Ch. 10: The Shuddering Shroud

“If we snap one of those battens, I don’t have a spare,” Yannick tells the crew after we put in the third reef.

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Thankfully the storm off the tip of Florida was intense but very brief, lasting a grand total of about twenty minutes with peak winds of 32 mph.  We may not have needed to go all the way down to third reef, but after our (very first ever) drop to reef one did not go so well and the winds were still building at the time, Yannick instructed the crew to drop to reef two—for safety as much as for practice.   While reef three was primarily practice, it was necessary all the same as the crew had never done it before and we needed to learn exactly how to secure the sail down to that mark.  The third reef in Yannick’s main does not have a line at the tack (the mast) running back to the cockpit; rather, it is cinched down to the boom at the tack with just a strap.  So, it was good practice to put the third reef in simply to learn the set-up.  With the third reef in and winds holding at 28 mph, it was then just a fun romp in the rain, a nice shower for the salty boat and crew.

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Video Annie was clearly having a good time:

 

However, just like washing your car to make sure it doesn’t rain, Johnny put the kibosh on our rinse by breaking out some soap to take a shower.  I’d say I felt bad for him, all lathered up and sudsy the minute the rain stopped, but he looked so funny.  Like an unhappy cat in the tub!

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Yannick, ever the problem-solver, remained focused on the crew’s poor reefing performance.  “I’m going to write up instructions,” he said as he headed down below right after the storm.  It wasn’t like we had botched the whole thing but reefing can be difficult when you are on a 46 foot boat, cannot hear one another over the wind and waves and you’re not confident, without communication, which lines to release or pull and when.  It needs to be coordinated, rehearsed and performed like a tire change at a pit stop—quickly, efficiently and safely.  In order to do that, you need to know—before sails start popping and snaring and lines are whipping about—in which order to do things.  I was all for instructions.  Type away Yannick.

And type he did.  And printed them too!  Later that afternoon we each had a typed-up instruction sheet taped at each of our designated posts setting out each step of our specific reefing procedure and we started doing reefing drills.

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By the second drill we were all far more comfortable with our respective roles and the communication that needed to occur while reefing.  While our reefing was improving, we were still struggling with the boom.  Yes, the boom.  Or I was at least—having the luxury on our Niagara of a boom vang—having to deal with the added problem of a boom, if not held up by the main sail or topping lift would come crashing down on the bimini.  Whose boom hits their bimini?  This irked me!  Like an entirely new, complicated task stacked on top of all our tasks was just what we needed.  Imagine you’re making coffee in the galley (think of all the things you have to do—fill the pot with water, light the stove, measure the grounds, etc.) and if you let go of the stove, it will fall out of the counter and crash onto the floor.  That’s a little what this crashing boom felt like.  If the main sail is not holding it up, the topping lift must.  Once the main sail is raised, however, the topping lift must be slacked or it will chafe the main halyard.  So, it’s kind of like swapping hands, but keeping a constant hold on the stove while you’re working in the galley.  It was just one more thing.

Luckily, the additional tasks relating to the boom were added to Yannick’s reefing procedure at the mast.  His list was definitely longer than any one else’s.  In case you are curious, here is a rough reconstruction of our reefing procedure on Andanza:

  1.  Phillip turns slightly into the wind
  2. Annie furls the genny in to third reef – with either Johnny on port or Phillip at the helm easing the sheet out  [We did this so it wouldn’t beat Yannick up at the mast while reefing the main.]
  3. Phillip turns back off the wind while the crew prepares to reef the main
  4. Annie checks clutches for tack on deck and for clew on boom are all closed
  5. Yannick at mast tightens topping lift (so the boom won’t crash on the bimini when we release the tension of the main)
  6. Phillip turns slightly into the wind
  7. Yannick at mast begins to lower the main
  8. Annie on starboard pulls line for reef one at the tack down to the mark
  9. Johnny on port winches the line for reef one at the clew down to the mark [while my line could be pulled by hand, meaning if we were on a port tack the genny sheet could remain on the winch, Johnny’s task of pulling down the reef point at the clew was much harder and had to be done at the winch.  If we were on a starboard tack, he had a separate clutch on port that could hold the genny while he used the genny winch to pull down the reef at the clew.  Winching the sail down at the clew was definitely the hardest job as it held the most wind]
  10. Yannick raises the main back up to tension the sail back up (so it can raise the boom)
  11. Yannick then releases the topping lift (and we all hope the boom doesn’t crash on the bimini)
  12. Phillip falls off and puts wind back in the sail and we all inspect sail shape, line tension and check for chafe points

Yannick also liked to use a long Velcro strap at the clew to help ease the tension of the reef line that held the clew down.  As I mentioned, that was by far where the most tension was held.  Listening to that line squeal and stretch to its limit as Johnny winched down the clew point was not enjoyable for anyone.  And, because it held so much tension, it also squealed and squeaked with each slight movement of the boom as the boat knocked around over waves.  Yannick hated this.  He’s not a fan of anything that squeaks.  So, he would always go up on the bimini after we put in a reef point and run a long piece of Velcro through the reef point at the clew to hold some of the tension at the clew and instruct Johnny to then let out some of the line that held the clew down.  Yannick was happy when the Velcro and the line “shared” the load.

In all, it’s a good thing we got our sail tactics rehearsed and operating like a well-oiled machine because the winds were screaming, holding steady around 23 knots for three days!  After our lackluster, glassy days in the Gulf, it felt like Andanza shot like a slingshot around the tip of Florida and up the east coast.  It was fun to see folks who had been clearly watching us on the Delorme (albeit in silence) finally chiming in with comments like: “Now you guys are moving!” “There’s the wind!” and “No more motoring!”  And they were right!

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Yannick got some great panorama (i.e., GoPro on a stick) shots during those days:

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We had a Mahi grab onto the line the day after our Key West stop and I had to wonder if the line actually grabbed onto him, because we were hauling at 13 knots.

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I had never caught a Mahi before and I was mesmerized by the colors.  Brilliant yellows and shiny greens, followed by a kaleidoscope ripple across her scales as she gulped her last breaths.

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While I said previously that I didn’t feel bad for the tuna we had caught in the Gulf, that it felt like a gift, that did not ring true here.  The Mahi was so beautiful.  I really hated to pierce its stunning skin with my knife.  Then Johnny says, “Throw the hook back out quick.  You can often catch the mate.”

Ack!

Apparently, these amazing fish mate for life and, once the connection is made, they swim together for the remainder of their piscine years.  Now, not only had I stripped this sad fish in the water of his lifelong, by his side, every-day mate but then he had to watch me slaughter her before his very eyes.  I know he was just sharing some probably very helpful, valuable marine-life knowledge but Jesus Johnny!  I did not need to know that.  The Mahi was succulent, light, fluffy and white and I hated every bite of it.  Poor fishy.

The sailing those days was some of the easiest I’ve done in my life.  It was Brandon, back home, who had told us this many times in the days before we left.  “You’ll get on a tack and stay there for six days,” he said.  “Chafe will be your biggest problem.”  That Brandon, he knows his stuff.

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He was so right.  Once we had steady wind in the sails, with the auto-pilot holding like a dream, there was really nothing to do as far as the sailing went.  While Yannick continued (continued! continued!) daily to work on boat projects, the crew kind of fell into an easy routine.  Books were devoured.  I recall specifically Johnny starting one, finishing one and starting another in one day.

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Phillip and I found ourselves doubled over one day watching Johnny napping one days in the cockpit.

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Sleep was absolutely indulged.  Can you spot Johnny in this pic?  That was his favorite sleep spot!

I distinctly remember Johnny had Phillip and I doubled over in laughter one day when he woke up from a particularly-deep nap.  Sure, he’d had his mouth wide open, jaw dropped, overcome with sleep.  We’ve all been there.  You wake up on occasion, acutely aware your mouth is ajar, subjecting anyone around you to whatever funk is coming out, yet you find the weight of your jaw is simply too heavy to lift.  So you just leave yourself wide open and let yourself drift happily back away.  That wasn’t the funny part.  What was funny was this.  So he’s out.  Mouth open.  Heavy breaths of his chest up and down.  Phillip and I were sitting on the other cockpit benches reading and we both watched as Johnny stirred.  Pulled his heavy jaw up, smacked a few times, blinked around the table and let his gaze fall on a little bowl in front of him.  It had been Phillip’s and it had been once filled with cookies.  Now, only little cookie bits remained.

Johnny eyed the bowl, reached a lumbering hand toward it, dumped it into his mouth, closed his eyes while he chewed and swallowed (as if the act of consuming crumbs was so tiring he had to rest his eyes while he did it).  Then he eased on back, laid his head against the boat and was soon back in his blissful, slackjaw slumbering state.  Having both watched the entire scene in silence, Phillip and I busted up, snickering and giggling and joking about how now, at least, Johnny’s breath would smell like cookies.  Johnny was funny.  I made him post the group Delorme message that night where he said the trip was affording him “Days of undeserved rest.”  Some moments like that, as well as Yannick spitting his words at us in the rain from the mast, talking about the third reef and battens snapping, will stick with me.  Some moments from the trip are crystallized in my memory where other periods of time, days on end even, feel like a blue water blur.

Comraderie among the crew grew like vines.  First it’s just a seed in the sand.  Two things put together but not really connected.  Then over time, as the two are exposed simultaneously to elements and experiences, little shoots start to emerge.  A joke is shared, a frightening moment, a hand lent out with just the tool you needed, a story from one another’s past and before you know it, you’ve connected with the person.  Roots have reached out and the dirt has welcomed their hold.  You start to understand the person in a way you didn’t before.  You’ll start to sense when they’re content to be left alone, when they may need your help but haven’t yet asked for it, when they’re in the mood to hear a funny story, but more importantly, when they’re not.  Case in point:

When Yannick’s sitting in a pile of tools, frowning at the broken end of the windex: NOT a good time to tell him a funny story about your high school prom (he cares not).

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When Phillip’s searing steaks on the grill on the transom, smiling and salivating: PERFECT time to strike up a rousing rendition of Son of a Son of a Sailor.

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When Annie’s staring at her computer screen, tapping her lip trying to write something brilliant: NOT a good time to strum up a political conversation about Obamacare.  (She cares not.)

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When Yannick’s splayed out in his berth, asleep, drooling with Breaking Bad play on his laptop: BAD time to tell him there’s a screw loose on the bimini cover.

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When Johnny’s looking for the tonic water to go with his swig of gin: GREAT time to ask him to write the crew message for our bottle.  The message Johnny came up with:

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Andanza was here, with its ruthless crew.  (Give the date.)

You were lucky, you weren’t here too.

It is fun the moments you share out there.  Phillip spent those days cooking up a storm every day with often a fun, creative bite for lunch (egg salad sandwiches, sushi, seafood pasta, BBQ) and, often, a rather gourmet dish for dinner (pork curry, beef stroganoff, shrimp alfredo).  Thankfully, we were sailing then, no longer motoring, so Johnny finally got his days of deserved rest, reading and relaxing.  I read and wrote and filmed and created and ate Phillip’s wonderful dishes.  That man can sure cook!  We make a good team ’cause I can sure eat!  

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And, Yannick continued to work.  We all stayed out of his way primarily, with the long-standing premise that if he needed or wanted our help, all he needed to do was ask and we would jump to his call.  Rarely did he.  This system worked well, until two worlds collided.  When Yannick started cutting into Phillip’s cutting board (literally) to construct a new base for his windex (which he had to mount on the port side of the mast) to account for the Freydis’ rotating mast.

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Yannick and Phillip bartered and negotiated and it was decided Yannick could have a chunk, not the whole thing and Phillip was granted free reign of the cutting board that came with the Magma grill.  It’s all about coming to understandings and respecting each other’s space.  This is how you all get along on a boat.

But, let’s talk for a minute about how the boat gets along.  Have any of you made an offshore passage on a catamaran?  If you have, please chime in in a comment below.  I would love to hear from you.  The bashing on the catamaran shocked me.  Stunned me.  It was teeth-jarring at times. When water trapped between the two hulls rumbled, thundered and finally bashed its way out, I had to convince myself each time that we had not just hit a whale.  While I had felt our 1985 Niagara 35 slam into a wall of water plenty of times and suspected a hull breach, this was different.  It was a special breed of bashing, a violent, shrill collision that made me sure, not just suspicious, the boat had cracked in half.  The bashing on the cat stopped sentences.  It stung bare feet on the galley floor.  It was like a nervous system message so strong it bypassed your brain.  Muscles flinched without instruction.  The crew grew accustomed but never comfortable with it.  With the bashing, however, came a great deal of speed.  With winds of 23+ holding steady, we were averaging 10 knots most day, even clicking off a record 243 nautical miles in one day.  We were flying, bashing, sleeping while sailing into the heart of the ocean.

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We were also shuddering.  Once the wind found us and we started to do some actual very sporty sailing on the trip, the shuddering began.  We heard it first on the port side because we were on a starboard tack.  With each lurch and bash of the boat into eight-foot seas, the lazy shroud on the port side would let out a shrill metallic ringing.  It vibrated like a plucked guitar string with each romp of the boat.  The sound (as all sounds on a boat are) was amplified below and in mine and Phillip’s berth on the aft port side.

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Annie trying to record some of the wicked sounds of the boat.  Folks who have seen the movie, was I able to capture them?  Did it sound like you were there?  Do tell!

While I could try to find the words to describe it, the best way to truly convey our concerns would be to say it sounded like it was damaging the boat.  Imagine a sail flapping, snapping and popping.  Even a non-sailor would likely cringe and think to themselves: Make it stop.  As a sailor, you know the sound means trouble for the boat and your immediate instinct is to fill the sail with wind or drop it, to rescue the flailing part somehow.   With the shuddering of the shroud, the entire crew felt that way, but Johnny, Phillip and I, as strictly monohull sailors, had no experience sailing a catamaran offshore.  We had no experience with a boat that only has three stays or, better yet, one whose mast rotates.

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Once I found out we were dealing with a boat rigged up with lines to pull on the lazy shroud to lessen the vibration when on an opposite tack, I knew I had nothing to offer.

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What is the proper tuning of that rig and what vibration is permitted or intolerable with a rig like that was an impossible question for the crew to answer.

While Yannick had the most offshore experience with the boat, it was limited to a sixteen day run bringing Andanza from Martinique up to Pensacola and he said he didn’t recall as much shuddering on that trip and didn’t know exactly how tight was the right amount of tight in light of the rotating mast.  He sent out texts and emails to various professionals back in Pensacola via the Delorme (another benefit of having available satellite communication) but it was late in the evening when those were sent out and the crew knew we likely would not hear from anyone until the following morning.  In the meantime, the shroud continued its murderous shudder with each romp of the boat.

Yannick worked tirelessly to tighten the slack line for the shroud and checking the chain plate on port.  It looked solid at the time, but every time the boat went head to head with a wall of water, the wave would bash into the hull with a thunderous slap and immediately the metallic ring of the shuddering shroud would follow.  Slap.  Shudder.  Slap.  Shudder.  Sleep came in fretful snatches that night.  I woke around 2:00 a.m. to find Yannick checking the chain plate (for the fifth time) on the port side.  He just looked at me sitting up in my berth and walked back up, his face telling me nothing had changed, but that meant nothing had improved either.

When Yannick is checking the chain plates because the shroud is clanging itself to death: NOT a good time ask him if everything is okay.

 

Fun story?  I hope you all are digging the Atlantic-crossing saga because I’m sure having a helluva time telling it.  The full-length movie from our voyage is up now for Patrons on Patreon and coming to rent on YouTube Oct. 7th.  If anyone has already seen it, let folks know what you thought of it in a comment below!

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One Response to Ch. 10: The Shuddering Shroud

  1. Pingback: Ch. 11: High Speeds and Hot Temps | Have Wind Will Travel

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