|A Japanese Trawler passes astern|
|Sunset at Momi Bay|
I went forward with my harness on as usual and sat next to the base of the mast to undo some sheets and prepare the pole...and beside me suddenly I noticed the mast moving, the rubber mast boot being squashed this way and that as the mast moved a few centimetres side to side and back to front with each jerk of the boom as the main filled and collapsed, filled and collapsed....what the hell was this?
I went below to see what was happening where the base of the mast sat on a metal plate at the level of the cabin sole..and it all looked normal, but again, looking up where the mast disappeared through the cabin roof, this dramatic movement was still apparent..so was the top of the mast swaying wildly?
I went out and looked up, and pushed and pulled on the stays and the shrouds - they seemed OK...what the hell was this I kept asking...the mast was flexing and bending like a banana...well not quite but there was movement and flexing that I had never ever seen before.
I remembered the stay that had come adrift - had that caused some other problem, or was that a symptom of some other problem? I remembered vaguely feeling something wasn’t quite right last time I rolled the headsail up...was something wrong? Or was this normal behaviour for a long thin metal pole fixed at each end with something pulling and pushing at it in the middle...
I sat there for ages going over the possibilities in my mind and knowing that all I lacked at that moment was a single vital fact - was this normal behaviour for a mast? Yes or no? Many, perhaps most experienced yachties would know the answer to that question right away, but right then, I didnt. But then if it was normal how come I had NEVER noticed it before? I had visions of the forestay giving way and the whole mast falling back...
Well, in the end I decided the safest thing to do was to go back! I could hardly believe I was contemplating this, yet again, going back - I had gone back to Lord Howe, I had gone back to Whangarei, I had gone back to Raiatea...and now, 110 nm out and 330 from Tanna, in other words a quarter of the way there, I turned back to Fiji, still not knowing if it was even necessary.
Before turning round I reattached the inner forestay and dropped the main and rolled up the headsail - it didnt make sense to be worried about the rigging and then keep sailing! But then, at that time there was no wind to sail with in any direction so I turned on the motor and drove back to Fiji, all the while convincing myself firstly it was a sensible safe decision and the right thing to do, and then convincing myself I was an idiot, nothing was wrong. After an hour, I put the boat into neutral and thought about it all again...and then carried on.
My small wheel pilot has never been able to cope with the demands of keeping the boat going straight in the ocean, so I had to hand steer the whole way, 24 hours of hand steering at 5 knots. The minutes dragged so slowly by but my first spell was for ten hours. I then stopped the boat - it was 9pm - and lay down for a quick sleep. At 11pm I was off again and didnt stop till we were inside Navula Pass once more, just after noon Thursday. It was another three hours motoring up to Check In at the marina, but I just went straight across into Momi Bay, dropped the anchor and went to sleep.By then I was dropping off at the wheel every few minutes. A few hours later when I awoke, I had a nice meal of coleslaw and tinned tuna sandwiches, bananas, oranges and a pawpaw..and then went back to sleep.
Today I cleared back in to Vuda Marina. I haven’t seen a rigging guy yet but will do so on Monday and he will be able to tell me if Ive just wasted my time. Some of you probably already know!
Better safe than sorry I guess!