Awaking next morning with a grumbling tummy and throbing head, my first thought was, can we please go back to sea now? Rob & Vicky were dispatched ashore, whilst we three boys prepared for departure. We set the spinnaker pole, loose luffed No1 to leeward, so once the anchor was up, unfurled the genoa supported by the spinnaker pole, then hoisted the No.1 and hey pesto twins again.
Once Vicky & Rob returned from paperwork chores, the dinghy was stowed in davits, anchor up and off on the final leg of our trip, 1286NM to Bocas in Panama. Ahead of us we knew to expect increased velocity of wind speed, a recognised piracy risk along the Venezuelan coast and a new untried steering system. By this time, life aboard was so natural that a lot of the passage making formality was gone. No ceremony, anchor up, sails up, engine off. Our earlier preparation paid off handsomely as the guys had the sails up and flying in moments. As we picked through the many long distance cruisers at anchor, appreciated nods or waves signified that their work was neatly done.
As we were one down from the Atlantic crossing, it was easy to adopt a 3 hour rotating watch. Vicky was excluded from the formal rota as she had her work cut out feeding a crew of many carnivores with no refrigeration on board. Needless to say though, whenever anything was going on up deck, she would be in the thick of it.
Barely an hour out of the anchorage, the 1st rain squall of the day bore down on us, no big deal as we had been experiencing them for a couple of days at anchor, giving us a moderate increase in wind strength and 20 mins of rain. Waiting for the squall, I asked who wanted first watch from now 11.00am to 2.00pm. Ever eager Konrad, when no one else said anything, said “Sure I’ll do it.” Next 2.00pm to 5.00pm, Rob grabbed that one, Andras took the next, which left the remaining 8.00pm to 11.00pm to me. Ok slap bang in the middle of the nightly movie schedule, but in bed by 11.30pm and not up again until 07.00am, nice. It took a day or so for Rob & Konrad to realise that in their eagerness, they had bagged the graveyard shift from 11.00pm to 5.00am. Remember, never volunteer!
Dissecting of watches was soon forgotten as the squall hit and within seconds the 30 knot winds had snapped the tackline, which secures the tack or bottom front of the No1 to the boat. Bollocks, it was now flying like a flag out the side of the boat, whilst she careered down wind at 8 knots. As Andras released the halyard, another fierce gust tore it from him and plop, the whole shagging lot is now towing out the back of the boat like a fishing net. What a balls up, many broken finger nails later, we had clawed the bloody thing back on board. Konrad shot up the mast and replaced the halyard, new tack line, clean hoist and we were back in business. Only plus point, that the rain had obscured our messing around from our peers in the anchorage, who no doubt, would have found the whole episode highly amusing.
All through that night and for the next next 2 days we had similar weather, easterly 5 – 6. We can run with poled out roller genoa and loose luffed No.1 in this kind of wind, it’s roly but easy and the autopilot likes it. All the same issues from the Atlantic, trying to hold on in the aft cabin and the cacophony of noise in the saloon, but all in all easy passage making.
Around 1.00am on the 3rd night, the wind speed started to increase to 25-30 knots, this is where the limitations of our twin headsail rig are shown up. Initially you can roll away one genoa, but without his mate, the No1 becomes quite unstable. Then comes a time when you have to get all hands up on deck to wrestle the beast on to the deck and swap it for a much smaller staysail.
I asked Vicky to control the rate of decent, as we sort of need to drop the head almost until it is just clear of the water, then 3 of us can rail claw the thing onto the deck. By this stage its blowing a good 30 knots, when everyone is ready, Vicky stripped the halyard off the cleat and began paying out. Even though there were 3 turns on the winch, she couldn’t hold it. Now good advice in this situation, is to let the thing go and bugger the consequences, but to her credit Vicky held on, with the halyard sliding through her hands. Had not we then suffered another gust all would have been good. But the increased pressure tore at Vicky’s grip, sliding faster and faster until she had to let go.
On the rail none of us were aware of the unfolding drama behind us, until with a rush, the sail plummeted into the water and we sailed over it.
I turned with uncharitable thoughts towards my beloved, only to see her disappear below, ‘Unusual’ flashed through my mind but I had to focus on the mess we were now in. Slowly by passing a rope around a section of the sail, we managed to winch it onto the deck. Then cut the halyard as it was wrapped around the prop / rudder. 20mins or so later, I went down below to find out what the story was. Greeted by Vicky’s back hunched over the galley sink. I thought, here we go! Only when she turned around and I saw the massive rope burns to both her hands, did my heart melt. Rather than bother anyone on deck, she was trying to dress the burns, no handed. The lack of a working fridge or freezer made finding anything cold enough to get the heat out difficult, but eventually after translating from Spanish, Rob found some burns cream, which although stung like a Bxxxxd, gradually brought the pain down to bearable.
We packed a very peeved and sore Vicky off to bed for a couple of days with her hands wrapped up. Next day the funniest moment came as she tried to have a cigarette, not funny with no hands.