Sir Robin contemplates Christmas at sea and gathers help to fix jammed mainsail 7/12/06

Log date Thursday 7 December 2006
Position Latitude 46 22S Longitude 022 49E
Miles To Fremantle 4,155 nm
Average Speed in 24 Hours 9.16 knots
Distance in 24 Hours 219.9 nm

Well, thanks to the fishing line [wrapped round the keek] we missed the decent weather and spent yesterday going a bit slowly as a result. We awaited the forecast south-westerly all day and eventually, tired of waiting, I decided to apply Sod’s Law back on itself and gybed back to the east. That brought the south-westerlies within two hours!

But then the problem I had been dreading. The wind rose and as a precaution I decided to take the first reef simply because I have had two failures of the autopilot in the last 36 hours and don’t like to keep too much sail up. The sail jammed. The torch showed the problem. One of the broken battens had extended out through a hole in its pocket halfway between the luff and leech and got itself caught behind a shroud. It could not be lowered. I had to re-hoist the sail and haul in on the sheet to get the batten clear, then drop it quickly before it had time to think about getting jammed again. This is serious as a jammed mainsail could cause real problems in a squall.

Anyway, once set with one reef in the main and the big jib up, we went eastwards nicely and are beginning to recover some lost ground.
On the Saga Insurance website ( there were a number of interesting messages and particularly one from Dave Rigg suggesting that by threading spectra cord down the inside of the battens it would at least be possible to hold their ends together. This makes sense and I am hunting a small weight I can shake down and through the various bits of batten. The question of securing at each end can be dealt with by drilling a hole in the side. The actual ends are blocked. At least that ought to stop last night’s problem re-occurring.

(Canon Mathews, yes, well we both know what a perishable commodity a weather forecast is. Tony Higham, not me in 1973 when you were on Adventure, I only did the 1977 Whitbread. Hunter Peace, and Sue Wilson, many thanks for your thoughts.)

I see little chance of making Fremantle for Christmas, the mainsail is corrugated with not a single whole batten, there is only one auto pilot working and that is unreliable, so inevitably I am being a bit cautious as I don’t want to increase the repair list before the next leg, so we are not sailing as fast as I would like and certainly not as fast as this tough little boat could go. So I have started practising for my own carol concert. This will be an enormous relief to anyone who has ever heard me try to sing! Indeed one of the reasons I had to take up solo sailing is that I like singing but no one else likes my singing! I am not looking forward to a Christmas without any alcohol at all though, that will be a first, although this will be my 5th Christmas at sea in a yacht, or is it the 6th? I think 6th as I have had three on Suhaili but only one alone.

I swapped messages with Kojiro who should finish today. He’s done extremely well and deserves his second position. Other people may have had faster boats but you have to keep them sailing and that is what Koji has done. I am sorry I have not been there to give him some competition, but the 4 days lost after the Bay of Biscay weather put him in a different weather pattern and he took full advantage of it. Perhaps next leg we can have a decent race. Mind, I envy him his three weeks more than I shall have in Freo, but he earned it. We could use the time and I would not mind a few days off but doubt we’ll get time for that even though my support team will be there.