Rigging Failure on Belle Argo

Summary: Handling a forestay rigging failure while sailing through the Bay of Quinte aboard "Belle Argo", a classic wooden Dickerson 32' Aft Cockpit ketch.  Thanks to Collins Bay Marina for their help.

You may want to check out our Selected Books section under the Cruising - How To Cruise category for books covering the things you need to think about to make a trip and effect some of the repairs mentioned below.


In August of 2002, I sailed my previous boat, “Belle Argo”, a Dickerson 32’ Aft Cockpit Ketch from Hamilton to the 1000 Islands in Lake Ontario via the inland Bay of Quinte route.

The Bay of Quinte is actually made up of a number of long, narrow, arms laid out in a zigzag pattern with a natural connection to the lake at its eastern end, and a four nautical mile manmade canal (the Murray Canal) at its western end.

The winds in the area tend to funnel down into the narrow channels and accelerate, so sailing, particularly from west to east, following the prevailing winds, can be very good and, at times, exciting.

On this trip, I had Angi’s son Malcolm along for the ride as crew, and we had been having a good, uneventful, cruise over a few days, eventually finding ourselves anchored for the night at Ram Island, just off Long Reach (one of the narrow arms that makes up the Bay of Quinte).

The next morning dawned fair with a brisk SW wind, which was perfect for us as we were planning on making a fairly short hop over to Prinyer Cove, a popular and well-protected anchorage to the east.

We got under way, motoring out of the anchorage and into Long Reach. We had a short way to go until rounding the corner at Picton Bay, making a left towards Adolphus Reach. The wind was blasting at us, right on the nose, so we decided to motor the half-mile or so until we and the wind made our turn (the wind in the area tends to follow the length of the channels, giving you either headwinds or tailwinds most of the time).

As we got nearer our turning point, I raised the mizzen and then went forward to raise the jib while Malcolm steered. The winds at this point were blasting at us in the 40 to 50 knot range, so running jib and jigger would allow us to make fantastic time.

I raised the jib, and as it thundered away I made my way back towards the cockpit to take a few turns around a winch to calm it down. Before I could get back to the cockpit, there was a tremendous bang, and all hell broke loose at the bow.

I realized almost immediately that the forestay had parted, and saw that the jib and jib boom were bashing away at the mast and rig. The only thing holding the mast up were the forward shrouds, and they were attached to the mast at the spreaders – the entire upper part of the rig was now unsupported, being pushed by the wind and battered by the flailing jib and boom, with the wooden mast threatening to break at the spreaders.

I dove back into the cockpit, put the helm hard over and turned the boat to run dead downwind in order to put wind and sail pressure on the mast from behind where the intact backstays would take the strain with no trouble.

Once that was accomplished and Malcolm had taken over the helm again with strict instructions (which he carried out perfectly and surprisingly calmly considering he was only about 14 or so at the time) to keep the wind dead behind us, I went forward to figure out what to do next.

The problem was, because of the way the jib boom was attached to the forestay, the entire apparatus – sail, forestay, jib, boom, and sheet – was now flying about 10 feet ahead of the bow, 10 or more feet in the air, and zooming back and forth with tremendous force, driven by the very strong winds.

I couldn’t get near it without risk of being killed (no exaggeration there – getting smashed by the jib boom as it rocketed from one side of the boat to the other would be life-threatening at best), and the only way of getting it back to the deck was to grab the tail end of the jib sheet which had pulled through all the way to the block (thank goodness for the figure of eight stopper knot in it!).

I figured I’d give a try manhandling it down by timing each oscillation of the sail from one side of the boat to the other and heaving in on the sheet when the pressure was at its least. After a few minutes of struggling with it, I had brought in about six or eight feet of the sheet and had managed to brace myself against the main mast for protection from the jib boom and for some additional leverage.

Unfortunately, a particularly strong gust caught me a bit off guard. I was yanked forward, smashing my left hand into the mast and then streaming all six or eight feet of rope through it at a high speed. The result was fairly painful. I was left with no skin on my palm and fingers where the rope had whistled through my hand, and no skin and a fairly deep cut on the knuckles of my left hand.

And now I was back at square one again – Aaargh!

So starting again from scratch, but now too injured to manhandle anything, it was time to start getting smart (which I should have done right from the beginning!). That consisted of attaching a spare line to the end of the jib sheet, running it back to a cockpit winch, and using the winch’s mechanical advantage to gradually crank the jib back down to the deck.

Once that was done, I went forward and tied it all down securely to the deck. I then unclipped the main halyard from the mainsail with the idea of running it forward to the deck and using the main halyard winch to tension it so that it would act as a temporary forestay. But it wasn’t going to be that simple…

The main halyard was all wire with the bitter end attached to a halyard winch purpose-built for wire. It chose that moment to slip its clamps. As I pulled it forward by the other end, the winch end let go, the wire snaked its way up the mast, and once it got started, gravity took over and the whole thing flowed through the masthead block and flaked down onto the deck.

Aarrrgh times two!

The next option was a bit nerve racking for me since I’m not a big fan of heights (I’ll go aloft when I need to, but I don’t have to like it!) at the best of times and now the rig was rather unstable. I took a stout spare line, climbed the ratlines to the spreaders and tied a rolling hitch as far above the spreaders as I could reach. After climbing back down to the deck I took a turn around the foredeck’s Sampson post and, using a trucker’s hitch, tensioned the mast forward.

At this point we were just about back to the bay off Long Reach where we spent the previous night, and I felt the mast was now stable enough to survive turning into the bay, putting the bow into the wind, and anchoring for repairs and a bit of first aid on my hand.

After dropping the admiral (a 35lb. Herreshoff-style admiralty/fisherman’s anchor) and shutting down the engine, we cleaned and bandaged my hand – nothing broken but it was swelling and sans quite a lot of skin – I still have the scars on my knuckles from it! Then we set to rummaging for spare parts to fix the forestay.

I didn’t have a spare turnbuckle large enough to make due for the forestay, but did have a small one that I could swap for one of the mizzen turnbuckles. The mizzen turnbuckle, in turn, went to the forestay – it was a bit light for the job, but it only had to survive until Kingston where we’d visit a chandlery and replace it with a proper one.

While at the repairs, I discovered the cause of the forestay turnbuckle failure:
The jib and jib boom were attached via a gudgeon-looking bronze fitting through which the upper part of the bronze turnbuckle screw passed. The jib was tacked to the bronze fitting, and the jib boom was attached to it as well. The turnbuckle failed at the point where the upper turnbuckle screw passed into the body of the turnbuckle – that’s why, when it let go, that the entire apparatus took to flying around – the jib wasn’t tacked to the deck but rather to the upper part of the turnbuckle.

When I acquired the boat, the bronze fitting was bolted onto the jib boom, and I left it as it was, rigging the boat in the same way as I had found it. After some investigation, it turned out that the bronze fitting was attached to the jib boom upside down (!), causing some torque to be placed onto the upper turnbuckle screw whenever the jib boom lifted beyond a certain range of motion, when, for example, going downwind. The bronze turnbuckle screw eventually suffered metal fatigue and let go.

Needless to say, I re-rigged it the right way around!

Here's a shot of Belle Argo, forward of the mizzen, later on during the cruise with the forestay turnbuckle replaced and the jib boom attached properly.  You can see that the jib tacks down to the boom fitting and not the deck.  You'll also notice an extra safety strap from the upper turnbuckle screw to the deck - just in case...!

Once we had things put back together again (both me and the boat), we hoisted the anchor, set out again, and managed to successfully turn the corner and sail downwind under mizzen alone (an odd sail choice, but I wasn’t confident about using the jib with the undersized replacement turnbuckle, and the main halyard was laying on deck and I wasn’t in any condition to climb the mast to re-rig it) making about 5 knots – definitely a lot of wind that day.

We made it to Prinyer Cove with little additional drama, anchoring just before a thunderstorm passed over us. The next morning we set out for Kingston.

Along the way, we stopped off at the Collins Bay Marina where we had our main halyard fixed. The marina staff were very kind to us, directing us via VHF radio to their mast crane, and one of them used the crane to go aloft and reeve the halyard back through the masthead block so we’d have a mainsail again – and they didn’t want to accept any money for the service!

I did manage to convince the fellow who dangled from the crane for us to accept a gratuity, but in turn he asked us to wait for a moment, and when he returned, he had a handful of nylon Collins Bay Marina sail ties for us (which I still have) - Very nice!

Quite a few years have passed since they did this for us, but I haven’t forgotten it, and am glad now to have a forum on which to mention it – definitely stop in there to visit if you’re in the area!

From Collins Bay, we meandered along to Kingston where we replaced the forestay turnbuckle with an appropriately-sized one, and Malcolm was picked up, ending his cruise with me.

After a few more minor adventures, I completed the cruise sailing solo via Main Duck Island and taking the open water route back down the length of the lake to Hamilton.


© Copyright 2008 David S. Malar and Angelika Jardine. All rights reserved.
Home - www.selfmadesailor.com

Website Design and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by VentureIT.ca