Today the worst thing that can happen to a sailboat happened. We were dismasted. Despite all of our precautions, despite getting all new rigging the best that money can buy, in preparation for this Pacific crossing, we have lost our rig in the middle of the ocean, four hundred miles from land.

It was Sunday morning, our fourth day out from the Galapagos on our long-anticipated passage to the Marquesas. Jack was in the cockpit, I was below in the saloon. We were reaching in 20-22 kts in somewhat lumpy seas, uncomfortable conditions but safe and manageable. Suddenly I head a loud TWANG and looked out the window to see our starboard shroud fall down in a big coil. I ran outside just as Jack said “WHAT WAS THAT!?”

By this time I was at the edge of the cockpit climbing onto the starboard sidedeck. “We lost a shroud!”

Jack immediately started to turn us into the wind and reached over to drop the sails. I ran across the cockpit to get the spare halyard that lives on the port side to support the mast. By the time I got there the mast was tetering dangerously toward me. The spare halyard is cleated to the port side of the mast and there’s no way I can get it off without standing in the way of a wobbling mast. I ran back to tighten the starboard running backstay which was in its stored position right where the shroud had been and as I got there TWANG! it broke too. By this time Jack had released the halyards and the sails came tumbling down on deck but it was too late. A wave caught us and the wobbling mast fell overboard head first, in a mess of the sails and lines and rigging. About eight seconds had past since the shroud broke.

The mast, upside down in the water now, was held against the boat by rigging wire and lines. The boom was caught on the lifelines on the side deck, keeping the mast against the hull, working its way back and forth along the hull, pounding in the waves.

It was time for our regular morning radio check in and I told Jack I wanted to report in and get the word out in case we needed help. “Go!” he said. I briefly told net control what happened, that we had to either secure or release the rig and that I would check in in 45 minutes. Out on deck we briefly considered trying to save the boom but where it attaches to the mast was well below deck level and out of reach, and because we have a roller furler the attachment is more complicated than a simple gooseneck We would have to let the whole rig go. There was no possible way we could secure any part of it from its upside down position and we were afraid the pounding would eventually damage the hull. The problem was the boom, caught on the only lifeline stanchions that hadn’t been wiped out by the falling mast. The two of us couldn’t lift it over the top because of course we were lifting the entire rig, mast, boom and sails.

Jack grabbed the mainsheet, still attached to the end of the boom and took it forward to a turning block, then had me feed it back to the power winch. The winch did what we could not, drag the boom along the side deck until it was clear of the stanchions and we could ease it over the rail. Now at least the rig was no longer a threat to the hull, but it was still attached by the port shroud and forestay.

While Jack started on those I went below to check the bilges and do the radio check in. There was a boat not too far from us standing by in case we needed help but I assured them that we were safe, uninjured and not in any immediate danger. I also told them we had let the rig go, the worst thing you can do. If we’d been able to save the boom we could have juryrigged something to keep us going. We agreed we’d check in again in two hours.

Jack got the port shroud off and now the rig was attached to the boat by just the headstay, and the whole thing was acting like a sea anchor, holding us into the wind. I thought we should try to save the jib and the camber spar but the upper half of the jib was now wrapped around the part of the headstay that had gone over with the mast. I sawed away at the sail with a knife while Jack tried to get the pin out to release the headstay. We sat on the sail to keep it from billowing up in the wind. Then we realized that if the headstay were released we’d both be swept off the deck with the jib, because the camber spar was still attached to the stay. We stopped what we were doing and worked to detach the camber spar. With that free, I finished cutting the sail off and Jack finally got the headstay free. And with that, the rig went to its watery grave.

We gathered up the tools and went back into the cockpit to take stock. About an hour and a half had passed. We were both covered in sweat, pumped with adrenalin, exhausted. But there was one more thing to do. We went out on the starboard deck to pull in the broken shroud to see what had happened. We pulled and pulled and pulled and the whole thing came back, intact. What broke was the t-ball fitting that attached to the mast. Snapped off. This wasn’t metal fatigue or poor tuning. It was a defective part.

So now what? We have about a 1000-mile range on fuel, not enough to continue to the Marquesas. We have only a camber spar and half a jib to effect a juryrig. We are 438 miles from the Galapagos where there are no boat services, and it’s another 1000 miles to windward back to Panama. Our hearts sank.

“We have to go back,” Jack said. And I reluctantly agreed. We turned around are now motoring eastward. We don’t know what’s next but we are safe. We have plenty of food, fuel and water. We’ll figure it out.

I’m proud that we didn’t panic. We did what we had to do calmly and quickly. There’s time enough for reappraisal but for now we’re just glad we’re ok.


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39 Responses to Disaster!

  1. Jean Evans

    At least you are safe, thank God!

  2. Dave

    You two are having too much fun! Glad you’re safe!

  3. Jan

    S/V Hanna is sorry to hear of your circumstances! Glad you are OK.

  4. Linda Leppo Kallerud

    We are so sorry to read this, and our thoughts are with you both. We have been following your adventure across the web and across the seas. Linda & Rich aboard ‘Side by Side’

  5. So sorry to hear this, but glad that you are safe and have a plan to get back for repairs. Good luck!
    Viki http://www.anzacsailing.com

  6. oh i am so sorry glad to hear you are safe, but i am just sick for you

  7. Oh my! Good team work in one of the most difficult situations. We’re sending good wishes in your direction and may your journey back to land be swift and safe.

  8. SOoooo sorry. So proud of you both for not panicking, thinking things through and utilizing teamwork!!! We are glad you are safe. SV Namaste

  9. Very glad to get through that post and hear that you are both safe and unhurt. Sounds terrifying.

  10. Oh my god. we’re thinking of you all the time. And if we can do anything to help? I can’t imagine what, but anything!

  11. It’s a relief to know you’re safe, but what a terrible experience! I know how disappointing it must be for you. Where are you returning to, or do you know as yet? If there are no boat services in the Galapagos, that doesn’t seem like a good destination. Is there anywhere else within reach? In any case, I’m so glad that you are in contact with potential rescuers, should they be needed.

  12. Saw your blog through Jan Alexander on WWS. What a nightmare! Hope all goes well and will send positive vibes! We are setting off from Greece this year back to Australia so really don’t want to think about this sort of thing happening!

  13. My wife and I are extremely sad to hear that this happened, but also very happy that you are okay. I hope that you will be able to get the boat repaired within a reasonable time and get back on your journey. Best wises to you both from Oz.

  14. Anita

    Bad news. Good luck getting back to shore.

  15. Scott-Tina Ligon

    Marce & Jack – so sorry to hear of this – glad you are both safe -next to a bump in the night, our biggest fear. Have a safe trip back east – our best thoughts are with you. Scott & Tina, Sangaris

  16. So glad you are okay. So very very sad for your troubles. Stay safe.

  17. Deb

    Tim & I are so glad you’re ok. The post was absolutely frighenting to read. Can’s wait to hear that you’ve made landfall safely

  18. Ursula and Douglas

    Jack and Marce, Doug and Ursula from SV Island Explorer are thinking of you. Stay calm. Stay positive. Still recall your evening with us at Peakes when you were in fact doing all your maintenance at Power Boats. Good

  19. So sorry to hear. As relatively new Manta owners, we read the stories on Manta Forum everyday and learn from each of you. This is one of those stories we all fear. Glad that you are both ok and handled the situation as best as you could.

  20. Ed Kelly

    PUSH YOUR SPOT OK BUTTON. We can then track you. Send report every 2-3 HOURS. Last update was some time ago…at tinyurl.com/evposition on our browser.

  21. Jane DiCola

    SO SORRY. Grateful you’re safe and sound. May angels keep watch as you make your way back.

  22. Carole L Esley

    I can’t find the words to describe how sorry I am for you. As I read you account of this tragedy, I couldn’t breathe…… That you are safe is a blessing! Your final comment that the broken part was defective turned my emotions to rage!! As Jane said: “May angels keep watch as you make your way back.” If you are trackable via your spot on button, I’ll be tracking you. xoxo

  23. Flory Garsoux

    Very sorry for what happened to your mast & rigging but hopefully you are both safe! Wish you to go on cooperate & get to a safe place where you can repair Escape Velocity!

  24. So very sorry to hear about the disaster. You and Jack sounded like a well oiled team though, and thankful you are both OK.

  25. Harv

    I have been dismasted and it ain’t fun but it sure makes for good stories at the bar for many years to come. God bless you and be safe.

  26. neo culm

    Soldier on, all part of blue water life, you’ll survive and be stronger for it, well done folks, glad you’re ok. Getting back to start is good plan, shame you lost the mast though, although with that extra windage and weight you probably wouldn’t get close enough and would need assistance a hundred or so miles out. Keep the revs low and chug along and be patient and you should get within towable range. Bravo! Neptune be with you x

  27. Charles Adams

    Wow,I just replaced my upper shrouds and they have the same t fitting. I’m so sorry about you mast. Thankfully you were only four hundred miles out.

  28. Charles Adams

    Correction! You are 1000 miles from land.

  29. Don

    Thanks for sharing your story. Glad you are both safe!

  30. So sorry you lost your rigging…glad you’re OK!

  31. Glad that you are OK.

    Can you tell us who is mast/fitting manufacturer ?

  32. Cherie Mulhearn

    OMG! Thankfully you are ok and heading back. Thanks for the wonderful article we can all learn from. God be with you.

  33. judy rodenhuis

    It’s a terrible experience and you do what you have to do at the time. We had it happen between Vanuatu and the Solomons…at night of course. Be prepared for a big emotional letdown in a couple of days time. Be kind to yourselves and take each day as it comes.

  34. John Beswick

    I feel very sad that you were dismasted but I am giving thanks that this was not “the worse thing that can happen”. Had you not employed the good sense and seamanship to keep you on board and un injured, the result could have been much worse. You are alive to try again. God protects children and sailors.

  35. Andreas

    Sad to hear! I hope you will get going again! I have crossed the pacific twice the last six years and a dismasting is one of the worse things that could happen. Glad you were not in the middle of the trip. I don’t want to be the smart-ass, but 20-22kt of speed is to push that boat a little bit to much. On a boat like that you shall not push it more than 10-11kt. It´s important to be conservative when you are out there in the middle of nowhere.

  36. Oh my… Marce and Jack, I just read about your tragedy. I am so, so sorry and also so very proud of how you are handling the situation. You two are amazing souls. You are in our thoughts here on the s/v Tumbleweed. Please let us know if we can be of any assistance (with part numbers, Manta info, etc…) We are heading to Trinidad now so could possible help from there?
    Much love,
    Sara, Chris and Baby Finley

  37. Pingback:  Three years on and so much richer | Escape Velocity

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