Big wind in whale channel–A cautionary Tail
Friday May 20th
It was a pleasant afternoon yesterday in Bay of LA. We arrived 4ish and soon headed to Guillermo’s for a well deserved margarita. I found someone to take me to the gas station for fuel while the crew walked to the Mercado for a few provisions. We decided to have dinner while on shore and then back to the boat for an early night.
Today we head north to Puerto Refugio up whale channel. It’s been windy so we study conditions in the channel very closely. Windy app forecasts the wind slot, that can blow pretty hard, at 15 –20kt. That will make for a pleasant sail to Refugio. To be extra cautious we raise the main with the first reef tucked in. A wind line with white caps coming from the Bay of LA basin gives a good ride up the Smith Island and then we’re motoring with no wind. Approaching the Punta Remedios basin white caps are blowing from the west as expected. Entering the wind line winds are gusting up to 25kt a bit more than expected but manageable with our reefed main and now we have the jib reefed 30% as well have life jackets on. We’re sailing along nicely when winds gust hit 40, 45, 65 and Bam!! before we could make the decision to turn into the wind and drop the main sail the mast folds forward and comes down on the deck. This went from strong winds to a full on Chubasco with in seconds. Winds continue to pound us as we asses the situation. Everyone is okay. The seas are now 6’ crashing by us disabled in the water. A check of Gato and everything seems good. except for the terrified look on everybody’s face. We take a few minutes to consider the condition. Kurt climbs forward with the main sail flopping in the wind to have a closer look. The mast is broken 1/3 up. The lower 1/3 of the mast is down on the deck forward held secure by stays and the upper 2/3s is held to the lower section with internal halyard and wires is floating to starboard. No stays are broken and we soon decide we’re not in danger of being holed by a slamming mast section. The top of the mast is connected to the boat by the topping lift line and is floating to starboard with the main sail still in tact. We winch in the topping lift and it brings the top of the mast pinched tight but at the water level. Things seem stable now WOW. Using motors I slowly rotate Gato to motor down wind in these 6’ seas. Its working and the waves have us heading to Refugio at 4kt. Tring to motor faster we see the jib is acting like a sea anchor to starboard. Kurt and I soon have it hosted out of the water and now we riding the waves to Refugio at 6kts. Winds continue to pound us all the to Refugio but the mast situation remains stable. An hour later we drop anchor in the middle bite of the north anchorage safe and sound but totally ravaged by adrenalin.
Time to rest before we figure out what’s next.
Soon other boats in the anchorage come by to check out the site of a catamaran draped with wires, broken masts and sails. Boat North Star has been waiting our arrival, following us on the Amigo net, climb on board to see things first hand. A plan is formulating. We’ll spend the rest of the afternoon disassembly the rig where can and remove sails. Freeing the main sail there seems to be little damage. We’re able to remove the boom and lazy jack. The screacher rode the distance under the starboard hull but other than some bottom paint on the blue cover it’s in good shape. The jib is locked under the upper mast section and will have to wait for the mast to be moved. We will now rest and tomorrow at 10 other boat crews will come to help hoist the upper section of the mast on board. This will make us clear for motoring.
Refugio’s sunset are always specials and we count our blessing to be able to enjoy it.
Saturday May 21st
Wow everybody slept hard overnight even with winds rocking the boat through the night. Weather is cool and water is to cold to be inviting for the girls. We’re doing some final prep readying for fellow sailors that will arrive 10ish. Well that was easy! After discussing different strategies to hoist the mast section on board Kurt’s idea to drape a line over the cabin to get more upward help and 3 guys at various places along the mast we’re ready. Heather cuts one by one the the halyards and wires releasing the upper section from the the lower and up it came without too much effort Thanks to our fellow sailors that made it easy. Now we’re able to free the jib and amazingly it has no damage. Another few hours securing things down and we’re ready to motor to Penasco tomorrow.
Sunday May 22nd
Alarm goes off at 2:30 AM. We have a long 106 miles to cover and we hope to make it before sunset. It’s always something, we went to haul anchor and now the lower 1/3 mast section is down on the anchors windless. Some serious effort the anchor is finally up and Penasco here we come.
My old respect for whale channel has now moved to a totally different level. It can create a life or death situation in a heart beat. I’m totally proud of our crew for their courage to stay strong through a most difficult situation. This experience will be seared into our memories for a long while. “Here’s to Life” my friends.
Until the next Update