 40+ years of my life for the memory, but I'm still glad I have it. There is a certain guilty pleasure in that.