We were facing yet another day of wind less than 5 kts on the nose, motoring slowly on a flat sea. It sounded like a perfect time to attempt a mid-ocean repair on the jib. The darn thing is complicated by a big curved spar that fits into a pocket in the sail, attaches to the forestay on one end and the sheet at the back, making the sail self-tending and self-shaping. Hard to describe. The important thing is that because of this spar we can’t just drop the sail, wrestle it over and stitch up the torn bits.
The good news is that without wind it’s just hanging like laundry so we think maybe we can sew it in situ, one of us on one side, one on the other, passing the needle back and forth. I got out the sewing kit, Jack dug up the sail repair material and we went forward to asses the situation.
One thing to know about catamarans is that most of them don’t have solid front decks but rather open spaces between the hulls spanned with heavy netting called trampolines. This keeps the weight down, and the tramps make great places for sunning. They don’t make great places for standing with a sharp needle in your hand while bobbing along in the ocean.
I told Jack I thought we should just take this old rag down and put on our new jib. With that we both gathered the tools we’d need, looked up the appropriate pages of the manual, planned the disassembly of the lazy jacks and the spar and set to work. It went so well for a while.
We got the old jib off, oriented the new one so we could get the spar in the pocket without too much ado. I guided it in one end and Jack reached deep into the other end to guide it out. “I feel like a large animal veterinarian,” he said, buried up to his shoulder in the spar pocket.
Now the hard part. Two people, one bolt, four washers, a nut, a heavy spar with a wheel on the end that has to line up with the headstay while attaching two grommets on the sail. Then, with both of us hanging over the bow wrestling the parts together, the one crucial irreplaceable part squirted out of my hand and dove to a watery grave.
I can’t believe I did that. Neither could Jack, and he let me know about it in oh, so many colorful ways. For what seemed like a long time.
But life is short and we’re in the middle of the ocean and here’s this beautiful new jib — hey, wait a minute! It’s just a jib. We can fly it without the stupid camber spar, I told Jack. But he was still inconsolable so I set about figuring how to attach the self-tending sheet thingy when another idea hit me. A shackle could replace the part I lost! I said this to Jack, who immediately rejected the idea but set about unearthing our shackle inventory anyway, God bless him.
He came up with four. One was clearly too large, two were a bit too long to keep the end of the spar against the forestay, but the fourth, now that one might work! We checked it out and sure enough, it was the perfect length, but the opening was a millimeter or two too small. Jack test fitted it over and over. It was a tight squeeze, and we have to do this while hanging over the bow. But at this point it’s our best option, so we go for it. And Jack got out a more serious persuader. “Frank taught me this,” he said, as he wielded a big wrench. Jack’s dad Frank taught him everything he knows about tools, mostly that bigger is better.
Duly armed, we got into our precarious positions on the bow and wrestled and wrangled and pounded and cursed until the shackle submitted and was bolted around the forestay to the spar. Success! We hanked on the rest of the sail and installed the battens. By this time we were exhausted.
“That was step one,” I said. Jack looked up in shock.
“We still have to figure out the lazy jacks.” These are lines that cradle the sail when we drop it so it doesn’t fall all over the deck, or worse, overboard in high winds. We discovered that our new sail is lacking certain crucial attachment points for the lazy jacks so we just had to wing it. Same with the downhaul, the line that helps us pull down the sail.
And then the moment of truth. We attached the halyard and raised her up. Woo-hoo! Nothing beats a nice new sail, and even with a jury-rigged spar attachment, she looks great. Three hours had gone by. Every toolbox and bin on the boat was strewn about but we had our great make-it-work moment. We spent some time straightening up, then looked at the chart and the wind.
Little wind, still on the nose. That nice new sail isn’t getting us anywhere.