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Monday, February 27, 2012

What happened off of Catalina: Make Shift Mast & Shrouds.

Leaving Catalina Island as the sun was just leaving its orange glow on the water, I sailed out past bird island and soon it was dark as I headed out a mile and then down the coast of Catalina. I was heading toward Avalon, twenty miles down and then San Diego sixty miles after that. Four foot waves ran behind me pushing me along as a steady wind blew from the north. My sails were out on a broad reach and I felt happy. But I was a little anxious too. Sunset often meant failing coastal winds and the greater concern - that of my broken lower shroud. As I looked off into the darkness, I could see the silhouette of the island in the distance and the base of the mast pumping slightly as the make-shift shroud kept the mast from totally slipping out of the step. How did this happen? I will try to explain:

I was about three hours out from Marina Del Rey, and the waves had gone from three feet to now about five and breaking slightly. I had just started my sailing trip to San Diego and was half way out to Catalina island when the wind began to really pick up. Not really a problem. However, I knew I should take my genoa down and put up the smaller jib (but back then I was more succeptable to sea sickness) and feeling a little queasy - I just let it go. Bad MISTAKE because not long after that I was to encounter my first lessons with the rigging. With a sudden crack, the lower shroud (one of two thick metal wires holding up the mast) snapped. In the same second the mast literally rolled and bent from the deck to the mast head. As I sat there expecting the mast to collapse - I was surprised to see that it stood fast. Enough to say, that got me over my 'queasyness' real quick! Iike superman, I was up at the bow in a flash and let down the genoa. Taking pressure off the mast really helped a lot and I was able to get to Catalina Island that night by really babying the boat and keeping myself on the tack that didn't put pressure on that broken shroud. In the morning I was able to create a make shift shroud from a firm long rope and a hook from a bungie cord to hold it firmly at the top. Taking a long stick and very lightly taping the rope to the top, I was able to finally get the hook to fit into the spreader (there's a special metal fixture that holds the lower shroud secure there). Once that was done, I pulled the stick and tape off and brought the rope in super tight at the lower shroud 'deck cleat' until it was really tight. The make shift shroud was so tight I could now play music on it! Well, not really - but close! So with that , I made my way on down to San Diego. I'm sure glad I didn't get into bad weather, because that shroud wouldn't of lasted a second in it. As it is today, I still don't know how I managed. The bungie hook is not stainless steal and will bend with enough pressure. I did however, really baby the boat on that tack. The next morning half way down the coast, I remember seeing the mast pumping a little and noticing that the mast was pulling slightly out of the mast step. In San Diego, I bought myself some stainless steal hooks and fixed my metal shroud as best I could. Sailing back to Los Angeles, I then got myself a new shroud and put that up. Notwithstanding all this, a year later, I lost my mast to an old shroud that was wearing and breaking at the top of the mast where I could not see. After all that (which you can read about in the story below this), I had this thought:

"What if I had been demasted out in the middle of the ocean - what would I have done then?" So began my construction of my make shift mast! 'Sailing' or should I really say 'rowing' my Columbia 22 boat out into the marina late last night, I decided to work on my idea out there and still get my sea time. It was a beautiful night and I was the only one out on the water. Even not having sails, I still enjoyed the wind on the water and the night light reflections. Rowing against the light wind blowing was a little difficult but I soon got to the top of the finger channel and could just let the boat drift. In the quietness, I started going over in my mind all the different possibilities for building the make-shift mast. It was a little rough going as not many ideas were taking shape! And then the thought of standing the broken mast up against the bow pulpit started becoming a possibility. Laying out two boards horizontally for the mast to lie against (actually the mast was fitted snug between the two and could rest there), I then got the halyards secured at a metal eye at the top of the mast. Then while drifting down the harbor and trying to maintain some course, I lifted the heavy mast up and secured it quickly with strong rope. Suddenly I realized the boat was drifting too close to a boat on the dock and had to run across the deck and into the cockpit and turn the tiller. Meanwhile the mast was only secured half way and leaning dangerously close to shifting and snapping the wood and falling into the water. I had to move fast and carefully so that I didn't rock the boat. Having done that successfully, I then came back and secured it all the way. Having to strengthen the bow so that the weight of the 100 lbs mast was pulling against the forward shroud cleat and the two bow port and starboard cleats - instead of leaning its weight on the bow pulpit - took a lot of time and thought. As it was, it took me hours to make it properly secure and it wasn't till 3:30 am in the morning when I rolled into my dock! All the time I had doubts as to getting it up and how tight it was and if the make shift shrouds would work and if it would fall and pull the pulpit right off the deck! But after all that, I had done it and it was secure! But 'beautiful' it was not - unless you like 'pirate' looking rigging! So then I had to figure out what kind of sail to give it. At first I was thinking that an asian lanteen sail plan would work really well - but it didn't. Then I got out my small storm sail and ran that up the mast. It was okay but after taking it for a test run, it pulled the bow down and would not run into the wind. Later I learned this was because I have a fin keel and the mast being at the bow was not at the center of gravity/effort. So instead of pulling the boat, the sails power was turning it. Interesting huh! Well at that point I was out of ideas. So then later, I saw in my sailing book a make shift sail that had a spinnaker pole put up off the stern with the bottom edge of the sail taken up the halyard and the length of it pulled out to catch the wind across the deck. Not sure if you can get the picture of this but the sail is up - just the wrong way! So that gave me an idea to try my full sail and put it up the wrong direction from my mast at the bow. I guess I was hoping that because a lot of the sail caught the wind along the waist of the boat that it would drive the boat even into the wind - but no. I did get more power going across the wind and downwind though. So as of the writing of this - I still don't know how to get the boat upwind with a make-shift sail. You know on the ocean, that would possibly mean having to go hundreds or thousands of miles in the wrong direction just to get to land! So if you have any good ideas - leave me a message! I would love to hear them. :-)

~Albie

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My new Mast!

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