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Learn How to Replace an Intermediate Shroud at Sea
Making good time to sail into the twilight of another glorious tropical night, all is right with the world and she feels quite grand, settling in for a good night of progress towards Manihi. Leaping forward on port tack, her massed water slicing effortlessly through the weak but slinky water, she knows she cuts a fine image, and is only mildly upset that she has a gallery of viewers to recognize her finesse. Her crew appreciate the show, but some recognition from others would do wonders for her self-esteem – she likes to show off as much as the next ship! Pride always comes before a fall and without any warning whatsoever and certainly without any foreknowledge on her part or the crew a thunderclap shatters the silence of the night. Her captain and sister crew race up the companionway to see the English crew staring skyward at a lazy starboard intermediate shroud. It has separated at the top spreader tang, dropped in a semicircle and is now falling out to starboard.
Aghast, her crew stare at each other. After hearing and reading many stories about yachts losing their rigging at sea, thousands of miles from the nearest yard, due to the failed rigging, they are speechless for a few minutes. The scene before their eyes spells disaster if they can’t get a solution quickly. She brings her head around through the wind, and to the hoof to set it. She is very sorry but she doesn’t have time to worry about that now. Fortunately, the weather is benign and her crew decide that as long as they stay on port tack, the port side rigging will take the very significant strain. Equatorial darkness is upon them now, so they secure a high end to the starboard lifeline and plan to jury rig another shroud in the morning. Critical immediately as she returned to her heading, gingerly gathering speed again without any apparent problem.
‘Phew, that was hard’, she thinks. Maybe she’ll get out of this one relatively lightly?
Her head down and serious that she now wants to make up for her earlier rush of vanity. Over a forced nerve to settle a cup of coffee, her shaking crew discussed the problem. Firstly, the fact that Manihi Atoll is sparsely populated and therefore unlikely to be helpful is removed from the itinerary. Her course has been changed to Rangiroa Atoll which has the largest population in the Tuamotus’. Fishing is the main income earner for most of these atolls and that means there will be an abundance of boats, ropes, cables, wires, – sailors are the same all over the world! Into their second cup and with their minds more settled with some logical thinking, the big implications of the problem seem to be receding at this point. Given that, all things being equal, most of his sailing will be on the port tack all the way to Tahiti, where they know that everything marine is available. They are carrying a considerable length of spectra rope and this will be made into a new shroud tomorrow. This Spectra line has an even lower stretch factor than Kevlar and if it can be pulled down tight enough over the spreaders and on the deck fixtures it can be enough until they reach land in Papeete.
When Mother Nature is in the frame, nothing is equal. She carries out her vocation at her discretion. Running a printout from the weather fax shows no change in the weather pattern anywhere in the ocean area they sail – just the steady SSE trading all the way across this sector. However, within an hour of their crash, a cloud covers the night sky, darkening the stars. The wind picks up and backs up, bringing rain with it, and our little ship is continually buffeted. It is as sudden as a squall, with winds up to thirty knots and likely to come from any direction. Thirty minutes into these conditions, the tight ring of steel wrestles free and begins a pattern of wild arcs amidships. Its main target is the mainmast and every few seconds this eleven millimeter diameter steel punch wants to embed itself in the aluminum spar. The tang that was originally attached to the head has long since disappeared into the sea with a loud hiss, leaving a deadly bent steel rod penetrating anything in its diving path. Aluminum, wood or skull would make no difference, as everyone would receive the projectile flying to depth depending on his own physical resistance.
Her mainsail had been dropped earlier at the start of the squall attack, and she is sailing under genoa only, so her sails are not under threat of damage. How to quickly protect this flailing missile and survive before it wreaks havoc? With deck now her captain, in life jackets and clipped on the jacline, is scrambling on the port side. Crew, shining the weaving spotlight in the general direction through the rain, observing the wet and glowing shroud flashing back and forth through the beam – they are grateful to still be in the cockpit. Her captain, crouching low and dodging him at the same time, tries to catch him as he slips past.
By the time it reaches the top of its arc to port it’s way too high anyway, and out of reach – so plan A isn’t going to succeed. By this time, he has beaten the mast many times already, fortunately, not always in front. Crew, seeing the black shape collapsed in the port scupper thought he had given up or been hit. He rises again, this time with the port side heliard loose in his hand and after several failures he manages to catch the tip in the slack halyard, whip the line around the steel so many times as possible, pull it down tight and fix it to the port side pad eye. Finished, he straightens and scuttles back to the cockpit grinning from ear to ear. No doubt he thinks he is a hero now, not realizing that it was a pure stroke of luck that the shroud was caught at headquarters on his wild circuitous route. However, with the prospect of eliminating any further immediate damage, she is content, allowing him to bask in his thirty seconds of fame. Tomorrow is another day, when options will be explored, but for now cozy topics remain. Filled up they are, leaving the remaining crew on alert to ponder what might have been.
Swinging gently from her masthead, her captain surveys the scene around him. A wonderful tropical morning, freshly swept and crystal clean by the overnight rain, leaves a stunning picture. Three hundred and sixty degrees of perfect and sparkling blue disc surround her, holding her dead center, a permanent entrapment. Turning his head, he marvels at the outrageous extent. Endless, like women’s love, the blue ocean seems to stretch to infinity. The canopy above is unblemished, but for several hairy and innocent-looking thunderbolts dotted low on the horizon in the south-west quadrant. It is probably hovering over some distant land, but as it is so far away, it cannot be seen over the horizon. For the rest, a vast canvas of broad shades of blue, lightly brushed with a dazzling sparkle as the sun reflects off the wavefronts in the whipping breeze. No camera, confined to a small window, will ever be able to capture the overall uplifting feeling of seeing and being part of such a scene. Pumped up with a quiet joy of being alive, her captain turns his head to the job at hand. Dawn broke, like this morning, into a beautiful unruffled day with only a light breeze on her stern, her captain decided a trip up the mast was to see what could be done about his errant shroud. He would also examine Miguels swage on her forest.
‘Waste of time to even look at that!’ she says, never practically, ‘good or bad, what does he imagine he could do about this thing?’
Human nature being what it is, there was no way it wasn’t going to be lifted to the extra height of the truck for inspection. Apart from anything else, that’s as high as it can go and it will go there! Normally at sea, a trip up the mast would only be considered in an emergency. Five degrees of movement on the deck equates to an arc of fifteen to twenty degrees up here. It is imperative that the mast is firmly clamped between the climber’s thighs to avoid swinging out and slamming back into the spar. These young people who do a race around the world, go up in all weathers – the fear of youth drives them no doubt. One becomes a little more economical with age.
Miguels engineering masterpiece is of course flawless and he feels affection for that mustachioed man and the product of his craft. Three thousand five hundred nautical miles in their wake, laboring he will be still. Drinking in the view, staying as long as practical without the crew on deck becoming suspicious, distracting (it’s a twenty meter drop to the deck!) or just leaving it up there, he calls the deck to lower it to the intermediate spreader. Hooked on his belt is the spectra line, and in his new tang code. Looking down the entire length of rope all the way to the deck, he is momentarily fascinated by the convoluted rotation it takes from the inside close to the mast to the way out. over the sea With its blue and white diamond woven pattern it looks very much like a very long and very lazy python, snaking all the way up to its rear end!
‘Come on’, she checks him, ‘get on with the job!’
It is relatively easy to double loop the spectra line through the tang, attach it to the keyhole in the mast and drop the two free ends down to deck level to connect to the deck fitting. On the way down he checks the leather spreader’s head covers to see if they are worn. Back on deck with a number of internal thigh skin burns, the results are deposited somewhere up and down the mast, the episode is shared over a cooling beer – you can’t rush these jobs at sea!
Thoughts of lazy days far away, but approaching the south sea islands, which are even closer, spur them on, and her English captain and crew set about pulling the jury down so tight as their combined strength will allow. Without a blocking and tackling system available that would work in this situation, they will have to rely on sheer physical strength. This is quite significant in the English crew but the contribution of its captain will be rather small in comparison. Being on the starboard side, the slack side, they surprise themselves at the degree of tension they can put on the brute. Even tension with its twin intermediate shrouds on the port side is not as much of a problem now, as having a rig in place that will keep the rigging standing upright without breaking or collapsing. As it turned out, the product of their efforts keeps this premise excellent all the way to Papeete Port. Meanwhile, a platter of steaming scones generously slathered with globs of rapidly melting bright yellow butter arrived part way through the operation, no doubt sprinkled with plenty of furry urge on the chest to cut the extra pound or two needed.
‘Men!’ she thinks, ‘they are so easy!’
The finished assembly, without too close inspection, looks passably shipshape. Strong enough for fair to moderate weather anyway, with her crew admiring their ingenious handiwork from her cockpit. She and her captain pray for the Crafts to hold until Tahiti.
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