Boating NZ : FREE TO READ February 2014
If we released the prod, it could pull the bobstays out of the boat, leaving holes either side just above the water line. The only way to release the gennaker was to get in the dinghy and cut it free at water level. That was the scariest part of all. Picture this: It’s pitch dark and we can’t see anything beyond a few metres from the boat. Big, black waves are heaving through beneath us, but now that we aren’t moving, they’re smashing into us and rebounding between the hulls. We’re trying to lower the dinghy into the water from the transom- mounted davits. As it touches the water, the dinghy is hit by a big swell, which slams the outboard engine into the topsides. Damian clambers in and manages to start the engine and get around to the bow, all the while being tossed about like a cork and swamped by waves. We fight to position the dinghy between the two hulls with waves rolling through, hitting the hull and backwashing, swamping the dinghy and throwing it around wildly. Meanwhile, the prod is trying its best to puncture the dinghy’s pontoons or hole the bottom – it nearly did both, nearly breaking Damian’s hand and arm. I’m face down, leaning out from the bow, trying to hold the dinghy in position and shine a torch on the shackle that needs to be undone. Damian did an amazing job to get it undone and jettisoned, get the dinghy back to the stern, surf it up to the transom and jump on board. We had another half-hour or so cleaning up ropes to ensure nothing would foul the props, checking the bilges and securing the stump of the mast and the boom. Finally, at 12.30am, we started an engine, got underway and got out the Betadine. Our hands and feet were full of carbon splinters and glass fragments; knees and elbows were skinned from sliding around on the non-skid deck in glass rubble; we had numerous small cuts and grazes and I had a cut on my arm that probably should have had stitches from the sharp edge of a broken stanchion; Steri-strips would have to do. Our immediate concern was where to go? We were 150 nautical miles from Tongatapu and 925 miles from New Zealand. If we returned to Tonga, we wouldn’t be able to effect repairs there: somehow, we’d still have to get the boat to New Zealand on her own bottom. Fortunately, we’d filled up with fuel before we left and were carrying 1000 litres. We quickly did some fuel consumption calculations and decided to head to New Zealand: it was a gamble, but we figured we could do it. Just. Our weather man, Bruce Buckley, was forecasting a long enough spell of mild weather to see us home. Nevertheless, facing 925 miles of open ocean in a damaged boat, with no materials for a jury rig, was a little daunting. We knew we were utterly alone. We also had a sudden, renewed appreciation of the security afforded by a set of sails, as opposed to being solely reliant on an engine. Or in our case, two engines. Come daybreak, we made contact with Bruce Buckley and the NZ Rescue Co-ordination Centre and arranged to keep the RCC updated with position reports for the rest of the voyage via sat phone email. The magnitude of what happened struck us in stages. At the time of the dismasting, we weren’t scared or panicked – we just did what we needed to do. The worst moment came a day or so later, when we discovered cracks in the welds of the forebeam that ties the two hulls together at the bow. On closer inspection, we could see that the entire aluminium beam had been twisted and bowed when the rig was dangling from the gennaker. Realising the enormous forces required to do that; thinking of Damian in the dinghy and how things could have so easily gone differently, made both of us feel sick. We assessed the damage. The aluminium stackpack supports that extend horizontally from the boom had smashed two solar panels, punctured the cabin top and gouged the gel coat in numerous places. The boom was in bad shape. Several stanchions had been snapped off, lifelines broken and the starboard pulpit was bent. The prod was bent sideways and its bracket twisted; the forebeam twisted and bowed. The fittings attaching the bobstays to the hulls were bent and there were various scuffs, dents and gouges to the deck and other gel coat areas. We couldn’t see what damage may have been done to the topsides by the mast ramming into the side of the boat. Most of the mast and all the sails and rigging are at the bottom of the Tonga Trench. Heartbreaking? You bet: we worked out that our beautiful new carbon-membrane mainsail, that had cost a small fortune, had been up for a grand total of eight days' sailing. The jib and gennaker were also brand A metallurgist’s report determined that the dismasting was caused by a failed U-bolt attaching the port lower shroud to the cabin top. Both sides of the bolt sheared at the top of the thread – 25mm below the surface of the 50mm thick deck – due to a minute amount of cyclic movement over a long period. The fault could not have been detected by a visual inspection prior to the dismasting. “Heartbreaking? You bet: we worked out that our beautiful new carbon- membrane mainsail, that had cost a small fortune, had been up for a grand total of eight days sailing.” 40 Boating New Zealand February 2014 Feature_Sel Citrion_dismasting_Feb14.indd 40 17/01/2014 2:06:55 p.m.
FREE TO READ March 2014