Rig Failure on a Cruise to Treasure Island

Rig Failure on a Cruise to Treasure Island

When we're going for Senior, in both dinghy and keelboat, we're quizzed on how we would deal with rig failure, a shroud or even worse a forestay. We know the answers, and we carry line and maybe shackles to jerry-rig something, and we think about the extra lines we can use, especially on the keelboats where there are multiple halyards, topping lifts, and the rest.

But it's one thing to "know" how to deal with it, and completely another to deal with it when it happens.

I was doing a dinghy qualifying cruise to Treasure Island under Mark Playsted's supervision. Not a difficult cruise, beat out, run back. It was blowing pretty hard, gusts into the twenties, forecast for higher. We had two Ventures with 3 people in each, which worked out well with one person on the wire a lot of the time going out. 

We were almost to Treasure Island when it happened. I saw Mark on the wire in the other boat go into the water, then I saw the mast at maybe 20 degrees off the vertical. It was clear that they had lost their forestay, and I thought the mast was next. But it wasn't. They were holding the mast up by hand and getting the mainsail down. Within about 15 minutes, Mark had rigged the auxiliary stay to the bow and the boat could sail. They made it back under main and gennaker, and BTW the gennaker took a lot of the load that the missing forestay would have.

It could have been my boat, and I don't think it would have come out so well if it had been. I'm thinking dismasted here. It was great to see how this could be handled, if you do all of the right things quickly.

I carry extra line and even shackles in my Senior kit for situations like this. What I learned here is that this isn't enough. When the rig fails, and you need the line quickly, you can't be screwing around in your kit finding it, it has to be available instantly. Mark carries a 6' line and a 12' line instantly available in his life jacket, and now so do I.

When all this was happening, I was circling around Mark to be available to help him if necessary. I was thinking about what to do if he couldn't get the boat into a sailable condition. My plan was for them to anchor, and to take all 6 of us back to CSC in my boat (plenty of room in a Venture). Mark said later that I could have towed him. I know from kayak experience, towing other kayaks in big seas, that you need a lot of line between the boats, so that the following boat doesn't surf into the lead, so we'd have had to cobble that together. But there's lots of line on the boats to do that.

This was a great learning experience for me.

And then, how did it happen? The forestay tension system is a set of blocks that connect to a hook that connects to the wire forestay than runs to the top of the mast and then down through the mast. There is a pin that holds the hook onto a block, and a ring that keeps the pin in place. It looked like the ring failed, causing it all to blow apart.  Should we have seen that in our inspection? I fear the answer is yes, if we had been very thorough. It's probably the least visible of the rings on the rig, but in this case it was the most important.

Key points:

Check the boat very carefully, especially if you're going out into the wild beyond the Junior area.

Expect rig failure, and think about how to deal with it.

When it happens, stay calm, and deal with it as best you can.

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