Twenty thousand pound sail lost overboard because of a hundred pound piece of string

There has been some time passed since I wrote last time, but I have not been idle, that’s for sure! If you remember I signed off last time about to do a sail change in a building breeze. I had to roll up and take down the Code 5 in what was by the time I got on deck about 35 knots of wind, which is over the limit for an old sail!

This is a perfectly normal procedure, I started rolling the thing up but it got jammed half rolled up and half unrolled! There it was, flogging itself silly at the front of the boat. I went up the front to try and free it up, but the furling drum is right at the end of the bowsprit – I was not going out there I can assure you – there was a big sea and we were surfing at nearly twenty knots sometimes! I taped my big kitchen knife to the deck brush handle and went up to deal with the problem, which was that the cover of the furling line had wrinkled up like Nora Batty’s stockings inside the drum, got caught on a cunningly placed spike and wedged itself up very very tightly!

Whilst hacking away I took my eye off the ball missed a big wave which we surfed down, and got hosed down the deck, knife in hand, as we buried the bow in the wave in front at high speed – everything went dark, there was a whooshing noise in my ears as they filled up, and I held my breath as water went down my neck right down to my boots, up my nose, up my arms, everywhere. I took some sizeable pieces out of my fingers as I tried to grab stanchions and guard wires on the way past – the force of the water was incredible and I still have the bruises to testify! When I came to a stop at the mast I had managed to keep hold of the knife luckily!

I had several goes at cutting away at the drum, rolling and unrolling the sail; I cut forty five metres of cover of the rest of the line with a pair of scissors on my hands an knees, and still it was up there, half in, half out and flogging like nobody’s business. After nearly three hours I decided it had to be dropped on deck as it was whilst I still had a mast! I sailed as far downwind as I dared without gybing, and went for it – first time I aborted and winched it up again before it went in he water, then second time I had it on an “inboard roll” of the boat – it was there on deck, coming down, coming down, then, outboard roll – whoosh, over the side, in the water. The boat stopped short and rounded up into the wind with a parachute handbrake over the side.

There followed another two hours of struggling as I tried to get the thing back onboard, but things were going badly wrong – bent stanchions, then the first rip, then around the keel – the stuff of nightmares. I finished up dragging the thing off the bowsprit after trying to save the boltrope for my poor old broken gennaker, but I couldn’t get the thing out of the middle of the partially rolled sail. In the end I had to let the thing go before I had to get in the water and get it off the keel. I watched it sink. A twenty thousand pound sail lost because of a hundred pound piece of string with a loose cover. All I had left was the swivel and two thimbles and a ten inch piece of the head………

I don’t mind admitting that nearly killed me, I was fairly well beaten up and bruised, and soaked to the skin, and rapidly becoming cold. It was 1400 when I went on deck, and 1915 when I came back down. I put the heater on for the first time, stripped off, got change and ate two meals as I had missed lunch. The next day my elbow was back to square one, and I couldn’t even lift the kettle of the stove. That day was pretty full on with the spinnaker up and down twice, the code 3 up and down twice, and the solent rolled and unrolled and reefs in and out several times. Luckily, Mike Golding had given me a spare furling drum, so I refitted and spliced up an old furling line on his drum. Interestingly he had modified his with an angle grinder to remove the offending spikes! That’s where experience counts.

Today, I am back to what might be termed as “normal”, and my elbow is pretty good again, although I am missing my code 5, which is the sail I need a lot of time at the moment. More good things have happened as well. Up on the foredeck I looked over the side to see a large shark wallowing on the surface, he disappeared pretty quickly when we bore down on him about six feet away! He was dark blue and about six feet long. It’s really strange to encounter animals in the wild that might eat you! The most dangerous animal you get in Dorset is a mink, hardly in the same league as a shark!

On the subject of animals, I have had two Albatross, now called Albert and Ross, who seem to be around for most of the day every day. Albert is an adult and Ross is a younger bird – he has mottled plumage and flaps perhaps more than necessary. He is very curious though, any sign of activity on the foredeck and he is there, watching the black clad fool scampering around, and totally impervious to flapping sails or any other noises that must be totally alien to him – or perhaps not there are so many different round the world races these days he’s probably saying “You don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this!” “Furling line jammed up is it, Mich Des wouldn’t have done it like that!” I also had a species new to science, (or to me anyway), a kind of small albatross, a “minitross”, that I am going to call White’s Albatross. He was mostly smoke grey with a black beak and about three quarters the size of Albert. I will have to look them all up when I get home.

It is difficult to describe how big they are; when you get close they are huge, solid muscle across their backs, and about the size of a small child with wings. I tried filming them but they really move with such speed, and despite their size they disappear behind the waves in a trice. To get them on film, up close, in focus, and for more that a millisecond is like trying to film two shy weasels mating in the dark – difficult! – not that I’ve ever tried that I must admit………..