Risky and Dangerous Situation
We have 3 damaged Lewmar winches (our main winch at the helm is badly damaged) and despite numerous emails to suppliers worldwide, we are still waiting for responses to our emails and prices. In the meantime, we are stuck here in Cabedelo and cannot continue our voyage without first repairing the winches.
The damage occurred during our nighttime sail from Recife to Cabedelo, Brazil. It all started when the pad eye installed on top of the mast broke and fell into the water. With this, the spinnaker dropped by a good 3 to 4 meters lower and the foot of the spinnaker was at times touching the water. We saw that the spinnaker was flying at a much lower height but we did not know that the pad eye broke or that this was the reason why the spinnaker was flying just above the waterline. Also unbeknown to us at the time, due to all of this, the spinnaker halyard and the rope controlling the spinnaker sock got snagged on top of the mast.
In the almost pitch darkness of the night, additionally partly blinded by the white compass light, we employed the main winch to pull the spinnaker further up the mast. But then unseen, the tail end of the spinnaker halyard looped back into the winch drum, loop wrapped itself around the winch release arm and pulled itself so tight that it was impossible to release the halyard. In this process the release arm was extensively bent locking the halyard to the winch and also causing extensive damage to the winch self tailing parts and the centre stem (sub assembly) snapped under the tremendous load.
I then went to the mast to pull down the spinnaker sock down and thus de-power the spinnaker. Tugging and pulling with all my weight (considerable), I could not pull the spinnaker sock down. Shining the torch up the mast, it was then that we discovered that the spinnaker sock rope entangled itself on top of the mast. With the spinnaker halyard jammed onto the winch and the spinnaker sock line entangled up the mast, it was impossible to lower the spinnaker in the designed way nor was it possible to de-power the spinnaker - indeed a nightmare situation. We decided to continue sailing until daybreak and with the benefit of daylight, we would then see what plan we could make to lower or de-power the spinnaker.
Fortunately for us, we were not sailing towards lands neither did the winds push us towards the lee shore. At this time, we were some 10 nautical miles from the from the coast, sailing parallel to the coast, but considering our difficulties and the possibility that the wind direction could change, we certainly did not feel comfortable this close to the shoreline. We continued sailing the remaining night time hours and we managed to steer a couple of degrees further away from the coast.
By daybreak, we were some 15 nautical miles from the coast and it was time to find a solution for our problems. After assessing the situation and considering our options, it was clear that I had to go up the mast - this whilst Revelations was in full motion at 8 knots and with the spinnaker fully deployed in about 12 knot of wind power. Although this wind speed is certainly not hectic in sailing terms, it creates immense power in the sails.
But the situation was quite tricky and fraud with danger. Sue had to hand steer, keep Revelations on course, make sure that the spinnaker does not de-power, hoist me up on the mast and at the same time hold onto the rope so that I do not fall. Allowing the spinnaker to de-power means that the sheets will be flaying around in the wind, become bullwhips fully capable of decapitating anyone in its path. Sue had to do all of this at the same time and this is multi tasking to the extreme! To do this properly she needed four arms instead of two.
We had no choice and with adrenaline pumping, up the mast I went, getting knock around by the yacht's motions, banging against the mast, swinging from left to right with me clinging on for dear life - all the while praying that Sue keeps the spinnaker under full power. I managed to untangle the spinnaker sock ropes from the mast and after about twenty minutes was safely back on deck - sporting bumps, bruises and scrapes. We were now able to pull the spinnaker sock down and de-power the spinnaker - minutes later, Revelations was quietly lying ahull. This was a scary time as often the foot of the spinnaker would touch the waterline but pull clear again before it got dragged under the yacht. Although the spinnaker did not end up under the yacht, the lazy sheet got snagged under the yacht on three occasions and each time took immense effort to release from under the hull. Muscles ached, our backs felt broken, arms were numb from the strenuous work - we were exhausted from all these hours of struggle and hard work.
Once all under control, we took a short break, had a couple of cool drinks (and cigarettes), started the engines and motored the last few nautical miles into Cabedelo harbour where we are now safely moored at Jacare Village Marina. But Sue once did say that sailing is not for sissies, that it is for the brave - but this was far beyond that and way too dangerous. It was a painful, hectic and dangerous experience and certainly not something we would like to EVER encounter again. We learned many lessons from all of this, we are still discussing changes in the way we sail Revelations as next time, we might not be so lucky to escape with only scrapes and bruises.