Nothing, of course, can be taken for granted offshore, but at least sailors can hope for an easy sail home from Bermuda. It used to be said that the comfortable passage was the delivery back to North America. “It’s all downwind, easy going, Bimini weather.” Sometimes it happens, but the deliveries I’ve made recently have had their demanding moments. In 2012 the returnees had a massive cold front to contend with. Several boats waited it out and didn’t leave Bermuda for almost a week. One boat was abandoned due in large part to seasickness, and there were injuries on other boats.
As usual, I sailed home in the Hinckley Southwester 42 Zest, from my old homeport of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. We were in fresh to strong winds and black squalls for most of the initial two days, usually deeply reefed (the second reef is the equivalent of one and a half reefs) with the staysail set on the forestay. With the wind nearly on the beam, there was a lot of spray and the motion was more violent than if we’d been on the wind, and one of our shipmates, and a little seasickness set in, nearly incapacitating a very good fellow for a day or more. At the change of watch on the second evening, just as I was handing over the helm to owner Brian Swiggett, we were hit by a 60-knot squall. The lee rail went down further than I’d ever seen it in this remarkable stiff boat designed by McCurdy & Rhodes, who also designed the three-time winner Carina and my equally able ride in the 2008 race, Selkie.
Bang! Suddenly the forestaysail parted company with the foredeck. The stay and sail flew off to leeward and might have done serious damage to the rig except for some exceptionally good luck. The attachment system aloft consisted of a fitting with a slot on its side into which the head of the stay is inserted. The slot happened to be on the leeward side of the fitting. When the sail blew out to leeward, the stay detached itself from the spar, dropped alongside, and, held by the jib sheet, lay there like the proverbial baby. Carefully hooked on, I slid forward on my butt to ’midships and cast off the boom vang so the mainsail leech wuld twist off and spill wind. That chore done, I reached to leeward and hauled the jib over the lifeline – and there we were, quite comfortable but not a little nervous. To distract myself I worked down the forestay to the tack and found a sturdy stainless plate that, a moment ago, had been securely bolted to the foredeck. When the excitement ended, a little more examination found some rust stains in the empty bolt holes forward.
We pulled a couple of feet of sail out of the jib on the headstay, put all the pieces away, and sailed on into improving weather that, except for a few squalls in the Stream, helped us forget the nasty early days . . . almost. The lesson is clear: be prepared for anything anytime you head offshore.