Hey Mum,

Yeah so the mast story is a funny one…

 

It was around 7 am, the first mate and I were about an hour into our 4-hour shift, the sun was just rising and I was at the helm. We had reached the 10th minute of the 24th degree north, which meant it was time to tack as we were zigzagging our way up the westerly winds. It was my first tack at the helm, and it went down smoothly: I eased us to port until the sails began to flap as we approached the wind dead on, then I started turning harder to reduce our time to cross the stall zone. First mate Henry ‘Sloshy’ Swash was in the pit and released the starboard genoa sheet as the wind caught the outside of the headsail, allowing it to find its new position on the port side as I counter-steered, to keep our new heading of 220 degrees.

 

Sloshy trimmed the sail with the winch handle ‘till it was nice and tight. “Not bad Wilbz,” Sloshy nodded, “just keep an eye on our position, we’ll tack back to starboard at 24 degrees flat". “Can do cuzzy,” I replied, as I adjusted the cushion at my back and got a feel for the feedback coming through the helm. “It’s going to be a good shift,” I thought to myself. “The wind is picking up, we’re on course and the sun is about to rise… I like sailing…

 

I got to enjoy the wind in my hair for only a few minutes before I was smashed to pieces. At N24deg09’2 W34deg55’4 there was a crack and a smash as the boom came down, clearing Swashy’s head by little more than a foot and crashing on the port aft quarter. ‘WTF’ we both thought as we looked up at the mainsail, which was still tight on the mast but at a very wrong angle. Swash jumped to his feet after the moment that it took to realise what was happening and called down into the cabins: “Everybody up on deck! The mast is coming down!”

 

He instructed me to steer into the wind and start the engine as he released the halyard and ran to the mast to pull the mainsail down. I stayed at the helm to hold our nose to the wind as the captain and the rest of the crew emerged from their cabins and started scrambling around the deck. The mast was leaning back across the aft deck and over the starboard rail at a 60-odd degree angle. Turns out the forestay had a hairline crack at its mount on the deck, which was able to slip by the recent safety inspection and had decided to let go just after our tack to port had shifted the pressure on the mount. The mast was now only holding up from the cable stays that bolted into the midship. Sloshy was quick to react and began freeing up a halyard to take up to the bow, but before we were able to rig up the new forestay and pull the mast upright again, there was another crack, this time from the mast itself as it sheered in half, buckling under its own weight.

 

“WOOOHOOOOO!!” I cheered, fists held in the air, as the mast crashed into the water and pulled tight against the hull. My picturesque sunrise had not gone as planned, but was perhaps better than expected. Now, no one wants to dismast in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but I had come out here for a solid adventure and some experience at sea… A good adventure should always get a little out of hand, and as for experience… well, blokes sail their whole lives and never get to experience a mast coming down or the events that were to follow...

 

Still wearing my tiger onesie, which had been my regular nightwatch suit, and with my knife held tightly between my teeth, I climbed over the side of the boat and stood about knee deep on the mast which dragged alongside the boat, rubbing and bashing against the hull. We had to cut the mast free before it did any major damage to the hull, but also needed to salvage as much of the sail as possible before we sent the mast to its watery grave. Swashy and I worked on cutting the mainsail free and hauling it on deck while the others used hacksaws and cable sheers to cut through the stays that held the mast to the boat. We had pulled almost all of the mainsail from under the boat when the skipper told us that it was time to cut the last stay. The mast was scraping pretty hard on the hull and every minute it continued put us at risk of some serious damage. The top of the mainsail was still jammed between the mast and the boat, but our salvaging time had run out… the mast had to go. Sloshy got his knife out and cut through the sail, as close to the jam as possible, as I pulled what was left of the sail on to the deck and out of the way — to worry about later.

 

“That’s it guys, let’s get rid of this mast!” ordered the captain. We cut loose the last of the stays and all stood along the side of the boat, almost in disbelief, as we watched our mast slowly sink into the depths of the clear blue ocean water, until it faded out of sight....

 

Alright mumsie, story time is over. Skipper needs the computer to send out some distress signals. I’ll tell ya the rest of the story later…

 

Love ya.

 

Wilby.

 

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