Joe's 1989 Telstar Trimaran Dismasting

Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

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The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Telstar Trimaran Association Newsletter about my 1989 trip to the Pacific Northwest.

A Dismasting
by Joe Siudzinski
August, 1989

Having ended up in Campbell River towards the end of the trip, it was time now to hurry home since the vacation was ending. Unfortunately, the predictions were for heavy winds on the nose all the way back to Vancouver, which was over 100 miles away. I had sent my last crew home and was now looking forward to singlehanding the boat back. I set off under motor, and when the wind picked up and since I had the working jib hanked on so I set it...the wind was too light so I dropped it and put up the Genoa...after a short while at over 7 knots to windward it was too much so I put the working jib back up...soon that was too much so I reefed the main. By now I was a few miles off shore and pounding into some very nasty chop in 25+ knot winds. I was driving the boat very hard and was having significant water come over the main bow. The boat was performing marvelously and, despite occasional significant heeling due to wave action, never felt anywhere near going over...so I consciously just kept pushing it (and would have been sailing it like this if I were racing).

I was hard on the wind on port tack. Looking up the mast -- in the gusts it was bending forward from the spreaders upwards: the reefed main no longer opposed the masthead jib and the backstay was probably not tight enough...warning signals that went unheeded... anyway, I heard this crunch and had a fleeting glimpse of mast breaking around the spreaders and down it went ("oh, sh--"). [As an aside, in my C-Class racing days I had lost two beautiful wing sails and a mast, so the experience wasn't new]. The mast must have broken at the spreaders, since the babystay and lowers would have held the lower part standing if it had broken higher up. Luckily, the kayak was strapped down on the port hull.

One of the key points I always try to avoid is the domino effect of things going wrong: the first thing I did was go below and raise the centerboard, then raised the rudder (certainly didn't want anything snagging and damaging these!), undid the mainsheet, then surveyed the damage: the mast was completely down but was still attached to the baseplate and trying to wrench itself free. The boat had pivoted around and was broadside to the wind and waves coming in from starboard and was bobbing up and down a fair amount with the broken mast and sail lying to windward. About that moment the mast base broke free and I heard a crunching sound which convinced me to clear the deck and get the mast/sail clear of the boat, since the boat seemed undamaged at this point. I undid the port shroud, then forestay and babystay, then starboard shroud pins -- which underlined two points:

1. I was able to quickly take these pins out since I use either 'Ball-Lok' (spring loaded with a plunger) or 'Fastpins'. They've never come undone by themselves and are great for the assembly speed required for trailer-sailing.

2. Since the turnbuckles eventually went down with the rig, I'll probably install these Fastpins between the shroud and the turnbuckle next time, an added advantage of less weight when carrying the mast around ashore.

At this point, the rig slid into the water and was held to the boat with the backstay and jibsheet (still led through the block on deck and wrapped around the winch). The boat was broadside to the waves and quite wet on that starboard windward side. I still had hopes of salvaging the mess, so my idea was to bring the boat's nose into the wind and then attempt to retrieve things off the starboard aft quarter. I was far enough away from shore that there was no danger of being caught on a lee shore, but the wind was still picking up and the waves, although certainly no more than about 4' mean-to-peak, were a very nasty short steep chop with breaking tips (I later realized that they were tidal-current induced). Even though I had both a parachute anchor and the small parachute drogue, I didn't wish to risk tangling up with the large parachute so I set the small chute off the bow (I had everything rigged up previously, but didn't take the time to practice...). The problem with doing this was that I had the sea anchor line (300') in a laundry basket in the starboard hull, so when I opened the hatch to use this line, the waves slopped down into it...but not to worry, I did it anyway, and didn't even tangle the trip line. The trip line came out of a bag on the port side of the boat, and was attached to the head of the chute through a fender on a pendant about 30' from the head. I closed that hatch cover after the chute deployed, and only picked up a couple of inches of water in that hull. With about 200' of line out, the chute exerted some force, enough to turn the bow about 45 to the wind, but what I suddenly realized was that the surface area of that small parachute was certainly much less than the mast and sails down there, so the boat still wasn't pointing into the wind and waves.

So there I sat, the starboard aft quarter of the boat held down and unable to rise up quickly to the waves which were slopping over and into the cockpit. I put in two of the three washboards so as not to get things wet below, and then decided to release the backstay, since things were getting nasty and I wanted to always have the option of quickly releasing the whole mess and not risking the boat. The backstay tang was badly bent, so it took a good amount of wrenching and pounding on the Fastpin to release it, until finally all that was holding the rigging to the boat was the 5/8"dia jibsheet. In order to get the clew of the sail off the deck, I finally uncleated the jibsheet and let it all run out until the figure-eight stopper knot held up on the jib block on the deck. This jibsheet now ran back off the starboard quarter and DOWN to the rigging -- the problem still was that the weight of all that (plus surface area) was preventing the starboard hull from rising up quickly to the waves. The loading on the jibsheet was tremendous: I could pull in about a foot of that jibsheet when the boat dropped down a wave, but as soon as the next wave came, the line would be ripped out of my hands and back against the block. I felt that I needed to get that bow into the wind and waves, so I then got some extra line and looped it around the sheet and tugged it forward until it was even with the forward cleat on the hull - the boat pivoted slightly more into the wind, and I now stopped for a breather.

The chute was still deployed and pulling off the bow to starboard, and the rig was pulling off the starboard forward docking cleat. The load on that jibsheet was still great, and I was concerned that either the block would break (no big deal) or the track would tear out of the deck (now that I think about it, this is not likely, since I had recently added backing plates for all those bolts holding the track in place). I think it was the tension on that jibsheet that finally made me decide to abandon saving the rig: even if I could have brought the sheet back to a winch and pulled it in, I simply could see no point in risking damage to the boat in order to retrieve the mast and rigging - and being by myself in those conditions, it didn't seem like a very smart thing to try to do. It was with a great sigh that I finally cut the jibsheet (when I tell this story at work, no one believes that I would do that!) and said bye-bye to the rig.

What surprised me most after cutting the rig is that the boat did not pivot directly into the wind on the deployed parachute; instead, it stayed at about that 45 angle! [When I get the boat back in the water, one of the first things I'll do is experiment with both large and small parachutes to determine what happens - I wonder if having the board up makes a difference?] Anyway, there wasn't much point in sitting there, so I pulled in the chute with its trip line, lowered the motor and turned the boat around to run downwind (previous experiments had shown me that the boat will not turn by itself - I think the dodger provides too much weather helm with no sails up). With the boat now headed downwind, I lowered the rudder, turned on the autopilot, turned off and raised the motor, then went below to make a cup of tea while the boat zipped along downwind at 3-5 knots under dodger power alone! Right about then a good-sized Canadian Coast Guard boat came up - I had a small emergency antenna which I attached to the VHF, and chatted with them: they were genuinely concerned about me in those nasty conditions, but I thanked them for coming (someone must have seen me and called them) and allowed as things were pretty much under control.

Here's an interesting observation: after I had turned the boat around and was going downwind, I still had waves splashing into the cockpit, so I kept the two washboards in after I went below. While I was down below, the cockpit stayed dry, but when I went back into the cockpit to talk to the Coast Guard, I once again had splashing in the cockpit: moral of the story - keep weight out of the back end of the boat. The trip back was uneventful: I merely ran downwind almost all the way back to the harbor off Campbell River (April Point) and simply motored back into the marina. After looking the boat over, the only significant damage to it is a 6" dia. hole in the deck, right above the galley area: that must have been the crunch I heard after the mast base broke free, and was probably caused by wave action raising the broken stub and leveraging the base into the deck (the starboard after chainplate is also bent).

The next day I took a floatplane back to Vancouver (it's neat, they come right up to the dock in the marina), retrieved my truck and drove up to Campbell River, then pulled the boat out and drove home (the boat trailer is a lot more stable without the mast). In retrospect, I should have done that in the first place instead of planning on fighting headwinds for the next few days.

Retrospective

If I didn't already, I'd like to be quite clear as to the reason the mast broke:

1. I was driving the boat relentlessly to windward into a nasty chop with 25+ knot winds with a tightly sheeted full working jib and a main with one reef. If I weren't in such a hurry, I would normally have had the smaller Shark jib in place and would have been considering a second reef.

2. The rigging was slack: I had not re-tensioned it since I first stepped the mast. After sitting for 9 months on a trailer, the boat had just spend 4 weeks in the water settling down and I should have re-tightened all the standing rigging.

3. The autopilot was steering the boat: when steering by hand, one invariably plays the waves with a scalloped course; with the autopilot, the boat just tracks along like a locomotive, with occasional teeth-jarring wave connections.

In re-reading the last couple of pages, I hope that my rhetoric doesn't give the impression that the sea conditions were bad: they weren't any worse than a typical summer day on San Francisco Bay or the Northern California coast, and certainly very easily manageable by a properly sailed Telstar.

As a final comment let me say this about cruising in British Columbia: the people are very nice and extremely friendly and helpful wherever one goes, and it's really a pleasure to be with them. When I was pulling my boat out of the water, a fellow came up and helped me, and when I mentioned that I had lost my mast and sails, he said, in all sincerity, "Oh dear, can I help you find them?"

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