Eventful. That’s one word for it. Challenging, thats another. Plenty more
spring to mind.
It’s been a busy 24 hours.
Yesterday we were making great speeds and heading on a great course towards
South Africa. We knew a wind shift was coming with an approaching front and
we were prepared for it – we’d reefed the sails early (reduced the amount of
sail we have up) and have 2 reefs in the main and genoa. We were in constant
contact with the other boats and knew what was coming as the weather front
I sent the kids to the forward bunk room to settle down there whilst we
finished the boat preps.
The calmness was broken by the kids screams. Any parent can tell you when a
child is playing or is really hurt. This one was the latter. I raced
forwards and found Willow in screams covered in blood. Through the mayhem it
became evident she’d taken a dive off her bunk bed. Blood everywhere,
Nichola and I took her to our cabin. Every parents worst nightmare as you
try to figure out whats wrong. Worse because you are 900 miles from landfall
and you have to deal with things yourself.
We started cleaning up and calming her down. The gash on her hairline became
obvious pretty quickly where she’d cut herself. The cut looked pretty deep
and in need of attention. It was 5:55 pm. Roll call was in 5 minutes where
Luis (from Yacht Allegro) would be online. Luis back in the real world is a
casualty room surgeon. I called Luis straight away. He was there – for 5
minutes before the radio net there is a silence for Priority Traffic. He was
too far away to hear clearly so Peter from Exody relayed the conversation.
Luis advice was to use her hair as the stitches – to tie her hair together
in a knot and let it matt together to bind the wound.
Nothing ever happens as once. In the midst of the call, the front went
through. The wind backed (thats changed direction by 180 degrees) and
rapidly increased along with torrential rain. One moment I’m on the floor in
the aft cabin trying to knit Willows hair whilst Nichola held her steady.
The next, Aretha is violently been bounced around in changing wind and sea
states. Bluebell manned the radio relaying the messages, Alan the autopilot
adjusted course to take into account the changing wind angle as we dived due
South and Max with all the skilfulness of a dinghy sailor eased the main in
the gusts to depower Aretha and manage us through the waves. Thankfully our
earlier reefs had been made and we pretty much had the right sails for most
of the time.
Gradually Willow settled and Nichola managed to tie the knots. We took more
advice from Svanfridur on Hugur and to make sure there were no side effects
we woke Willow every hour to make sure she was ok.
For the next 3 hours as the front passed, we had lightening all around
Aretha with the torrential wind and rain. Lightening on a boat is a scary
thing. A direct hit and all your power systems are knocked out. Navigation,
autopilot, Battery starter motor on the engine – you name it and its’ gone.
There are only two things to do. One. Take spare handheld devices (GPS,
handheld VHF, iPhone and our iPad for Navigation) and put them in a Faraday
Cage (metal box) – in our case a biscuit tin inside the microwave. Two.
For 3 hours we watched the radar showing the squalls all around us and
willed it to move on. We spoke to Starblazer some 10 miles North of us and
compared notes – they too had exactly the same.
The waves regularly broke over the boat filling the cockpit and Aretha
seemed to find new ways to have water enter the boat and pretty soon we had
leaks in the saloon and the aft cabin – just what you need on top of
everything else – lying in the saloon with a regular river running on your
Finally after what seemed like an age, the front passed and the rain
stopped. Willow by now was sleeping peacefully in Nichola’s arms – Nichola
relieved of watch duty to look after Willow had her alarm set for every hour
of the night to wake her up.
Max and I took 3 hour shifts to sail through the night.
By morning, Willow was looking perky and bouncy – the hair stitches were
matted well and were holding the cut together. The sea still blustery was
proving sailable at some 6-7 knots and we were making progress.
Over breakfast, Max shared that he’d heard the ping of metal breaking in the
night and had explored and discovered what it was. For the 3rd time in a
small number of hours, my blood ran cold as he showed me on the rigging
where the metal had broken.
The rigging – or shrouds are the wires that hold the mast up. Leading
forwards, backwards and to either side of the rig, they literally hold the
mast up. Any of them breaks, the mast falls over and you have an entirely
different set of problems. It’s one of the areas we are extremely attentive
to and we conduct rig checks from the deck daily and up the mast monthly.
The wire is called Dyform and has 19 strands to it. They are woven together.
One strand breaking could be all it takes to take the rig down. With one
strand broken on the port side, my mind raced. What to do first. Well, we
had been sailing some 4-5 hours before I found out about it and the rig was
still standing. The first thing – de-power the rig – within minutes we’d
more than halved the headsail to a hanky and slowed the boat down. This
takes the pressure off the rig and means it’s less likely to come down.
The next thing – take advice – we emailed Eddie at Oyster Yachts to take
advice. We raised it on the 9am SSB call and took advice from the other
yachts – use Dynema rope and Bulldog clips or failing that hose clamps to
secure the area around the break. Nichola and I took to the deck and with
Dynema and 8 hose clips we made a jury rig of sorts.
Within the hour, Eddie had emailed back to say that the hose clips probably
wouldn’t hold it and that we were right to reduce sail and nurse Aretha
through at slow speeds. Ideally we’d need rigging wire and bulldog clips.
We spent time debating our options and what to do. We don’t have enough fuel
to motor the whole way – we need to sail some part of the voyage. It hasn’t
helped we have several knots of current flowing against us and also the wind
predicted to be in the South is doggedly remaining in the East meaning we
are sailing into the wind and regularly being bounced around on the 4 metre
Through the day, the choices became apparent. Another Yacht, Ayama appeared
on AIS (the digital tracking system) some 11 miles behind us. We called
Stefan and talked through options with him. He has guard wire and bulldog
clips – we agree to slow down and let him catch us by daybreak and he will
then let us have the kit we need. We plan to make the transfer by him
throwing over a large flare box containing the kit to a large fender which
we will then attempt to pick up so we can make the required more robust
repair. This sounds like the start of a workable plan.
The wind is gusting 30 knots so we decide to go for the 3rd reef and further
slow Aretha nursing her through the waves.
As we do this, 2 further events happen. One of the mainsail cars breaks
(they attach the sail to the mast) and the reefing lines jam. Ho hum. Just
more stuff to fix. We unjam the reefing lines – the car will have to wait.
So. Eventful indeed.
Here we are nursing Aretha along in 30 knots of wind, making a slow 5 knots
and planning at sea repairs tomorrow. All children seem fine – they are
sleeping in the aft cabin.
[6 hours later]
Had to break writing as we got hit by squalls with 35 knot gusts and found
ourselves surfing at over 12 knots. Thats nowhere near the definition of
nursing the boat. Decided to drop all sails. Naturally the headsail furling
unit decided to jam with 20% of the genoa still out (I’m pretty confident I
can fix that in daylight). The main came down more easily aided by
“Adventure Max” at the mast securing the halyard and the sail with sail
ties. Engine on and we are ploughing through the waves at some 6 knots. The
motion is very uncomfortable and everything that wasn’t stowed is finding
its own new home!
Ayama, our RV vessel are now 1 mile to starboard ready for our mid ocean
repair kit transfer tomorrow. I’m hoping the swells abate to make the pick
up easier. Right now every few minutes or so sees a wave break over the boat
and fill the cockpit.
Normal life problems won’t seem quite the same again after this. I remember
someone once saying that life isn’t about what happens to you, its about
what you do when it happens to you. Right now, Team Aretha are working
extraordinarily well as a team under testing circumstances and finding
resourceful solutions. If I wished anything for my children on our adventure
it was teaching them about how to deal with stuff in life – I hope that
right now we are giving them a good grounding in what to do when life chucks
a whole bunch of stuff at you – to stay calm and and to work through each
piece one at a time with a smile. Not stuff you can find in a classroom.
Real life lessons. It’s interesting to talk to Bluebell and Columbus today
and they reference our previous “situation” sailing to Nieu and having a
dark boat with no power for 3 days and they have a frame of reference
already for dealing with challenging stuff and its starting to seem normal
to them to deal with things without any fuss.
Ah forgot to add – also dealing with Nichola’s seasickness, Watt and Sea pin
coming out (another job for Adventure Max to go over the stern to replace)
and worst of all we lost all our eggs today as they flew out of the
microwave and smashed everywhere – the end of pancakes on this leg!
Team Aretha with 750 miles until Richards Bay, Out.
The last 3 weeks have flown by. 10 days in Mauritius, followed by a 1 day sail to La Reunion, a week in La Reunion and now back to sea ... Read more