Andy Schell spoke to skippers at the end of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in Saint Lucia to find out about gear failures and solutions in the latest Atlantic crossing

Crossing the Atlantic is hard on your gear, as the reports of ocean damage during the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers always demonstrate. The 2014 ARC was easier on crews and gear than 2013, when broken gear – including several broken booms – and torn sails were strewn about the docks in Rodney Bay.

Speaking to the sailors in Saint Lucia after the 2014 rally, we got a picture of some common gear failures and causes. We also gained an interesting insight into some of the stranger failures and the ingenious MacGyver-like jury rigs that enabled skippers to complete the passage safely.

If there was a theme to the breakages in 2014 it was chafe and torn sails.

“We kept checking everything really,” says Simon Pickard from Interlude I, a new Hanse 385. “But some things were kind of just hidden in the boom that we didn’t see” – namely two of their reefing lines that parted owing to chafe.

Interlude I also lost a Parasailor, but from no fault of the sail itself. The halyard chafed where it entered the mast, something Parasailor representative Thomas Wibberenz says is more common on modern production boats.

American yacht Asylum ripped her Parasailor during a broach

American yacht Asylum ripped her Parasailor during a broach

“The halyards are not going through a proper articulating leading point for the spinnaker,” explains Wibberenz. Interlude I, like many modern cruisers, has a solid ‘spectacle’ lead and, though simple and suitable for round-the-cans racing, Wibberenz says these are not suitable for an Atlantic crossing.

Whisker pole chafe

During ARC Europe, the American Shannon 37 Sojourner had had a continuing problem with the interior line on their adjustable whisker pole chafing through. It was professionally replaced three times before the ARC. Yet, one day out of Las Palmas, it broke again.

Crewmember Bob Smith set about making a jury rig by extending the pole out to the desired length and wrapping it with duct tape, sticky side out. Over that, Smith laced a small line to increase the pole’s diameter so it couldn’t get sucked into the outer part of the pole and then spiral wrapped it with more duct tape to keep the whole thing in place.

“It didn’t move a quarter inch the whole way across,” says Smith, and is ‘unriggable’ to fix the pole permanently later. They used the pole quite a bit, sailing primarily wing and wing with full main and genoa.

Sofourner jury-rigged a whisker pole. Note the block on the end to ease chafe on the genoa sheet

Sofourner jury-rigged a whisker pole. Note the block on the end to ease chafe on the genoa sheet

There remained the issue of chafe where the genoa sheet led through the jaws of the newly repaired pole. Emboldened by their self-sufficiency, they attached a loop of line to the pole jaws with a snatch block on the end, running the sheet through it. “It worked like a charm,” Smith declares.

MeridentOptergo, a newly built Sailjet 40 from Finland, slowed down for over a week before her owner discovered there was even a problem. “I thought we were just slow from being overloaded with water and gear,” says Kari Ulvio. MeridentOptergo is a unique boat, a very light displacement hull with a carbon fibre staysail ketch rig and large, light furling sails, so her performance is easily affected by weight distribution. She has a 300hp engine and can plane at over 20 knots under full power.

Underwater with GoPro

Increasingly frustrated with the slow progress, Ulvio used an underwater camera to inspect the keel and rudder for debris.

“The camera showed a huge board stuck on the keel like a snowplough,” says Ulvio. “Like the ones you use in winter in Finland!”

A huge board was identified by GoPro camera on the keel of MeridentOptergo

A huge board was identified by GoPro camera on the keel of MeridentOptergo

They stopped the boat and sent a crewmember over the side to remove the board, immediately increasing their speed by a full two knots. They never noticed the impact when the board first became stuck.

Juno of London and Take Off also used underwater cameras to help identify rudder issues. Soon after the start, skipper Jorgen Wennberg of the Swedish-flagged Elan 37 Take Off noticed some looseness in the helm. The bolts holding the rudder bearing in place were bent and damaged. They made a jury rig by removing them one at a time, drilling out the holes and fitting larger, 8mm bolts in their place.

Take Off's crew hard at work on a rudder repair

Take Off’s crew hard at work on a rudder repair

At that point, it was decision time. “Do we keep going with our newly repaired rudder, wondering if it will happen again?” says Wennberg. “Or do we divert to the Cape Verdes for a proper repair and inspection?”

He phoned his friend Lars ‘Lasse’ Hedman, a boatbuilder and fellow Swede also at sea with the ARC, aboard Sandvita, to get a second opinion.

“Well, 8mm, that’s got to be good enough,” Lasse thought. “Anyhow, if it breaks, we’ll pick you up!” At the time Sandvita was behind Take Off.

Then the boat started making strange vibrations and Wennberg was concerned they’d made the wrong decision in continuing. He stopped the boat and sent a camera over the side.

“So we take the GoPro camera and there it is,” Wennberg explains. “Seaweed.” During the passage Take Off stopped seven more times to remove seaweed from the rudder.

In the end, they needn’t have worried about the repair. Take Off continued sailing hard, taking a flyer to the south towards the end of the route and jumping from 7th to finish 3rd in Class C. Wennberg and his family crew on Take Off were also honoured with the Spirit of the ARC award for their enthusiasm throughout the event.

Shark on the rudder

Even the super-maxi Leopard by Finland wasn’t immune to bad luck on the crossing. They blew two spinnakers and had a rudder scare of their own.

“One night we had a loud bang somewhere behind the boat, near the rudder,” explains crewmember Timo Lehto. The captain called an all-hands alarm, afraid they’d lost the rudder. They were doing 20 knots or more at the time and the impact was substantial.

Samuli Leisti, the visionary behind the record-breaking Finnish Leopard project, went to investigate with a flashlight and found a 1.5m shark stuck in the rudder blade!

“Yeah, this is not a fish story, this is really true!” exclaims Lehto. “Half of the rudder was in the meat of that fish. It was unbelievable.”

They were able to get rid of it without breaking anything, slowing the boat down to do so. “I guess on such a long passage everybody had some bad luck situations,” Leisti admits, summing up the thoughts of most of the skippers.

An unwanted attachment on Juno of London's rudder – identified by GoPro

An unwanted attachment on Juno of London’s rudder – identified by GoPro

With the technology of cameras like the ubiquitous GoPro, now in its fourth generation, and the relatively low price, it would seem a required piece of kit on any oceangoing boat nowadays. But this year’s ARC should also serve as a reminder that there are no substitutes for some old-fashioned ingenuity and elbow grease to get you safely across an ocean.


This is an extract from a feature in Yachting World March 2015 issue