A real DIY battle for Steve White as he struggles in big seas near Cape Horn - and a dodgy tummy...
I am sitting here clock watching, or watching the time to the waypoint on the electronic chart to be more accurate – not something I ever do when at sea except for when I’m doing corporate sailing days and your timing has to be perfect.
Ninety four miles to the Horn.
The sea state here is pretty grim, it’s like a giant version of Portland Race – the depth goes from over 4,000m to 200 in around 30 miles, but just a bit further round the shelf it is even steeper and makes the same transition in 12 miles – that would be quite a hill if it was on dry land.
All the uninterupted might of the Southern Ocean, its winds and current, banks up here and gives an odd heaped sea state. The poor old pilot is working overtime as the boat gets screwed around by the waves, (I just had one break in the cockpit) and the wind is gusting from 22 to 34 knots, with shifts in the gusts.
On top of it all, seawater has just got into the pilot remote controls on the tillers, making the autopilot continually change course of its own accord, in one degree increments, but pretty rapidly, which is really very alarming. Every time I turned around it was tryng to gybe. I got to a true wind angle of 179 degrees at one point.
I had to head up, rush through the boat into the lazarette, open the junction box, cut the wires one at a time to the remotes and get back to the pilot controls to change course again. Hectic!
Luckily I knew what it was straight away as it has happened before, but it still made me nervous – you don’t need pilot problems here I can tell you. I was still pretty wired when the BBC called for an interview ten minutes later. I had to phone back and explain myself afterwards, I was talking pretty quickly like some sort of gabbling cartoon character and still nervously watching the pilot.
Last time I wrote I thought I was in the clear and on the last lap, but there were a couple of what I hope will be the final twists before I round Cape Horn at about 2100 GMT tonight. The first was when I looked up out of my window at first light and saw the rig twisting.
Normally this is because when you go downwind with the sails eased too far they can push on the spreaders which is a bad thing, but I don’t sail like that, and when I saw some really funny saggy creases in the main as well then I knew I had a problem. I dashed out on deck to look and the main was not attached to the track at the top, the top car, the headboard car, had broken. I got the main down in a hurry because once one car goes, they can all go like a broken zip.
There are fifteen cars that run up and down the track on the back of the mast which the mainsail goes up and down on. Each car has 60 to 80 little plastc ball bearings in to help it run smoothly, but the headboard cars remained jammed on the track up at the top spreaders. The sea state was really chaotic, and it was actually difficult to stand up on deck with no main to steady the boat, so after some deliberation I decided a mast climb could wait until after Cape Horn and flat water.
I tried to rig up various things to snag the cars from on deck but they are designed to be smooth and snag free, so that wasn’t going to happen, so then I pulled another car up on the halliard and tried to tap them and see if they would come down. All that happened was I sent them further up the mast, above the top spreader and into the real ‘No-mans Land’ where it is difficult to climb because there’s nothing to hold on to.
I was pretty despairing at that point….then I had some inspiration. After trying to get them down all day, why didn’t I just send them up out of the way? There is spare track at the top, so that’s what I did, and there they will stay. There is no damage to the track itself luckily. I think the cars had got distorted and pinched the balls onto the track tightly enough to stop gravity doing its thing.
I spent the rest of the night taking the main off, taking all the cars off, and putting two new cars on at the top for the headboard, and putting them all back on again. The boat was rolling like a pig, and no matter how careful I was there were balls everywhere – it was a bit like one of those games you used to get at Christmas where you have to get several balls into several holes all at once.
Then I found that the aluminium plate which forms the bottom bearing of the gooseneck had broken free where it is welded to the mast base, so I had to winch and beat that back into place and bolt it through the deck (drilling through 10mm of aluminium and 15mm of solid carbon with a blunt drill from underneath with the boat rolling was not easy), but by 0600 we were up and running with two reefs in again, and I went to bed.
I was pretty tired by then because I had been up a lot of the previous night after having to jump start the engine from the domestic batteries to charge the flat engine and generator start battery, so I could then start the generator. The generator was not charging the start battery because an important component had not been wired up, but first I had to faut find, and there was no mention of this part in the manual. Only occasional use of the engine to pump water ballast had been keeping the shared start battery charged.
To top it all, I had a really bad stomach – there’s a funny story in that though; when I bought the boat, the watermaker had been left with seawater in it, and they are supposed to be stored with a biocide and cleaner to keep them in good condition. I thought after two years it would be a bin job, but Jim MacDonald from Mactra said it would be fine, just run it. Phew, what a smell! Rotten eggs!!
I bought it a new membrane, and bought a brand new watermaker as a spare and thought that would see me round the world. Twenty four hours before the start, the watermaker was untouched. When Chris Ross, who owns SpecDepot, one of our sponsors, came on board our conversation went something like, “Hi, I’m Chris, what can I do to help?” “Ah” said I, “What do you know about watermakers? This membrane needs to go in here somehow….” and the rest is history.
He sorted it, I got a working watermaker but some very unclean pipes! I was bad all the way down the Atlantic until I finally told Kim and she said: “Are you boiling your water?” I told her I didn’t need to as watermaker water was pure, but as soon as started drinking boiled water I was fine of course.
A mass sterilisation ensued, and several billion algea and bacteria were evicted – they came out in lumps, yuck, but I must have missed one, just one, and an asexual one too, unfortunately, so I am back on boiled water again but feeling fine.