Balancing Act - Deep in the Southern Ocean

Evening All,

Happy first day of a new month.  I can’t believe how much time had flown by this year.  Last night I was due a wee bit of wind so I put the 4th reef in the main sail before going to bed.  The winds at the time were 25-30 knots however they were meant to increase as the system passed over me and I encounter the cold front.  I was also sailing around the Crozet Islands.  The winds remained from the North for the night and continued to blow between 25-35 knots for the most part.  I even managed a little sleep.  I had been sailing on a wind angle of 60 degrees as i climbed to the NE to get around a very shallow, 53 m deep pinnacle of a sea mount and by 6am I was able to bear away to the east and ease sheets.  This made sailing a little more comfortable but the winds weren’t stopping yet.  The peak of my little storm was around lunchtime today.  The winds started to build to 40 knots and the boat was only just able to handle it, any more and i might have needed to hove to to protect the sails.

I was reading Bobs (Met Bob) email with the forecast this morning and it showed for easing winds at 3pm this afternoon.  Given that I was still getting 35 knots at 2 pm I thought that this might be unlikely.  I was wrong.  Almost to the minute the winds started to ease rapidly. I am not sure if I have seen a system move off quite so quickly before.  One minute I am sailing in 35 knots and 10 minutes later I am sailing in 15 knots. The winds also backed from the North all the way to the west.  I wasn’t sure if the system was completely gone so I waited another hour before going on deck to sort the sails.  In that hour, all I did was roll from side to side in the swell going nowhere fast.

Finally on deck at 4.30 pm the winds were now blowing 8-10 knots and I really wasn’t going anywhere. The swell was also quite large - 6 meters at times which just means that I roll and roll making moving around the deck difficult.  I needed to gybe the boat to keep to the course but with this much roll I needed to be careful that the boom was secured at all times.  I tend to winch the sail across when the sea is like this keeping the boom under my control.  If I don’t it can crash from one side of the boat to the other with the rolls and the main sheet tangles itself around everything.  Basically, it becomes a mess……. or more of a mess.  So, sticking to safety, I winched the boom across to the port side of the boat and set it up as I completed my gybe.  I knew that I was going to be running a second headsail to my storm jib and this can tend to leave me short of winches in the cockpit.  I decided to put the running backstay on one of the aft winches.  It was then that I noticed that the runner was caught on something.  Looking closer I realise that somehow the topping lift (a line at the end of the boom to the top of the mast) had somehow managed to flick itself around the spreaders and catch on the inner forestay at the front of the mast.  This was going to be painful to free up...

I needed to centre the boom again and lower it so that I could reach the topping lift to pull through some slack and hopefully flick it free of the inner forestay.  I still had the 4th reef in so this makes the back of the boom sit really high. The only way I was reaching that topping lift was to undo the outboard end of the reefing line when the boom was centred.  Sounds easy, but it wasn’t so easy when I was simply struggling to keep my balance. Eventually I had the boom in the centre and as low as I could get it.  I couldn’t quite reach the topping lift so I went and got my boat hook.  No luck, I couldn’t get enough grip on the line with all the friction to pull down some slack. In the end, I moved the boom to the edge of the boat. Grabbing a line that was hanging under the boom, I held on to that for balance, and stood on a winch and the top of my safety lines and just managed to reach.  Now that I had the line I needed to walk it forward of the spreaders and hopefully flick it free.  I wasn’t sure if there was going to be enough line to walk it forward so I undid the tail of the topping life line at the jammer and pulled some extra slack through.  Finally, I was in front of the mast with the still tangled topping lift in hand.

I started to flick away, trying to flick it free, but it just wasn’t moving.  I was starting to get quite frustrated because I was only coming on deck to shake a reef and gybe the boat and here I was over an hour later still stuffing around with this topping lift line...  I was quite unimpressed.  I also started to worry about it not flicking free.  I couldn’t see what it was caught on as the sun had set so I started to think about tying it off for the night and tackling it again tomorrow. Then I remembered that I couldn’t use the running backstay until the line was free.  Getting increasingly frustrated I really went at it, flicking away and venting my frustrations as well.  Finally, when I thought that it would never come free it swung clear of the inner forestay. Acting quick so it didn’t get caught again, I pulled it down. I flicked it back around the spreaders and pulled through all the extra slack.  Success.

Now I could finally shake a reef.  I relocated the boom back out to port, prepped my lines and came up to the wind.  The winds were now steady at 10 knots, so it wasn’t just one reef I was shaking out….  it was 3 reefs. This meant I was in for a long haul of grinding.  It took me 15 minutes to winch up the mainsail to the first reef.  I know that given the wind strength, I could have gone all the way to full mainsail, however now that I was settling in for the night I wanted to again play it conservative.  The forecast was showing winds up to 20 knots so by putting in the 1st reef I would sleep a little better.  I then got out the Genoa. I am not sure has even been used yet this trip...  It is more of a light air sail with thinner material than the stay sail but in the current conditions its perfect.

Finally, with sails up I started making a slow but steady 6 knots.  I am now sailing as deep as I can to the wind and I am still 15 degrees off course. There is very little that I can do about that.  The winds are coming from 260-280 so mostly west direction, I am trying to sail 110 true and the best I can manage is 125 T for course.  When the boat rolls the main sail keeps trying to gybe again so I need to sail like this until the swell eases a touch.  Now I am off to make a hot dinner and warm up from the hours on deck tonight.  I think some soup and bread might be in order...