The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 38. Costa Rica to Isles Marquises via The Galapagos
At Sea. Thursday, 29 April 2010,
Our position as at 2100 GMT/UTC (1700 NYC; 2300 Ffm):
S 08 degrees 40.95 minutes; W 130 degrees 39.59 minutes;
484.3 Nm to Hiva Oa

Not only is the trip getting very long indeed. While squally weather has
become for the moment, at least, a thing of the past, and we are enjoying
broad sunlit days with puffy clouds and bright moonlit nights, the winds,
on the other hand, have lessened in intensity and the seas, as a result,
have become much calmer. This weather and our reduced ability to carry
sail (broken jibstay and therefore hesitation to put too much load on the
mast above the spreaders), we are barely able to register any speed at all
at times. At this rate we shall never get to Hiva Oa!

The other aspect of weak winds is that our mainsail boom, a very heavy,
16-foot length of solid wood, starts to slat. There isn't really enough
wind to keep the sail filled and, once we start rolling in the swells,
that heavy boom starts swinging and every once in a while it will put the
boat through a complete jibe. We had some bad experiences with this in
British Columbia and Alaska, and for this very reason installed a
"Dutchman Boom Brake". It is essentially a piece of rope that is tied to
the lower shroud on the port side, run through a series of three gears
hung from the boom (you can tighten the gears so the friction is greater),
down to the lower shroud on the starboard side and the tail end run back
to a cleat near the cockpit. If the boom starts to go through a complete
arc, the boom brake will slow it down so it doesn't break things. We have
been plenty glad to have this boom brake in the past since. At present, of
course, we always have the wind behind us. Involuntary jibes are dangerous
to crew and ship. Unless we want to stay in the cockpit day and night, we
have to hope the boat will stay on course and that, if it doesn't and the
rolling or a wind change causes a jibe, the boom brake will minimize the

Yesterday late afternoon during a game of Scrabble below, we hear the boom
swing right across from starboard to port, the boom brake screaming its
protest. There is a big thump and we fling down the game to dash out
through the companionway. I had used a snap shackle at the starboard
shroud for the rope from the gears to pass through. This snap shackle was
around the threaded part of the turnbuckle. It was exactly here that the
turnbuckle has snapped (I guess we should call it a snap buckle). The
turnbuckle's threaded throat is broken off flush with the body of the
turnbuckle. The whole aft starboard shroud that runs to the spreader is
dangling and the boom brake is useless. The mainsail boom of course is on
the other side of the boat.

This is serious stuff. If the mast is already not fully supported (no
jibstay) at least we can carry a mainsail. Now it would be very difficult
to carry any sail at all. There is about an hour to sunset. Kathleen gets
on the tiller to keep us moving with the waves so that if possible we are
not rolling. I go forward to the shroud for 'damage assessment'.
Obviously, I have caused the problem myself by putting a hard metal
shackle around the threaded throat of the turnbuckle. Just like the
jibstay turnbuckle, the bronze turnbuckle at the base of the shroud does
not tolerate side-loading. It has finally broken.

I put on my best self-confident manner and tell Kathleen that we are not
in danger. But, unlike the jibstay, we really have to do something about
this situation if we have any hope of sailing the rest of the way to
French Polynesia. I start turning out the stuff in the lazarette hold
until I can see at the bottom at the back the several additional used
bronze turnbuckles that I bought for spares off EBay a few years ago (they
had been stripped off an old schooner and somebody was selling off the
bits and pieces). Thank goodness! But will one of them fit? I drag out my
tool kit, anhydrous lanolin, penetrating spray-oil and spare cotter pins
and seizing wire. If I work really quickly, I might have this repaired by

Trying to free up the old cotter pins, removing the old turnbuckle and its
corroded pins, etc. takes more time than actually installing the
replacement turnbuckle. I sit on the side deck with my feet in the water
as we roll while I work. The replacement is plenty stout but the through-
pins are not the same size, so I have to go below and find a suitable
full-thread bronze bolt with appropriately-sized nuts. Instead of the
regulation bolt with cotter pin, I am using a bronze bolt that I double-
bolt on each side. It is not quite the right size but it at least fits
into all the right holes. Fortunately, I had greased up the threads of the
turnbuckle when I got it from EBay, so there is no problem tightening it.
As it becomes dark enough for me to have to use the miner's headlamp, the
work is pretty much done. With full darkness the wind drops to nearly
nothing and we decide to spend the night without the mainsail, reefed or
otherwise, and simply to lie ahull with the staysail sheeted in amidships.
We drift about a mile every hour, but even without a mainsail up we are
not rolling particularly badly since we are moving with the swells. When
dawn comes we will take another look and make our decisions. Without a
mainsail up, the mast doesn't creak, the boom doesn't slat and we get a
good night's sleep. First we make ourselves a dish of refried beans with
fried egg. Delicious!
We chat like there has never been a problem.

Finally about 0700 we turn out on deck. The set-up from the night before
looks good. But I make a few improvements and then mouse everything up
with cotter pins or seizing wire. The wind is up a bit compared to
yesterday, so we hoist the double-reefed main and give it a shot. Very
slow! After a couple of hours, we shake out one reef (we will not shake
out the first reef because we don't want to load the masthead). We are
able to pick up a couple of knots of speed even in the still somewhat weak
winds. The sea is still calm with only ocean swells and our course to the
waypoint in Hiva Oa is almost exactly in line with the movement of the
waves. Kathleen sets up the windvane steering and the omnipresent bungee
cords so that Vilisar stays on a course of 230-240 degrees (mag).

From all this I have learned: 1) don't side load turnbuckles; and 2) never
throw anything away. It also helps if you can see each little catastrophe
as a technical problem and not as the end of the world. It wouldn't hurt
if you have already taken the piece of system in question apart in the
past and have some spares and you have stowed them.

It is mid-afternoon on a beautiful trade winds day and we are making 3-4
knots towards Hiva Oa. We might qualify as the all-time slowest trip. But
we shall be there eventually. We might finish our Scrabble game today.
Tonight's dinner is borscht.


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