Date: 30 January 2014
Position: 14:04.530N 060:57.558W, Rodney Bay, St Lucia (yawn, yawn)
To paraphrase Woody Allen: “If you want to give God a really good laugh, tell him what your cruising plans are”. The good news is that the spare part to fix the yankee (our big foresail) did indeed eventually arrive on Monday at lunchtime, just six-days after our arrival and only four days after we were due to leave, and the even better news was that it was the right size and shape. We had arranged for the rigger to arrive after lunch and fit it. From then on things went rapidly downhill. Non-technical landlubbers (yes, Selina, that’s you) might want to miss the next paragraph or, indeed, the rest of this entire blog.
The rigger eventually turned up half way through the afternoon and set too, disconnecting the 60 ft forestay and lowering it onto the pontoon alongside us before dismantling the top of it to slide the new swivel on. My first doubts about the competence of the rigger was that he arrived with two massive adjustable spanners and that was it. No screwdrivers, hammers, vize grips, jubilee clips, Loctite, sealant etc etc – all essential in this operation – he had absolutely nothing. The second much more alarming concern was that having taken the Norseman compression fitting off the top of the forestay (with some apparent difficulty requiring him to stab inside the threaded fitting with my screwdriver) and fitted the new swivel, he then started reassembling the Norseman fitting but using the old and now useless internal cone that grips the central core of the Dyform stainless steel forestay wire (are you still with me?). A first-day apprentice rigger will tell you that you must NEVER use an old core cone. You HAVE to replace the cone with a new one and if you do not, then the first time you are out in anything more than a breeze, the forestay will part and the whole 60 ft mast will come crashing down, smashing everything in its path, crew included. This man either through incompetence or laziness would have sent us to sea in a potential death trap had I not been looking over his shoulder. “Oh well” he said, “if you insist on a new cone then the only person who might have one is Ian at the chandlers”. I marched off to see Ian, with a rather stroppy rigger in tow who thought I was being completely unreasonable.
Ian was appalled when he heard what the rigger had intended doing. He said that a 12mm Norseman cone wasn’t something he stocked, but he could get one within five days or so. As we now had no forestay to hold up the mast, there was no question of our being able to go anywhere until a new cone had been sourced. “There’s virtually no chance”, said Ian producing a large box from under his desk, “but let’s see what’s in this collection of bits and pieces – you never know”. After scrabbling around in the box for a few minutes his face lit up, and like a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat, he brought out a plastic bag with three metal cones in it. “Well blow me” said Ian “I’m amazed I have these, and even more amazed they’re the right size”. An unbelievably lucky break.
Work resumed the following morning, but by that time I had discovered that with all his gouging around inside the compression fitting to get the wire forestay out, the rigger had damaged the thread. By this time I had no confidence in the rigger at all, so had found a one-time rigger of considerable experience (he was now the sailmaker) who agreed to come along and supervise the work and to make absolutely sure it was safe. He sent the rigger off with the thread-damaged compression fitting to “Chinaman” who did all the engineering metalwork. Chinaman declared it too badly damaged to repair but with yet another stroke of luck he just happened to have an old and used but identical fitting that would do. When the rigger brought the replacement fitting back, telling me how incredibly lucky I was, he presented it to me together with a bill from Chinaman for $EC 300 (about £70). It was at that point that I exploded and told him exactly what he could do with the bill for sorting out his own incompetence.
The rigger was pushed to one side by the now sailmaker who completed the job himself quickly and competently. So, more than a week on and five days behind schedule, we now had a reliable forestay and a full set of working sails. We were ready to go at last – had it not been for the weather. Over the last few days the wind has been unusually strong, bringing with it rough seas of between 2.5 and 3 metres high. Whilst mere ripples for Mina2 and her Upstairs Skipper of course, these would be big waves by the standards of most mortals. Our next passage from St Lucia to Martinique is notoriously bouncy in normal conditions and in these conditions would, I feared, have scared the DS to the point of resignation (she’s already in a pretty mutinous mood after the succession of breakages and delays). So we have deferred our departure by a further 2 days to Friday morning when the forecast is for the wind and waves to have abated somewhat.
Probably just as well we didn’t leave this morning. I took advantage of yet another lay-day in the marina by unfurling the mainsail and lowering it on to the deck to do some work on it. When re-hoisting it, I was putting the tension on the halyard when there was a loud bang, the mainsail started sliding down the mast and I heard the now all too familiar patter of ball-bearings bouncing off the deck and into the water. After 17 years of hard-labour the halyard swivel of the yankee and now the mainsail had decided to give up the unequal struggle within a week of each other. Whilst I think this is an incredible coincidence, the DS thinks it is all my fault and there is something I’m doing wrong, quite possibly deliberately just to prove this isn’t a bloody holiday – which it sure ain’t at the moment. And yes, you guessed it, it is another obscure part that is unobtainable in the Caribbean.
So we are now faced with having to continue the rest of our passage all the way up to Antigua (about five long day sails away) with no mainsail. We may be the first people to have sailed the entire length of the Windward and Leeward Islands over a period of five weeks without having seen any of it at all. And IF we manage to find the spare parts and have them sent to Antigua, with wall to wall guest commitments between now and the end of February, I doubt if we’ll be able to find the time to have it fitted. And I thought last year was a disastrous cruise.