Headwinds to Cape Town
Well. if any of you saw me today, you may wonder why I still have a headtorch hanging round my neck, a couple of hours after sunrise, a 19mm spanner within reach and a more fatigued look about me than before. Well yesterday, I nearly gave Andrew Pindar [sponsor] and Robin Gray [team manager] a call to ask if a fourth place would do after all this hard work? I was on the verge of limping into the finish - well I still am really, and I could still finish fourth, limping or not, but for the moment now at least I am still battling for a good podium spot!
Here's a brief (or not so brief) account of my Monday morning - let's see if anyone had a worse one to start off the week!
At first light I noticed one of the batten endings just below the third reef point had popped out of the car, small broken part, shouldn't be an issue. Dropped three reefs into the main so I could keep up a reasonable speed while I did a 10 minute repair, and was grinding the sail back up the track when I heard an odd creak - nothing too spectacular but unusual. I looked down to see the gooseneck fitting had come clean off the deck and the whole boom was being held on by two arms that are designed to take a little forward-aft load to stop that movement on a strong vertical pin.
Of these two arms, (boomerang shaped 12mm aluminium plate) one had a crack half way through it and the other had ripped its bolt half out of the fixture it was on under the mast.
This was all that was holding the boom on, so I dropped the main to the deck, resting the boom on a couple of fenders so as not to hole the coachroof and cause more problems! Called Robin and Josh to let them know of my dilemma, Josh advised me to hoist the main so as not to deal with the weight of that too whilst manouvring the boom, attach the main sheet to the clew and it would also increase my speed again.
With 20 knots of breeze, still doing 9 knots in the right direction under Solent alone, I bottled and went for one reef and attached the sheet to the first reef point and hooked the clew up to it so it didn't drag in the water, it turned out I would have had to do that anyway as the tack is normally attached to the offending gooseneck pin! So back up to 11 knots of boat speed in roughly the right direction, I had just the small problem of twisting this aluminium plate back to flat, and inserting the pin extrusion into a hole barely big enough and holding it there while I went below and reinserted a bolt and tightened it - no easy task.
I couldn't even hope to lift the boom on my own, so I used the lazyjacks that hold up either side of the boom, ropes hanging down off either side, a sheet hooked round the forward end to pull it backwards, another round there to pull it sideways, and using all the winches and most of my rope I slowly manipulated the boom back to the right place, and each time I tried to relax one to let it down into the 'socket' it would move to the side as well, so it took as many trips as I can think of back and forth from the cockpit easing or tweaking just mm on each rope.
This tweaking is happening under such high loads that each mm moved makes the sounds of a violin string. I was just hoping that none of the blocks explode, I tried never to be inside the 'triangle'of the mechanism, like not standing in front of a catapult, and if I had to, just staying there the bare minimum length to tweak and leave. Eventually it slipped in and luckily seemed to prefer its origianl position so I didn't need to work out how to hold it there while I ran below to put the bolt and washers back in place.
At first I thought the whole mission so far had been futile as the threads inside the main pin must be damaged. I couldn't get the bolt to grip, it kept spinning and not catching the first thread, so I couldn't go any further. then its funny what a little adreanline and a
whole lot of will can do. It had no choice with a little forceful persuasion and finally got to a stage of pushing all my weight into the spanner to turn it until I couldn't anymore.
Had a look on deck - yep the gap was getting smaller, I could ease some of the 'violin strings' around the boom so it could move a little freer. right enough, the bolt had some
slack so I tightened that until I couldn't any more, the gap on deck was getting smaller - I eased all the lines from the boom except the lazyjacks so it could swing side to side, and when I went below again to tighten the bolt, it was definitely easier at different parts fo the boom swinging, so I spent maybe half hour sitting there waiting for the easier
part to pull on the spanner.
I don't know how long I spent doing that but the whole repair took me about 8 hours and that was before I reattached the mainsail to the boom and rehoisted the sail back to full main. My body feels more broken now from exertion than it did after 4 days of the big storm. Typically just after the sun went down, the wind increased to 24knots and I decided caution would be a good tactic and reefed again, probably the slowest reef in the history of reefs, checking and re-checking everything, my eyes hardly moved from the gooseneck fitting, my runs back to the cockpit to ease more main etc, had turned into near-crawls, I just needed to eat and rest . . . .and a cup of tea.
So nearly the worst day turned out not too badly especially when I picked up the 1400 and 2200hr position repoorts and only lost 12 and 7 miles to Thierry each time!
Overnight to the 0600 report I have regained the 7 miles on him and hope to coninue this way. I've just heard he has problems with his mainsail!
I am checking the bolt that I have marked, and the gap on the deck to the gooseneck fitting every hour or so. Over eight or so hours the bolt has moved a quarter turn, which I have only managed to retrieve half of that at the moment under load. When I shake out the reef next time, before I grind in the main, I will try to get back to the mark! An extra edge of stress to the last 2,500miles and I have to accept that it could go at any time, but I am pleased I have got the repair this far and every extra day racing rather than limping is a bonus!