Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Report from the forepeak - A Sailing Day (and midnight mischief)

First, from Coby:

Achim said we were going to have a sailing day when he got up yesterday, and
he was right. A sailing day - you know, moving, striking and setting sails,
trimming sails, trying out different configurations, tying knots and other
sailorly activities - just for a change. We get used to the OTHER kind of
sailing too easily. The kind where you spend fifteen minutes thinking about
what or whether you want to eat or drink, another half hour contemplating
the clouds or deciding what music we want to listen to, or whether should
take a shower, or play the guitar and sing old folk songs, or change the
tackle on the fishing rig, read or write or play with the kids...

I had just gone on night watch this night, and was using my time
constructively, writing to Herb, my sponsor and an avid tracker of Pangaea's
doings (and don'tings). I had just finished a paragraph detailing how nicely
Pangaea feels on her new tack - we turned due west today under a new sail
configuration (wing & wing and dead downwind for the first time). We were
all very pleased how well she steered on this course, and how well the
self-steering worked. Immediately on finishing the last the last sentence of
the first paragraph to Herb, something made a loud "whump!" and the boat
heeled hard to starboard. I've had to leave the poor guy on tenterhooks 'til
now for news of what happened. I decided to post the tale to the website to
save on upload time. Here's the story:

Going on deck, I got a heavy jolt of adrenaline, when I saw the boom backed,
trying to push us around to the south. Just minutes before, I had written to
Herb that the course was 266, so I was perplexed as to why we were suddenly
trying to go round in circles. Fortunately, we had a preventer set, so the
boom didn't get to swing all the way round, doing we don't want to think too
hard about what, still, it's mighty unnerving to see the sails all filled
the wrong way and the boat coming around beam to the sea. A rogue wave
encountered in this vulnerable state could conceivably be enough to swamp,
or possibly even capsize the boat, giving everyone sleeping the wettest
dreams of their lives, if not a downright rude awakening.

Achim popped his head up from the after hatch (nicely designed and built by
himself to make it possible to stand night watch from bed), and assessed
what was clearly obvious by then - the fact that we had to disengage
self-steering and get her back on course. I held my breath while he loosened
the Aries' chain from the tiller (Pangy has hydraulic wheel-steering
operating the tiller during manual steering) and flipped the hydraulic back
online, and we brought her back around under sail.

After a few deep breaths we looked around for the culprit, which I surmised
was probably the self-steering up to its old tricks again - we hadn't clamped it
on course since setting the new sail configuration and I thought it might
have backed off enough to let us jibe. A little closer investigation
revealed the pendulum rudder of the self-steering system trailing, in a
lazy, semi-retired sort of way, behind the boat at the end of its safety
line. This is not quite a disaster on the same order of immediacy and with
the same potential for catastrophe as an impending jibe, but for us, the
notion of standing steering watches on deck, with no weather protection, for
the remainder of the 1700 miles/11 or 12 days or more left to sail, well it
was a sinking feeling, shall we say.

I steered while Achim fetched the broken piece back aboard for a look. Turns
out the pendulum rudder ( the part of the self-steering gear that applies
force to the tiller) had snapped off at its shear link. This is a piece
built to break in the event of a collision between the rudder and a foreign
object - tree trunk, packing crate, whale, etc. - so that the whole
steering gear is protected from being ripped off the back of the boat. And,
true seaman that he his, Achim had a spare! They've used this steering
system for years and never had this happen before, but Achim had, and acted
on, the feeling to find this piece, (which is a rarity, since this system is
out of production) while they were in the South of France last summer before
leaving to begin this trip.

So now we had our work cut out for us. The job was to remove the two halves
of the broken shear link from the upper and lower shaft sections. The link
is simply an eight inch long piece of thick aluminum pipe with bolt holes
drilled in it, and a groove around the middle deep enough to weaken the
piece at this point relative to the rest of the pipe. The link slips over
the upper and lower shaft sections and is attached with 10mm bolts.

It was obviously going to require some time, and some dicey operations to
get everything back together, we decided to shift the sail configuration. We
pulled another reef into the main, rolled in the big Genoa to about half
size, and dropped the #2 Genoa. We didn't want to have to worry about sails
if the wind came up, which it felt like it was doing.

Back in the cockpit, the lower section of the broken shear link was still
bolted to the lower rudder shaft, and came off easily enough. The upper link
was still in place on the upper rudder shaft section - on the steering gear,
about half a foot over the water (some of the time), hanging off the stern
of the boat about two feet. Retrieving this piece meant somebody (me in this
case) clipping on a safety harness and going for a bit of a stretch off the
swim platform to unbolt the thing, while Achim steered. The nut came off
easily enough, the bolt wouldn't budge. Had to get a cheater pipe on the
allen wrench to get it to turn, which it did, reluctantly. Got the bolt out
eventually, then found that the upper shear link piece was seized onto the
shaft. Not hammer, nor chisel, nor monster pliers, nor any word in the
sailor's lexicon would arouse the slightest wiggle. OK, then, the angle
grinder with a cutting disk, says Achim. In my ex-repair shop at home I
would already have been there, but using a 220V power tool inches away (most
of the time) from the water while dangling off the back of a boat in the
dark at 6.5 knots in a following sea - and carving up Achim's self-steering
with a heavy duty grinder in constant unpredictable motion - well it made me
nervous and I said so.

So Achim went at it, while I steered. He managed to cut a couple slots in
the shear link, but was unable, due to the position of the material, to
knock it loose.

It became clear we would need to disassemble the self-steering to the extent
necessary to remove the rudder pendulum assembly to work on it in the
cockpit. This, although none of us said it aloud, is a bit scary. Standing
on a moving platform in a following sea, removing very smooth, slippery,
non-replaceable parts (the shear link is the ONLY spare we have for the
Aries) over thousands of feet of water... get the picture. With
neither of us mentioning the probability of old Murphy rising out
of his musty old crypt (he must be dead by now, right?) and laying the evil
eye on our operation, Achim did it, I steered. He got the pendulum on deck,
cut the slots deeper, knocked the broken piece off. We found the holes in
the spare part too small for our intended bolts and had to be redrilled.
With everything ready to go back together, we approached the last task -
putting the rudder back in place.
This we both though might be impossible without heaving to, due to the
pressure of water flowing past, pushing the rudder out of position, since
the thing had to line up fairly exactly with the hole it had to fit into.

We decided to slow the boat down as much as possible, and try without
heaving to, since the boat, hove to, would be bouncing around so much the
procedure might be just as hard to carry off. We struck the Genoa, and Achim
dragged the repaired pendulum rudder assembly astern. I was amazed when
about two minutes later I watched him climb back over the stern rail without
the rudder. The thing had given in without a fight, at the end. And the real
fun was in watching the self-steering carry right on with its job,
flawlessly, as though nothing had happened. This meant sleep was not far
off, after putting away tools, resetting the Genoa, rechecking everything
and cleaning the metal shavings, sawdust and grinding grit out of the

The foregoing operation took us from around 11:00 PM until 6:00 in the
morning. Erika, who had probably not had much more sleep than Achim or I,
valiantly took an early watch so we could get a little rest.

I woke at 10:00 to the smell of fried flying fish - which I wasn't quite
prepared for, but which made an interesting or d'oevre. I had thrown a
couple overboard during the night while steering. It's an interesting
phenomenon, hearing a thwop in the night as a thing falls out of the air
next to you, and is suddenly a fish flopping around there. For people who
don't live life on the sea, it's a novelty. I imagine it happening while
chatting with the guys of the 7AM Fairfax Fellowship at the cafe one
morning. Flop! A fish on the table. Certainly a topic for conversation!

More to come -


Now, From Erika:

We are racing along. The wind picked up and boy, if I thought we were in a washing machine before, I didn't know what I was talking about, especially now that we are on butterfly sails. Now we whack around on both sides. Whackiddy whack. Nowhere to hide, no "lee shore" so to speak. But this is how we will get where we want to get fastest.

I realize Coby is writing his own piece to culminate the last few go to sleep wake ups. As for me, I will focus on the FISH story.

Started out this morning when I discovered that flapping in the cockpit was in fact a relatively nicely sized flying fish which I decided to go ahead and fry. I shared all 3 bites or so with Coby and proceeded to defrost the chicken, which I thought could partake in the a halfway celebration.

We noticed earlier this morning that the lure had broken off, so Achim reeled it in. Try another one, I suggested, so he rigged up a pretty yellow one with a big hook and threw it over. Within 5 minutes we had a beautiful yellow dorado hanging and flying from it! We woke up Coby and got the kids outside... a fish! We finally caught one!

And such a beauty. From afar I wasn't sure if she would be enough for a full meal, but once we reeled it in closer I could see how weighty, meaty... we poured alcohol in its gills to stun it before we commenced the hacking away. Coby got out his knife sharpener and went straight to butchering. I plopped the head into some broth and threw some of the steaks into the freezer. I then chopped up several cups of the chewy flesh, squeezed 3 lemons onto it until white, then added onion, green pepper, coconut milk and fleur de sel. Insanely delicious! So we are pleased with our food situation once again.

I suggested throwing the lure back in, which Coby did. Within 5 minutes, the brother of the first was hanging on for dear life! As Coby was reeling her in, we were so excited and thought about the kind of fishy feasts we could be having for the next god knows how long. BUT, just before getting her on board, she bit through the lure and was home free! The one who got away...

Now what to do with the defrosted chicken??

Such worries.
more at
follow us on an actual chart at

1260 miles to go

15 31' N
39 30' W


Quit Smoking said...

Hello fellow fisherman,

Did you know that 16% of the U.S. population goes fishing at least 16 days a year?

Did you also know that over 75% of the nations fishermen do not fish during "prime time"; fish feeding hours?

Those precious few moments before twilight can be absolutely magical. Even up until 11pm at night, the largest predators of any species feed ravenously.

Don't believe me? Check out Daniel Eggertsen's story, and a picture of a couple of his catches here : "Evening Secrets plus more"

I want you to do me a favor and try it out so I can see what you think of it, and if it works for you as well as it did for me.

You will be one of the first to try it out.

Gone Fishin',


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