Up The Mast

Jun 02, 2019| 1 Comment

Saturday, June 1st – If anything, there is a heavier cloud cover this morning, and the winds have increased up into the high teens. With over 40nm miles to go today, the increased winds will get us there quicker, and coming from aft of the beam, we sail along comfortably rolling from side to side with each passing wave. As we approach the Passe du Duroc into Baie de Chasseloupe, we turn into the wind to drop sails. At the helm …. well, there’s no way to pussy foot around this, The First Mate goofed …. there’s a button on the throttle which when pushed in allows the engine to be advanced to warm up without being in drive. It is habit for her to warm up the engine whenever it is first started. With the way we were careening and bouncing around as we turned into the wind to drop the mainsail, The First Mate forgot that she had automatically engaged that button. In her urgency to keep the boat under control, she pushed the throttle full forward, but nothing happened. With the winds stronger than any forward movement of the boat, the bow quickly fell off the wind. The partially lowered main sail was now broadside to the wind, putting a huge amount of stress on the lazy jack lines that hold up the sail bag. Realizing her mistake, The First Mate disengaged that button, but before she was able to get the prop churning to turn back into the wind, something broke and lines on one side of our sail bag came cascading down. With winds blowing over the deck at 20 knots, it was a mess no sailor wants to see! Donning his life jacket, The Captain crawled forward on the bouncing cabin top to lash the sail to the boom and corral the flying lines. He spent a very difficult half hour doing all that while at the helm, The First Mate worked to hold the boat into the wind as frothing waves bashed the boat. This was obviously not a time for a photo shoot!

That done, we turn around to head through the passage. Fortunately, it is a wide, deep passage and well-marked, for this, too, is another loading spot for the ore freighters. It is not until we are well through the pass, however, that the roller coaster ride of the heavy seas abates. At the helm, The First Mate is already thinking of the double dose of Aleve she is going to take tonight to ease the pain in her shoulder and arms, and also, how is she ever going to say she’s sorry for this latest gaff. What a sad excuse for crew she is!

Getting through the pass is one thing, but the hour it takes to get all the way through the lagoon to the anchorage spot is a drubbing. There’s no debate here: once through the pass, you want to be anchored. Call it a day. Time for a beer – not this endless motoring, but we motor on. This trek is made even more egregious by the fact that we both know we have to repair whatever is broken with the lazy jacks and sail bag before we can settle in for the evening.

Slowly we wend our way into the Baie de Chasseloupe and drop anchor in less than 20 feet of water. Though at this depth, we are a long way from shore as the bay gradually shallows from a long distance out. People are on the shore fishing with lines and casting nets. Can they see us on Avante? Probably not, but The First Mate wonders if we’re about to give them a show. Once the boat is secure, The Captain digs out his harness and straps it on. It’s not a comfortable thing to wear, but it is secure. With what tools he thinks he may need dangling in a bag, he prepares to be hoisted up the mast.

It takes 2 trips up the mast in 15 knot winds to complete the task. That really isn’t a whole lot of wind unless you are up a slim, rocking pole 70 feet off the ground holding on with your legs and feet because you need two hands to screw in tiny screws and re-attach lines. The repair is another creative jerry-rigged engineering feat by her ever-resourceful Captain. When we get to someplace where that shackle can be properly replaced, we will do so. Probably that will be in Australia, and as the shackle that failed was a heavy-duty marine plastic that had been sitting out there baking in the sun, we will replace the shackle on the starboard side as well.


Figuring she was going to get a severe chastisement from The Captain, she is surprised when, instead, he complements her on how well she held course motoring in through those swells. Regarding her gaff, all he does is roll his eyes. He knows his First Mate. Mechanical, electrical, anything along that line is completely foreign to her, but give her the boat under motor and tell her to hold a course, even in the most tempestuous of seas with winds whipping and water flying, she can do so reliably. She can feel the rudder, and though she cannot tell what she does or why she does it, she knows how to correct and stay on course. It is nothing she ever learned. It is instinctive. She just knows. “Steer 025,” he says, and she does it. “Go 15 degrees left,” and she turns that way and holds the course. Involved with his charts and the navigation, in this he can trust her. It’s one of her few saving graces on this voyaging aboard Avante, and a constant source of frustration to her. If she can feel that pressure on the rudder and know how to react at the helm when the engine is running, why does she not have the same feel when it comes to the boat under sail. The trim of the sails, the push and pull of the various forces, none of that is instinctive to her. Can it be learned? She thinks not, for if so, she is a classic example of “failure to learn.”

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