ISBJORN Trans-Atlantic p. 10 // Fixing Broken Things

How many ISBJORN crew does it take to fix the genoa track?

Today’s title was inspired by David Byrne. Yesterday annoyed me. I was tired, having not slept well the night before (it was my own fault - I had a cup of coffee an hour before bed while helping Mia do the first half of her 2000-0000 watch. I slept, but not deeply. Mia mostly paid for it with my ‘being in a grump,’ as Nicky, crew on the previous passage, said about her husband Mark when he’s similarly annoyed). Then, as I was sitting on the foredeck reading Murakami, I glanced above my head to find the spinnaker pole track had sheared not one but eight of its bolts. With each wave the shock load of the pole against the track deflected the whole thing about 3 inches to leeward, scraping off a bunch of mast paint in the process. Fred and Walter furled the genoa.

About a week ago I had found a broken screw on deck, and had quizzed the crew at dinner to figure out where it had come from. I knew of course that it had come from the pole track on the front of the mast (it’s never good by the way to find broken screws that have fallen out of the rigging!). At the time we noticed just that one and two others - three, total - that had succumbed to the shearing forces of the sail on the pole. We just repositioned the car higher or lower on the track and figured that’d be fine.

Nothing like getting the power tools out at sea!

Yesterday that number jumped to eight sheared screws, a large enough section that we had to do something, or else not use the pole anymore, which in the light easterlies was not an option - we’d add 50% more distance to the remainder of the passage if we couldn’t use the pole to go deep. No way.

Problem was that all the sheared off machine screws were now flush with the mast section. I could try to drill them out, but that’d be much easier with the rest of the track removed (and the mast on the ground). I thought about using the Fein tool or the hacksaw and cutting out the section of track missing the screws, drilling out the stumps, and reassembling it. Too much work at sea. (Incidentally - Walter & Fred, friends from Austria on this passage, are surgeons in real life. As we examined the broken screws in the track, Walter casually related a story to Mia. “Oh yeah, this is just like when screws break off in bones!” he said excitedly. “We have this little hand-held device that can drill into the broken screw and then extract it. Happens all the time!” Later, Walter & Fred would put their surgeon skills to good use aboard ISBJORN by sewing some leather chafe gear onto the dyneema blocks we use on the toerail.)

Andy foolishly asked Fred & Walter if they could sew leather chafe gear onto the toerail blocks. They’re stomach surgeons, they sew stuff EVERY DAY! It was fun watching them work!

Ultimately we just drilled new holes right through the track and into the mast, tapping new ¼-20 holes into the mast section and installing new machine screws. It’s not pretty, but was effective and had us back up and running in 30 minutes, just in time before the next little rain squall got us from behind. I need to add a few more before the race next week, but what we’ve done for now will get us to Antigua (I hope). We also removed as many of the old ones and replaced them before they break off too, thinking it’s just a matter of time before they all go, one by one.

Drilling & tapping new holes through the pole track and into the mast.

David & Etta setting the newly fixed pole.

Trades! Yay!

And for the first time in 15 days at sea, it feels like we finally have a typical January tradewind pattern. True, we had a great run down from Las Palmas towards the Canaries, but there was a lot of sail changes, the swell never became regular and bounces us all around, then before we knew how lucky we’d been the wind shut down and went southwest. Then, just as we think we’re out of those woods, a low pressure trough forms right on top of us, we sail through a 60-knot front and have to manage STRONG 30+ knot northeasterlies for the next two days.

It’s HOT today. We just finished another foredeck shower routine, washing in saltwater with a hose attached to the anchor chain washdown pump, rinsing in fresh while the watermaker ran to keep up with the six of us. The breeze is down but so is the sea. After dawn Mia & I hoisted the spinnaker, and my money says it’ll be up from here on out. GRIBs show a steady 10-15 knot easterly with little precipitation (ie: fewer squalls) for the next five days, and I’m hoping it’ll see us home. Famous last words...

In the height of the daytime, it was HOT. This was still early morning…by afternoon the bimini was up and we were all hiding from the sun.

Yeah yeah, quit complaining. It’s about expectations. I thought we’d be smart by waiting until January to make this passage in a well-established tradewind pattern, setting the sails for a broach reach once clear of Gran Canaria and not touching the sheets til we reached Antigua, maybe 16 days later. Ha! We’ll be lucky to beat 20 day at sea now, and it looks like we’ll sail close to 3,100 miles (on what is a roughly 2,600-mile rhumb line passage).

C’est la vie.