We quizzed 254 skippers who took part in the 2017 ARC rally about the spares they shipped and the repairs they made en route. The lessons gleaned from their Transatlantic sailing problems can benefit us all
Most useful tools for Atlantic sailing repairs
A comprehensive tool set is key to being able to fashion repairs at sea. Standard domestic DIY tools rated consistently highly in the survey – screwdrivers, a power drill, spanners, wrenches, pliers, Allen keys, a socket set, vice grips, wire cutters, a hacksaw, duct/rescue tape, a soldering iron, a multimeter, etc.
As for less common tools, a rivet gun and a large selection of rivet sizes are consistently singled out as useful to carry – as were ratchets and webbing straps for gooseneck repairs.
Among the bosun’s gear rated most handy were a good torch/headtorch with long battery life, a trusty multitool, a cutting knife and snorkelling gear.
A hot knife is “great for rope alteration,” said Richard Savage, who had to re-run the spinnaker halyard three times aboard his HR46 Shepherd Moon.
Equally, a good sail repair kit from sewing kit/needles and palm to a sewing machine was recommended.
Shipping a thorough selection of glues and lubricants makes sense. The skipper of Nikita, a Beneteau Oceanis 60, advocated taking a glass fibre repair kit and long bolts in case of broken portholes.
As the crew of Mood Magic, a Moody Carbineer 44, wisely commented, a ‘creative ability to fix things’ is key.
Continuing after a dismasting
Perhaps the most significant recommendation for tools, though, came from Stephan Mühlhause, after he had to cut away the rigging when his Hallberg-Rassy 46, Lykke, was dismasted 250 miles east of Barbados. “It was a normal night with 16 knots of wind and about 2m waves when we lost the mast. We are so glad that our emergency management worked. We acted like machines and we were lucky to have a battery flex [grinder] on board with stainless steel cutting discs. We could free the rig from the deck within 15 minutes without scratching the hull. The falling mast cut everything on its way down and the hydraulic oil splashed all over the deck.
“We waited until the morning came to make sure that nothing overlapped in the water. After that we started the engine. We were lucky that the wind calmed down and we had enough diesel to motor the final 300 miles to Saint Lucia.
“One of our crew built an emergency rig with the second spinnaker boom and could fix an emergency VHF antenna. A second crewmember informed MRCC Martinique which called other ships nearby.” A French ship sailed close by in company and they motored safely to Saint Lucia.
“Why did the mast break? We only had 16 knots of wind and in spring we renewed the shrouds, stays and spreaders. In Las Palmas, Jerry the Rigger said we have the safest rig and he wanted to give us a prize! We carried out a rig check every day and made the check before the night it happened. We could not see anything strange. The mast came down 1m above the deck. It broke to the port side slowly, without a broken shroud or stay.”
Lessons learned from Atlantic sailing problems
An overriding message of advice from the skippers’ feedback was to bring ‘more’ – more fuel, more sail repair kit, more medical supplies, more adhesive, means, more generator parts, more hoses, more filters, more duct tape – and more patience.
Some skippers had issues with their alternators and advised taking spare alternators and parts. A functioning alternator is essential for maintaining comfort, especially if you don’t have reliable sources of alternative power. And, whatever your means of charging the batteries, they are still the life source of power aboard. During the 2016 ARC, 15 yachts had issues with charging old batteries, and on the last crossing two yachts had to make a pitstop in Cape Verde to replace theirs.
A few skippers assumed their batteries were OK but found they would not hold charge. So double-check your batteries and measure their state of charge well in advance of heading offshore.
We asked skippers what modifications they plan to make to their yachts or systems as a result of their ARC crossing. The answers largely came down to more electrical power and better offwind sail power – and the necessary attachments/deck gear (stabilising spinnaker poles, whisker poles, extra spinnaker halyards, blocks and preventers). The crew of Tintomara summarised it nicely: “more solar power, an extra wind/water generator, and more downwind sails”, while La Cigale wanted “one more cheap secondhand downwind sail for at night”.
Many skippers intended to fit an alternative means of power generation following their crossing – hydro or wind – to improve their alternators, or to increase their number of solar panels.
Personally, I like the sound of sailing on Mood Magic as they only planned “small changes: more cupholders, a cockpit fridge and outriggers!”
The lessons learned with regards to spares and repairs were the most telling and useful section of the survey. As Brian Steven on the Island Packet 420 Brag declared: “Assume that things will break – they do!”
Jeremy Wyatt, director of the World Cruising Club, has attended all 20 ARCs since 1998. “The ARC survey has shown how seriously many ARC skippers think about overcoming potential problems at sea,” he told Yachting World. “Their spares kits reflect this.
“One area of concern to anyone planning an ocean crossing should always be how to cope with a steering failure. Often boats are heavily loaded at the start of a passage, and then encounter large tradewind waves, which puts a strain on boat and gear. Clearly, thorough inspection and maintenance is important before setting sail.
“However, plenty of ARC skippers are also planning for steering failure with a range of solutions. Perhaps the easiest is packing suitable lengths of Dyneema lines or spare cables. For hydraulic steering systems, spare hydraulic oil is essential.
“Windvanes, especially Hydrovanes, with their auxiliary rudders, were popular, with 19 boats using them. Perhaps most surprising was the number of boats (30) with either dual autopilots fitted giving 100 per cent redundancy, or carrying a full spare pilot. More still had spare linear drive arms, and/or pilot computers providing a back-up. Spare fuses can also help fix an unhappy pilot – eight pilot failures were recorded in 2017.
“While fully crewed boats can hand-steer if needed, having functioning self-steering is essential for short-handed crews. For them the cost of a spare autopilot, or a windvane, is outweighed by the mitigation it brings to what would be a serious problem.
“This is the best way to view your spares locker on a system-by-system basis and consider the knock-on effect of any item malfunctioning.”