This article was published in the April 2001
issue of the Australian Cruising Helmsman
They say cruising is all about sailing
around looking for suitable places to do repairs to your
boat. If this has to happen, then we think such a place would
mean being tied up alongside a pleasant marina in Queensland
with electricity, water and a convenient workshop nearby.
In our experience though, the serious disasters seem to happen
farthest away from your comfort zone and repair jobs become
a test of ingenuity, often with a strong reliance on local
support. But sometimes you can be lucky and meet up with
members of the cruising community when you need them most.
For us, the bad luck came in the form of a collapsed mast
step but the good luck came in being at Gizo in the North
Solomons at the same time as two Kiwi cruising yachts equipped
with all the skills and materials necessary to solve our problem.
We spent 8 years building illywhacker, our second cruising
yacht in which we indulged ourselves by ticking off all the
items laboriously entered in our "next boat" book,
an accumulation of ideas, needs and wants from the previous
9 years of cruising. There are many merits in building your
own yacht, not the least being the fact that it will be done
so well that when you finally get to go cruising nothing will
To a point that was what happened for us too. We had a years shakedown cruise from Sydney to Townsville, exploring all
the inlets and bays on the way and revelling in the comfort
and performance of our own creation. There were really very
few repairs needed over that period, mainly refinements in
the form of alterations and additions. Certainly the deck-stepped
mast required no attention with the rigging needing only minimal
adjustment after those first few thousand miles. It was the
first trip offshore from Townsville to Gizo, via the Louisiades
in PNG that really tested the construction of the boat.
In late August, "reinforced Trades" often predominate
the Coral Sea weather patterns and we experienced E/SE winds
25 to 30 knots at that time with an uncomfortable chop most
of the way on a course approximately NE. In a heavy displacement
yacht like illywhacker with all your home contents on board,
the trick in passage-making is to determine the most comfortable
speed and not try to get there in record-breaking time. We
were searching for the elusive "comfortable motion" and going a bit too fast when we experienced several almighty
shudders as we crashed from one wave to the next. There were
no serious repercussions, or so we thought, and we reached
Gizo in one piece.
It was the next evening after our arrival at happy hour when
Kiwi #1, Ron from Karaka II hoisted himself aboard using the
cap shroud, only to find that it was dangerously loose, the
cause soon being identified as a collapsed alloy mast step.
A tabernacle arrangement, it was one of those "good ideas
at the time" that was to allow controlled, but unassisted
lowering of the mast at remote locations, at a place like
Gizo! Lyndall had heard a sharp "crack" from up
on deck during the day which in hindsight must have been the
delayed last gasp as the alloy finally parted after the stresses
of the journey.
A glance along the Gizo foreshore from on board a yacht anchored
quietly to a reddening sky against the magnificent backdrop
of Kolombangara island is immensely satisfying to anyone looking
forward to a season of gentle and remote tropical cruising.
To someone seeking a well equipped workshop with a mast crane,
it presents a bleak expanse. So it was a great relief to hear
Ron say that hed experienced repairs of this sort before
and that he knew of another Kiwi yacht in the area who could
be convinced to lend a hand.
Next morning saw illywhacker firmly tied up and fendered
at the centre of a 3-boat raft-up in a tiny, secluded anchorage
a few hours from Gizo. Karaka II on one side and Platypus
on the other were fixed securely to terra firma via several
anchors and lines ashore. Using halyards from the two outer
yachts, the rigging was eased and illywhackers mast
carefully lifted a few centimeters and the broken mast step
gingerly reassembled. Local hardwood was used as packing between
the base of the mast and the deck mounting plate with the
end-grain taking the compression load, the whole assembly
then being saturated in epoxy. Terry on Platypus kindly provided
the chemicals and volunteered to apply the epoxy. The timber
and reconstituted mast step he then wrapped in glass and kevlar
and again this was saturated in epoxy. The whole operation
was completed in a few hours and the rigging was able to be
reconnected and tightened the same day, allowing us all by
sundown to get on with the serious business for which a raft-up
is intended. A few days after drying out, (the epoxy resin
sic) the repair was filled, sanded and painted.
|Timber packing is glued in place
|Glassed and drying
||Lifting illywhacker's mast using halyards
The mast now looks as though it carries through to the deck
mounting plate and when the time comes to lift it, some radical
surgery will be needed to release it and a new mast step will
be required. But thats not such a big deal really and
for us, the exercise was a pleasing example of a simple solution
well executed by 2 willing and competent cruising companions.
Our first thoughts had centred on how we could replace the
mast step with something similar, using a mast crane and facilities
as we would back home. No wonder the task seemed hopeless,
it just took a fresh mind to turn the situation around into
a simple solution using what was available.
This arrangement has carried us a further 4000 miles to Japan
were we are now enjoying a very different cruising lifestyle.
But our lives have been made richer by the memories of our
Solomon Islands adventure thanks to 2 great cruising friends.