Frisbee on the roof, halyard at the mast top

The main halyard has needed replacing all season — the braided cover frayed and parted halfway up the line and was sliding and bunching up like a snake skin. I’d stand on deck and stare upwards, 52 feet up the aluminum pole and wonder how in hell I was going to re-reeve a new line without going up the mast. The smart thing would have been to temporarily splice a new one to the bitter end of the old one and haul it up through the mast-head sheave … but no, procrastination and a temporary fix tided me over until Tuesday afternoon.

I went for a solo sail in the afternoon, unreefed, full sail, charging out of the channel into the teeth of a boisterous 20 knot southwesterly. Just as I was about to kill the diesel and winch open the jib my phone rang.  A buddy sitting in the parking lot at Loop Beach had seen me steam by and was calling to express his admiration that some idiot would try to singlehand a 33-foot sloop by himself into a smoking Nantucket Sound afternoon. Ha-ha, I said, unconcerned about the single-handed part. Solo sailing isn’t hard. It comes down to using one’s foot to steady the wheel and being very efficient in one’s movements to the main and jibsheets.  It’s actually harder to hold down a small boat in a breeze with one’s weight than it is a 15,000 pound keel boat. One person or two doesn’t make a lot of difference.

I hung up the phone, sheeted everything down nice and tight, turned off the engine, and hung on for dear life as the wind indicator showed 25 knot gusts and started to push the boat around in the chop. Down below, in the cabin, crashes could be heard as the hull heeled and ditty bags, cups, 12 packs of soda, fog horns, boathooks, and other detritus started to fly around.

I enjoyed a very vigorous close-hauled reach out to Bell Eight, on the edge of Horseshoe Shoal where the wind farm is planned. Tacked around, and broad reached back like a comet to Cotuit, making the channel despite an extreme full-moon low tide, and sailing gracefully all the way into the bay without resorting to the engine. Handling the mooring alone is a challenge — my missing left big toe nail is a testament to running forward to snag the pennant and stubbing my toe on a big-ass jib car —  but I manage to get the splice onto the bow clear and run the skiff back to the transom without too much chaos.

The main sail was luffing like a thunderstorm so I got it down quickly, uncleating the main halyard, complete with the frayed off cover, and letting it slump to the deck. Silence. Big exhalation of relief. Safe and sound. I ducked down below to find the sail stops and the shit-stick (my homemade comorant deterrent device) and when I came back on deck I notice an awful lot of 3/16th’s wire cable on the cabin top. Hmm. That’s strange.

The wind had caught the halyard and blown it out into a big belly, sucking the rope part of the steel-rope halyard to the top of the mast. I looked up, mouth open like a gaping idiot. Total amateur move losing a halyard to the top of the mast. I should, of course, have cleated the bitter end to prevent such idiocy from occurring. In the old days the rule was you lose it, you climb and get it. That made perfect sense when I was 16 and my father was making up the rules. At my age there’s no consideration of such aerial ascents.

Pissed, I tugged the remaining halyard and let the whole affair fall to the deck. Now the boat has no main halyard, rendering it esseentially into a big motorboat unless I can find a replacement, buy a bosun’s chair, and con my skinny son into riding the chair aloft while I haul him up with the jib winches.  Taking it to a boat yard will yield a $1,000 bill. The other option — the safer one at least — is not to do anything, declare the sailing season over, and wait until the boat is hauled on October 15 and then make the replacement when the mast is unstepped and laying across a set of sawhorses. Decisions, decisions. This is a nice time of year to sail, would be a shame to throw in the towel now, but do I really want to go through the contortions?

Update: the ever helpful Uncle Fester sent along this video which made me want to vomit.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

9 thoughts on “Frisbee on the roof, halyard at the mast top”

  1. Oh Good Lord! I’m so thankful my avocational interests are largely limited to terrestial toys like old dirt-pushing, erg-throwing, air-cooled diesel tractors.
    Great sailing post but really frightening video.
    you rule!

  2. Provide dinner or other substantive meal, and I’ll make the drive down and climb that bad boy myself. Then we can talk shop.

  3. It’s definitely amateur hour here… 🙂 Reminds me when I was sailing from Newport to Block Island by myself on my 26′ Folkboat (when I was 17) and the the wooden mast cracked four feet from the top. That day sucked. I didn’t have an engine, either. I sailed back in with the fractional headsail.

  4. Had a similar experience recently, and it was suggested to me to motor up close to a bridge with pedestrians and hope for a Good Samaritan to come by…

  5. David,

    A well told story as always. Well, sounds like you have a number of low cost alternatives to the boat yard, and some volunteers who offered to do the deed for dinner no less! Hard to beat that!

    While building my house, I used a snorkel lift for some things. Where your boat is now, could you drive equipment near it and is the shore bulk headed and sturdy enough to support vehicle traffic? There are heavy units you can get, but your height seems like you might be able to use the larger of the towable models.

    If so, you might see if their is a sunbelt or hertz or other equipment rental company nearby and what daily rates are on a snorkel / aeriel lift. The one I used went for $200 a day or $500 a week and towed behind a truck.


  6. Well, went for the bosun’s chair — $200 at West Marine — and hauled my 170-lb son to the top with two lines — the jib halyard on a mast winch and the spinnaker halyard on another for insurance.

    Huffed and puffed him up to the top, but alas, he couldn’t re-reeve the halyard. He gets an A for effort, but we had to give up. He could get the line passed through and was getting exhausted from hanging on for dear life.

    so with that ends the sailing season. Took off both sails, stowed them in the cabin, and will move up the pull date from 10/15 to something sooner. I’ll bring the boat into the pier some rainy day this week and strip it of all cushions, sails, etc. and start the long process of putting it to bed for the winter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: