Geoff here, from Kittiwake. ’twas us what broke the shroud plate, having rounded Bembridge in a good F5, one reef in the main and jib up for the genoa, and flying, Chris on the helm. I felt rather than saw it go. As we suddenly lurched to windward, I looked up to see the mast flexing sickeningly downwind, fortunately spilling most of the wind. As Chris rounded up, I dropped the main, leaving us under the jib alone. The shroud plate had snapped at deck level. As Chris controlled the boat, I lashed the shroud through the forward jib fairlead, relieving the strain on the mast and giving us some time to think, and take stock.
We were sailing, but with a significantly weakened port stay. The sail back to Calshot would be almost entirely on Port, with forecast breeze freshening to F4/5 gusting 6.
We would not be able to beat to windward under a jib alone, and it would be difficult to control the power of the sail. We did not know how much load the fairlead would take. Even though it was bolted through, I could see the deck flexing under the load of the jib, nowhere near as strong as the shroud plate, which was glassed into the hull. We know we could not risk another failure and risk of dismasting, as the wind picked up, as it was forecast to do.
After a some reflection, we decided we would do better under a heavily reefed main and no foresail, as we would have greater control and we would be able to make way to windward, albeit slow.
We took a second slab reef in the main, and then took two further rolls around the boom to further reduced the sail area, rolling in a strop for the kicking strap at the same time. I was really worried about overloading the fairlead.
When the reefing was complete, we headed to wind, carefully raised the main and lowered the jib. Sailing became much more comfortable immediately, and the helm was able to control the load on the shroud by slackening off the main sheet.
We made reasonable, if slow progress towards No Mans Land Fort.
With the sails now set for our return, I revisited the temporary lashing for the shroud. I felt the aft fairlead mounted on the side deck, aft of the shroud plate looked a lot stronger so decided to transfer the lashing to this than the front fairlead. Chris spilled the wind, reducing the power in the sail, and I re-fixed the lashing.
This gave the a much better angle for the shroud – further aft and further outboard, providing greater leverage and reducing the load. With this in place, the rig looked much more stable and felt comfortable. We are also able to guage the tension in the shroud and spill wind during the gusts.
By this time we were approaching No Mans Land Fort, having made covered the distance is reasonably good time despite all the activity – huge credit to Chris on the helm for keeping us upright and course.
Now we were stable, and sailing again, we reviewed our options, which boiled down to:
Now we were over the initial emergency, we saw no need to retire. We were sailing comfortably, and within the limits of our jury rig. We were in control and able to control the amount of power in the sail. We were able to maintain our heading. We knew the breeze was freshening.
We decided there was no immediate need to retire, but noted that could aim for Chichester (down wind), Portsmouth, or Ryde Sands (nearest). None of these held very much appeal, nor seemed necessary at that moment.
As we reached NMLF (1600), passing between the fort and Ryde Sands, we headed up to wind, to aim for Fawley tower, visible in the distance.
Close hauled, and with a stiffening breeze, short chop, adverse current until 1800 and much reduced sail, we found we were making little progress. The waves stopped us dead, and we had insufficient power in our rig to punch through or maintain any sort of momentum. We did not want to bear away as this would take us into the shipping lanes, and we had insufficient speed to get out the way if required.
We again re-evaluated, and considered out options.
Our problem was the rate of progress. The boat was seaworthy, and we were not in any immiment danger. However at our rate of progress it would be many hours before we reached Calshott – we would probably have to wait for the tidal stream to change at 1800 before making any significant progress. This would put us in danger of cold and fatigue. The conditions were horrible, short steep choppy seas, stopping the boat whenever we got any sort of momentum going, plus a stiffening breeze and stronger gusts putting more demands on our jury rig.
At this point we decided that safety was paramount, and decided to motor sail, using the outboard to provide the additional power we needed to punch through the waves, that we were lacking in our reduced rig.
My blessed outboard started on the second pull, and once warmed up, slipped her into gear. Initially we over egged the throttle, and got soaked as Kittiwake surged forward into the waves. After some experimentation, we found just the right speed, little more than tick over, that gave us just the extra push needed to maintain our way through the waves.
The sail and the motor working together gave us a reasonable boat speed through the water, with the sail providing a decent chunk of power and stability and the motor helping maintain momentum. I think proceeding under motor alone would have been untenable as the boat would have been bouncing all over the place, we would have been (more) soaked, and I think the motor would have struggled to make decent way.
With the motor and the sail working together we decided would could make Calshott, and there was no need to retire. We also decided there was no need to raise the alarm as we were making good progress.
We decided to inform Wayfarer Safety of our situation at our next check point, which would be as we passed Portsmouth. We reported that we had broken a shroud, that we had jury rigged it to the jib fairlead, and that we were proceeding under a much reduced main and outboard to Calshot. It was hugely comforting to hear a cheery voice on the other end of the line – thank you Wayfarer Safety.
From NMLF we headed for Fawley Tower, tacking to keep south of the shipping lane, as a succession of liners and container ships left Southampton.
After all the excitement, we resumed our one hour on, one hour off regime on the helm, and I took over from Chris around 1700, who had been on the helm since about 1500, just before it all kicked off. Time started to pass very slowly, our progress was wet and slow, slamming into the short seas. We tried to bearing away to ease the slamming and give some more speed, which worked but took us into the shipping lanes, so ended up tacking back periodically.
Cold was now the problem. We donned extra layers, hats and wetsuit gloves to replace of fingerless sailing gloves, taking it turns to warm up on the helm, with the long suffering crew taking all the weather. We were shipping plenty of water over the bow, but our newly fitted pump worked beautifully, keeping the bilges clear.
We carried on like this beating down the solent, tacking to keep us out of the shipping lane, refuelling the outboard once, which was interesting.
The weather seemed to be detiorating, breeze stiffening, and chop increasing, the earlier sun had long gone.
Crossing the shipping lane outside Calshot was particularly vile, with steep seas, the crests blowing off into the boat. Incredibly wet, but Kittiwake rode them beautifully. She felt solid and safe beneath us, and once we let a couple of ships pass, we able to approach the slip. I turned off the outboard as we approached, and we just managed the beat up to the slipway, landing at 1900, almost exactly 12 hours after our departure, wet, knackered, a bit chilly, but elated.
The cause of the breakage was metal fatigue. The shroud plates were the originals as far I could tell, glassed in when the boat was made. The fracture surface showed clear signs of fatigue. I would strongly recommend anyone with an older boat gives serious attention to having these fitting replaced. A metal fatigue gives no forewaring, and is sudden and catastrophic, as the work hardened metal suddenly turns brittle and snaps. We were simply lucky to have avoided a total dismasting.
Thanks so much to John and Jenny for organising such a marvellous event, and for all those who took part. A truly remarkable experience. We are all all set to go again – wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Geoff Lewis / Chris Newman