Up the mast


It has been a slow and challenging day. Not enough wind, and that which we had was from dead astern. I suppose we have averaged 4 knots. But the relentless gybing of main and the poled out genoa, looking for a course and speed which Mr Aries could accommodate, has been tiring.

Then, this afternoon, we decided finally to dig out the cruising spinnaker from Ian’s boudoir at the thin end of the boat. It is a big and beautiful sail, like our mainsail it was built by Carol Hasse at Port Townsend Sails. I haven’t had it out of its bag since Labrador and I had quite forgotten the niceties of sock downhaul and uphaul lines, twist avoidance and all those things which are second nature if you live on the foredeck.

So up went the spinnaker, and it looked very fine indeed. Inevitably, the wind decided there and then to increase, and off we roared towards Brazil in a welter of foam. This was quite late in the afternoon and I was not keen to deal with furling the kite in the dark, so down it came again. In the process however, the spinnaker halliard and the jib furler bearing at the top of the mast snarled one another in a silly but not easily avoidable way. Fortunately the spinnaker was by then down, but the genoa would not unfurl and a spinnaker halliard wrap was clearly the reason for that.

We yanked and pulled at the halliard to no avail. Without a visit to the top of the mast we were unlikely to have either halliard available again before Trinidad. I did not think we would ever have calmer weather for the exercise, so up I went. I doubt I have ever done anything more dangerous. Ian put the boat gently into the wind but still the masthead, an upside down pendulum, was lurching through 20 horizontal feet every 5 seconds. I was genuinely concerned that I might be thrown off at the end of one of these swings. Yes, I had a harness and was clipped on at each stage, but forcible ejection into the wild blue yonder even on the end of my Stormy Seas safety harness was a real possibility. And a dangerous one.

By good luck rather than good management I was able to shout instructions down to Ian about unravelling the spinnaker halliard, which had caught itself on a shackle at the masthead. All was cleared and down I came with nothing but an attack of the shakes and a selection of purple bruises. But I know that at least 2 of my 9 lives were used up in the process.

Within 10 minutes Ian had produced an excellent red and a pasta bolognese, apologising profusely that he had been unable to find the olives. As if I could have cared less.

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