May 20, 2014:
So, this sailing stuff? Nothing to it, right? It’s just ropes (which we call “lines”) that control sails which make the boat move. That’s pretty basic. But, then, there’s also the engine, the batteries, the thru-hulls and sea cocks, the water tanks and pressure systems, the propane and solenoid, the steering wheel and rudder, not to mention all of the instruments, gauges and meters.
Okay, maybe it can get a little complicated, but the good news is, when you get down to it, most of those complicated-sounding systems really are basic when you take the time to dissect and understand them. Meaning, most of them can be fixed on the fly, as long as you have the right parts, or parts that “will do” (we call this improvising).
During our trip to the Keys, we found most of the “issues” that occurred on the boat were operator error (sorry boat!) and most were fairly easy to fix once we figured out what had gone wrong. We chalked these up to “lessons learned” and felt it may help other cruisers out there to pass them along.
1. The Lazy Jack Snap! Before the trip, we had a new stack pack put on for the main sail with a new set of lazy jacks attached to the spreaders to hold it up.
The lines also cleated off at the boom, and our riggers had left some surplus in the lazy jack lines in case we needed to loosen them for any reason. Good idea, we thought … at the time. But, when the time came where loosening the lazy jacks would have actually been a good idea, thinking about the tension in the lazy jacks was one of the last things we were doing. Unfortunately, during our first night offshore, when we were heading from Pensacola to Port St. Joe, we ran into some rough seas–winds in the high teens and rolling five-foot seas all night long. Water was crashing over the bow, spraying us in the cockpit and the boat was beating into a steady southeast wind. The sails were taut, full to the brim all night long, likely pressing hard on the new lazy jack lines, but we didn’t know it. We heard plenty of cracks and bangs during the overnight passage, but it’s hard to tell–in the dark of night– if the sound you heard was just a normal ‘boat groan’ or something actually breaking. You handle the boat the best you can and try not to worry about her too much (key word being ‘try‘). But, sometimes you wake to find, in the rough winds of the night, that something did actually break. For us, it was the lazy jack on the starboard side.
Kind of a bummer. But, we figured they must call it a “lazy” jack for a reason, right? It must be the lazy way. Surely people have been raising and lowering their sails for centuries without these “lazy lines” to help. I mean, you have to ask yourself–What Would Columbus Do? (Back in 1492). He’d flank that sail the old-fashioned way, and keep on a-keepin’ on. So, that’s what we did. Until we got a little lazy …
Next leg of the trip, Phillip had the great idea to re-raise our busted lazy jack line with the topping lift for the spinnaker pole.
You see? Improvising. Once you know how the systems work, you can then use them in all the wrong ways to achieve whatever result you’d like. It’s a product liability defense lawyer’s dream! So, what did we learn? Be sure to check the tension in your lazy jack lines when your sails are full. If they’re too tight, the wind in the main can bust the line. And, if something breaks, don’t mourn. Look around! You may find something else on the boat that can serve its purpose.
2. A Spun-Out Jenny Much like the suicidal strung-out version in Forrest Gump,
just outside of Tamp Bay, we found our Jenny, too, was busted. During a fairly mundane furling of the Jenny, you might recall the pop we heard, followed by a clattering rainfall of ball bearings on the deck. Sadly, the spinning halyard for our Jenny broke in two while we were cranking her in. One half remained at the top of the mast, and the other came barreling down the forestay, flogging our Jenny and letting her pile down in a useless heap on the foredeck.
Why did this happen? After some serious research, troubleshooting and second opinions, we decided it was caused by pulling the halyard up too tight at the mast, causing the shackle to pull into the throat at the mast and putting tension on the bottom top part of the halyard, which should be allowed to spin freely. A thorough review of the manual for the furling system was quite helpful in this regard (as most manuals are). I’ve said it plenty of times but have no qualms repeating it. Keep all manuals in a single, organized location and refer to them often. It’s amazing what you can learn from … I don’t know … the folks who built and designed whatever Godforsaken contraption you are cursing at the moment. We had dropped our Jenny prior to the trip to have the UV cover re-(re-)stitched and figured we must have pulled the halyard just a tad too high when we raised the Jenny back up.
Back then, we were also furling our Jenny in using the large winches in the cockpit. It was easier that way, but it was also deceiving because the winch is so powerful. If there is an inordinate amount of tension in the line, pulling by hand you’re going to feel it. Pulling by winch, you may not, and you’ll power right through it, likely breaking something in the process. I think there’s some appropriate saying I could insert here about a cannon and a mosquito. However, I believe a more vivid example (sorry Confucius) would be a surgeon who operates not with his hands but with a remote-operated backhoe. Are you going to let him in your abdomen? There is simply no substitute for the human touch. How does it feel? How hard is it to pull? Conway Twitty would agree. Don’t be shy. Sing it with me! “I want a man with the slooow hands … “
Luckily, we were able to get the Jenny repaired in St. Pete by a talented and resourceful rigger, who ended up having the exact halyard we needed (which had been discontinued) in his self-proclaimed “Sanford & Son boat part yard” (a.k.a. his shop). And, what did we learn? Don’t tighten the Jenny halyard too much. Refer to your manuals. And, when feasible, opt for the “slow hand” over the powerful pull.
3. Never Let Go of the Halyard! Have I said that one before, too? Then why the hell do we keep letting go of it? I’m not sure exactly. All I can say is when you’re up on the deck, riding your boat-of-a-bull as it’s bucking over waves and focusing all of your mental energy on the simple task of staying on the boat, you just kind of forget about that little thing that’s in your hand–the all-important halyard. I guess think of it like this–have you ever accidentally poured a glass of something on yourself when you turned your hand to look at your watch? Why did you do that? (Because you’re brilliant like me, of course!) And, also, because your brain just kind of forgot you had a glass in your hand. Well, same thing can happen with the halyard. When it comes to you grabbing something to keep your scrawny arse on the boat in the middle of pounding seas, your brain just kind of checks out of the whole halyard-holding process and forgets about it. And, then … You let go! Of the halyard! And, the minute you do and see that halyard start swinging around, you curse yourself! Stupid brain! Why did you let go of that?! It just happens. All told, we’ve done it four times, three of which required Little Miss First Mate to ascend the mast to retrieve it:
Once in Carrabelle (when we first dropped the Jenny to re-stitch the UV cover and pulled the halyard back up afterward, thinking it would magically drop back down when we needed it to–turns out we were wrong). Up you go, Annie.
Once in St. Pete (when the Jenny halyard busted, it left half of a mangled halyard at the top of the mast, which again would not magically come down with a little (or lot of) shaking). Up you go, Annie.
Once mid-sea, on our way into Clearwater when we accidentally let go of the main halyard while trying to raise the sail at night and it snaked its way all the way up the backstay to the top of the mast. Up you go, Annie.
And, the fourth time? Well, that retrieval was more of a fall than a climb, but I did get it back! Unfortunately, I busted the lazy jack line on the port-side (and a bit of my arm and knee) in the process.
Moral of that story? Never let go of the halyard. But, if you do, don’t be a hero trying to retrieve it. I guess the best advice would be to not do dumb things. But, we are human, and I am a blonde, so … it’s just going to happen. To lessen the frequency, we did come up with a better main halyard-rigging system in which we never un-clip the halyard from the main sail. We just re-route it down and back up to maintain the tension when the sail is down.
And, thanks to the Captain’s spiffy fix of the lazy jack line on the starboard side, we knew just how to fix the one I’d busted on port. This time with the halyard for the spinnaker.
Although I will say we were running out of spare lines to use to hold up our lazy jacks. It’s a good thing we were headed home by then.
4. Book Swap Mojo. One final lesson–not so much related to rigging as reading–but just as valuable. The Book Swap Mojo phenomenon. If you uncover a great book at one of the free marina book swaps,
be sure to give it back to another free marina book swap down the line when you finish reading it. If not, the Book Swap Gods will learn of your insidious hoarding and leave you with wretched book crumbs like this at every marina book swap to come.
Read it. Enjoy it. Then give it back.
While we learned plenty of lessons on the trip, these were just a few that stood out for us, particularly because of the valuable insight they provided in terms of rigging and equipment failure, and how to (try to) avoid them, overcome them, or improvise around them if we, or other sailors, found ourselves in the same predicament in the future. But, the biggest lesson learned? Mishaps are just going to happen. No matter how cautious you are. No matter how much care you take to try to prevent against them. Things are going to break. Things will have to be repaired. Things are going to slow you down and hold you back. So, what do you do? Keep sailing, of course. Keep getting out there and bumping into things.
And, in my case, keep writing about them. You never know when you might just have enough colorful tales and Conway Twitty bits to cobble them all into, I don’t know, say–a BOOK. One that might be coming out real soon. Big things are happening over here, followers. Be excited …
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