David Scully, watch captain aboard Cheyenne, describes how the crew fought to save the mast of this 125ft cat and still made 460 miles while doing so

David Scully has been pre-occupied over the last couple of days helping to keep Cheyenne’s rig up. He’s now made it back to the keyboard. Here’s his latest report.

I hardly know where to begin. Readers may have noticed my absence from pages of this website lately. I was occupied with keeping the rig up.

The situation started at 23.30 the night before last, when Ado woke me to help with the gybe. I got to the bow to find the headstay flopping like a washing line, the rig supported by the luff tension of the solent. Bit of a shocker. There were a couple of logical explanations, none of which made sense. Justin leaped into the rigging and stabilised the situation by lashing a couple of strong lines to the hounds. Then we waited for daybreak.

It seemed incredible to me that the stay had broken. It is new 40mm steel wire, and had not been subjected to extraordinary stress. Equally incredible was the idea that the swage fitting had pulled out. The most likely, though not obvious solution, was that something had gone wrong inside the furling unit. To access this, we had to unroll the sail.

Not an easy job, with a big catenary (sag) in the stay, and the boat pitching as it pursued a 20kt course eastward. Damian was up the rig at the hounds, Justin and I were at the tack fitting, and the rest of the crew were on sheets and furling lines. We unrolled it a turn, then another. Justin turned to me and said: “I think this is going to work!” Just then there was an almighty crash, and the sail, still mostly wrapped around the carbon fibre headfoil, fell into the netting.

I looked around, counting the survivors. Miraculously, everyone was still standing. The sail, trailing the wire forestay, was flailing around, half on the tramp, half in the air. It was obvious that our worst fears were confirmed. The forestay had broken, and we were out of the running.

The first job was to get the sail on deck. All hands hauled at it, sliding it off the wire core. Grudgingly, it gave way. Now we had a 38m length of 40mm wire rope weighing 5kg a meter, sweeping the deck from its terminal at the hounds. The wire had pulled out of the Norseman terminal.

When the terminal was last changed, it had taken a couple of riggers a couple of days and some big wrenches to do the job in a fully equipped workshop, but we had the pieces, and a mast that needed support whether we ended up in Capetown or not, so we set to work to replace the terminal. While Jacques, Justin, and myself struggled to work in the end of the flailing cable, the rest of the crew somehow removed the broken headfoil, and got the sail neatly folded.

A couple of hours later, the terminal was on, even to the satisfaction of rigger Jacques. Then, using several cable falls, we moved the lower end from the beam to the bow, attached the lower unit, and slammed in the lower pin.

Job two thirds done. Now we had to get it tight. At first it came easily, but by the end we could only get turns on during good surfs. We would wait for the bows to fall off a wave, the rig to rock forward, give a heave on the wrench handle, and wait for the next wave.

By late afternoon we were gybed, and headed south-east, any thought of hotel rooms and hot showers in Capetown gone from our minds. This was a magnificent effort by an incredible crew. Having dealt with this, it is hard to imagine a situation to which they would not be equal. And we still made a 460 mile day!