April 28, 2014:
The first thing I remember seeing after the fall was the big, white meat of my arm. Between the time I hit, opened my eyes and blinked several times at it, it had grown twice the size. I knew it had hit, something, and I knew it hurt, but to see it so swollen, so suddenly, just mesmerized me. I really thought it might be broken. In all of the wild antics of my youth – gymnastics, barrel racing, cheerleading, jello wrestling and other numerous, countless stupid decisions in college – I had yet to break a bone (knock on wood) and I was thinking this might be the end of that lucky streak. I clenched my first a time or two and rolled my wrist and, while my entire forearm was numb and throbbing, everything seemed to be working fine, so I decided the bones were at least intact.
“I’m okay … I think,” I said. “I, … I think I’m okay.”
I heard Phillip set the auto-pilot so he could come on deck to check on me and I noticed the main halyard (that bleepin’ thing) was now dangling at about his waist-level on the deck. Before thinking about how it got there, I grabbed it (that bleepin’ thing) and began to surmise that I must have pulled it down, at least in part, during my fall because it was now so much lower. But, I couldn’t recall exactly, grabbing it or letting it go. But that got me thinking about the fall. Why had I fallen? What had snapped?
As if hearing my thoughts, Phillip said “the lazy jack snapped,” as he stepped up on deck. I didn’t even look up (assuming I even could turn around to see it), I knew exactly what he meant. We had busted the lazy jack line for the stack pack on the starboard side during our passage to Port St. Joe.
That time it was because of rough wind and weather that had caused the sail to put too much force on the starboard lazy jack line, causing the rivet on the spreader to rip clean off.
And, what we gathered from that incident was that the lazy jack lines are not intended to hold extensive weight. We have since learned (from our trusty rigger, Rick Zern) that this design is intentional so that the rivet for the lazy jack line will fail before excessive strain is placed on the spreader. Makes sense. But, clearly this riveting (no pun intended) fact somehow escaped me as I was doing my circus act up on the boom, reaching with all my might, one strained, out-stretched hand to the halyard, the other with a mighty death-grip on the port-side lazy jack line.
And, then SNAP! I’d done ripped the one on the port-side off, too, and suffered a mighty fall as a result.
It all made sense–now–as I lay in a crumpled heap on the deck. But, what’s done is done. At least I hadn’t broken anything, or so I thought. As I started to stand, though, to re-secure the halyard, I discovered a new pain–my knee. It seems it, too, had hit something and it, too, was already swollen. Phillip frowned at me and laid a sturdy hand on my shoulder, which told me to sit tight for a minute. He secured the halyard then helped me to my feet so I could hobble back to the cockpit. Like my arm, my knee was numb and throbbing, but it appeared to be working. Phillip seemed to be comforted, slightly, by the fact that I was somewhat satisfactorily mobile, but I hated to see such a look of worry and anger on his face. While I had managed to get that bleepin’ halyard down, it was at a serious cost, and it was clear the Captain was not impressed with my … heroism.
We set me down in the cockpit for a good once-over (I warn you, this is not pretty):
The arm had developed some gnarly purple streaks where (I can only assume) it sheared down the lifelines on the way to the deck.
It was fat and painful, but, like I said–working.
The knee had developed this very strange ping-pong ball-shaped lump on the left side of my kneecap:
I wasn’t sure what to even make of that. Why the perfect round lump? Why swelling in such an isolated spot? I had injured my knee before–well, this knee (the left) actually, years and years ago. I tore my ACL while tumbling in high school and had it surgically repaired back in 2000. But, just last year, I sprained the MCL in my right knee during my first attempt at skiing. It had swollen then, too, almost instantly, but it was a global swelling of the whole knee–not just a perfectly segregated ping-pong ball lump–and it required a massive needle and surgical suction for that swelling to eventually dissipate. (You may recall the removal of the spawn of Satan from my knee!). This lump was strange … We did all we knew to do at the time–ice everything and see what developed.
As I sat there, looking back on it, I can’t promise I wouldn’t jump back up on that boom to try and retrieve a swinging halyard–it is such a monstrous chore to retrieve it once it inches its way out of your reach–but I guess the best I can say is I hope to never let go of the halyard again. We already knew this lesson, we’d learned it several times, but it just happens, sometimes as a result of rocking waves or other hazards, but other times just as a result of a senseless human error (it’s entirely possible to just accidentally let go of something). I mean, you have hands to hold things, but they’re human hands, so they err. I am hopeful, at least, that we have now sufficiently modified our halyard-shackling procedure to eliminate the frequency of the latter.
We always secure our halyard away from the mast while at anchorage or the marina so as not to be “that guy” at the party.
Yes, that one. If the sun’s just starting to set at the anchorage, folks are just starting in on their second cocktail or dinner, kicked back in the cockpit for a quiet evening on the hook and you’re the one whose halyard is banging, trust me, you are that guy.
And, to make sure my internet scouring for the perfect “that guy” images does not go to waste, do know that there are various websites on the web devoted entirely to helping you NOT be “that guy”:
1) “Avoid Being that Guy (or Girl) at a Party” (you gotta love Wikihow’s gender equality – no one wants to be “that girl” either); and
Rather, we like to come to the party real quiet-like, nice and smooth and subtle. The svelte gentlemen in the black attire, if you will, the guy that everybody likes.
Yeah, that guy. So, when we drop our main sail before dropping the hook, we have made a habit of securing the main halyard to one of the lazy jacks that holds up the stack pack. Here:
After this incident, we decided to snap the shackle back to the sail before leaving the dock or anchorage, but we found this occasionally allows the sail to start bouncing up a bit, particularly in rough seas, putting slack in the main halyard line which may cause it, if the wind is on your stern, to get wrapped around one of the arms of the spreader. Recall, this is exactly the incident that caused me to climb up on the boom in the first place. And, this is true even with the stack pack zipped closed as the rocking and bouncing of the boat can cause the sail to inch the zipper open and try to climb. This does not happen often, however, so we chose the lesser of two evils–that is, securing the main halyard to the sail before leaving the dock/anchorage so that we are not doing it up on the deck, while underway, potentially in rough seas.
But, we have since learned an even better trick from a trusted boating friend and the knowledgeable fellow that did our bottom job back in May of last year (thank you Bottom-Job Brandon with Perdido Sailor). We still remove the shackle from the stack-pack line and attach it to the main sail prior to leaving the dock/anchorage, but we now bring the line down and wrap it around the winch on the port-side of the mast so that the tension is pulling the sail down (not up) to prohibit any slack from forming in the line.
See? In sailing, you learn something new every day. And, trust me, you will find a way–every day–to do something you’ve been doing for years in just a little better way. It’s all about getting out there and doing it, making mistakes and learning, but continuing to do it. A fine example is our stack-pack lazy-jack fix! If you recall, when the lazy-jack line on the starboard side busted, the Captain came up with an ingenuous way to raise it back up using a somewhat-of-a spare line (the staysail halyard), so that we still had a functioning stack pack for the remainder of our trip to the Keys:
He’s kind of smart like that sometimes!
But, since we had had to improvise and rig up a busted lazy-jack line before, we now knew how to do it again. With another somewhat-of-a spare line on the port-side–this time, the topping lift for the spinnaker. But, as it seemed we were running out of “spare” lines to hoist broken things, we vowed – “no more lazy-jack snaps!” – for the rest of the trip and hoped it would stick. For the time being, I was numb but not broken. We decided to hold the ice on for the first hour or so to attack the swelling, then we would remove it and have me move about a bit later in the day to assess the real damage. I was sure there was going to be some (potentially severe) soft-tissue injury to my knee–and what an annoyance on a boat!–when it’s always up and down the companionway, kneel down here, squat there. I couldn’t imagine losing the full function of such a crucial joint. I was nervous and anxious about my limbs and my ability to fulfill my duties as First Mate for the remainder of the trip. I mean, we had just left the Keys. We still had 500 nautical miles to sail …
But, what’s done is done. I had fallen, and I couldn’t change that. And, we were still on the best sailing voyage of our lives. I laid back on the ice, the Captain handled the sails and we set out for a beautiful day of sailing across the Gulf.