Sailing to Visby

s/y Charlotte Hanse 531 sailboat sailing to Visby

After a few days of fixing our boat in Mariehamn, it was time to head out towards vaster oceans (a slight exaggeration, I admit!) in the form of an overnight sail to Visby.

A beautiful morning to start our journey!

The Gennaker

“So guess how big the Gennaker is?” I asked Charlotte.

“No idea,” she replied.

“It’s one hundred and ninety-five square meters!” I exclaimed. “Much bigger than our apartment!”

That was the number from the Hanse’s official specification sheet, anyway. In earnest, I didn’t really know the size of our particular sail. It didn’t seem that big, but then again, eyeballing downwind sail areas wasn’t one of my strongest skills.

After a good while sorting out all the lines, we carefully hoisted the sail with its surrounding sock, then pulled the sock up to reveal it — everything ok? yes. — and finally tightened the sheet.

You could feel it immediately. The soft and gentle, but also quite irresistible force, adding to our momentum.

Charlotte wasn’t totally moved, though. “It’s just plain white,” she said. “No cool color in our colored sail?” she added, more as a comment than a question.

I shrugged, and smiled at her, at the sime time looked contentedly at the speed instrument and the boatspeed edging steadily upwards.

“But we’re really moving now!” I exclaimed. “But yes, a cool color would have been cool as well,” I added in agreement.

The Explosion

A bit before midnight, about seventeen hours into our trip, I was on the foredeck reconnecting the gennaker sheet for a jibe.

Suddenly I heard a really loud bang from behind me.

A dark, ominous fear-the-worst set in immediately, and I whipped around to see what had happened. The mast was standing, the shrouds and the backstay looked all intact.

“WHAT WAS THAT?” I shouted loudly, as I still couldn’t find any obvious reason for the loud sound.

Then I noticed something there on the deck, just barely visible in the dusk, that seemed— for a better word— misplaced. During a short alice-in-the-wonderland-moment I just could not fathom it. Why on earth was there a huge car suspension spring lying there in the middle of the deck!

A few moments later I realized what had happened.

What I was looking at was the inside of our boomvang. For some mysterious reason, it had separated itself from the mast, and the large spring inside had exploded out on the deck. Luckily, our big furlerboom was still attached to the mast, but without the boomvang it had achieved one more degree of freedom to swing around— pulling the broken vang and spring with it as it did so.

Recovering

“Can you place this carpet under the end of spring?” I said to Charlotte. “So that it doesn’t do any more damage to the deck while we take down the sails.”

One end of the spring was lying on the deck, but half of it was still inside the boomvang. It had taken a small chip out of the deck when it exploded, but fortunately, I couldn’t see any other damage.

I started the engine. Then, very delicately, I turned the boat upwind just enough for the pressure to give up on the mainsail, and a few minutes later we had it furled and away.

Then, I set the boat to slow ahead on autopilot, and went forward to the mast to see whether there was anything we could do about the broken vang.

Charlotte was there, keeping the protection mat in place.

What’s that,” she said when I came closer, and pointed to something really small on the deck, just behind the mast, under the vang.

The Repair

Sitting there on the deck, perfectly upright and composed, was a small A4-70 stainless M6 machine screw.

It was the other of two identical twins, whose main responsibility had been to keep the boomvang attached to its counterpart bracket on the mast. The other twin, unfortunately no sight of him (or her).

Mystery solved. I had gone through a lot of the rigging beforehand, but sadly omitted to check these screws. Note to self, in capital letters.

Although the spring was almost too heavy to lift, it slid surprisingly easily back into the vang. Once inside, however, it proved much more difficult to get the whole thing back into the mast bracket.

After struggling with it for maybe twenty minutes or so, while adjusting the topping lift to get the vang into the perfect position, we finally got it.

I half-secured the vang’s connection to its bracket with the one screw we had found.

And let out a deep sigh of relief.

We weren’t good to go by any means, since the vang was still missing the other screw. But we were safe and sound, and what had started with a few quite terrifying moments, had turned out all right.

Pitstop in Visby

Amazingly, there was not one single suitable spare machine screw aboard, so instead of going by sails to Visby, we traveled more than half of the way there by engine.

Once happily there, I had some time to reflect over our debacle, and ended up with a few closing thoughts:

Firstly, it’s really important to regularly check all the possible failure points and not just the most obvious ones. Where practical, it’s sensible to add measures to secure critical parts from coming loose due to vibrations and shaking.

Secondly, spare parts are vital. With just one extra M6 machine screw we could have had a working mainsail.

Thirdly, as we had failed the first two, having a working diesel engine with a good range was wonderful. We could, of course, have sailed using just the jib or the gennaker, but in a broader sense, it felt good and important to have a backup that we could use.

A bit later, after a well deserved (but slightly restless) afternoon nap, I headed out to town to look for a hardware store and a new M6 screw, as well as a bunch of spares.

The children slept through our nightly incident. Here M and Little L are having their breakfast sandwiches. The hit recipe for this summer: a slice of plain white bread with Nutella hazelnut butter.

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