We’d both hardly taken a breath upon setting the sails, when…POP!!!! The headsail let go at the mast head and tumbled down into the sea?!!
I scrambled to the bow, followed by Crystal, and we heaved the wet mess aboard. Swell proceeded to drift quietly in the light wind, while Crystal and I stood there holding the sail, rather dazed…
Upon inspection, it was clear that the threads of the strapping that held up the top of the sail had simply given out, probably thanks to a year and a half in the tropical sun…The sail itself was on its last leg anyway—the non-Dacron material delaminating in all the high-wear areas. I had a few smaller sails we could put up, but the problem was that when the sail fell, it left the halyard swivel for the roller furler at the top of the mast. This meant one thing: someone had to go up and get it.
Being so close to the pass, and thus the calm interior of the lagoon, I didn’t think twice. “We have to turn back,” I told Crystal sadly. “I have to go up the mast and we’re be better off to go back and get resituated and then restart again tomorrow…but we’ll have to wait until the tide changes to get back in.”
I turned Swell around and we drifted slowly back in the direction of the pass. I sat down on the deck to think…”This weather won’t last long. If we wait another day, we might not be able to go at all. I know Crystal is looking forward to seeing another island, and the swell that is on the way will touch there, but not here…”
As the minutes passed, I realized how relatively calm it was with the main up and shadowed from swell in our proximity to the atoll. Confidence spouted up from my intuition.
“I think I can do it.” I said.
“Do what?” Crystal replied.
“Go up the mast.” I affirmed. “I’ve never done it at sea, but these are about the calmest conditions I can imagine. That way we can put up another sail, and continue on our way…”
After some re-assuring, Crystal liked the plan, so we dug the bosun’s chair out of the lazerette and set it up for my trip to higher elevations.
“Crick. Criiiiiiiiiiiick. Criiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick.” Screeched the ratchet of the block and tackle, my feet suddenly lifted off the deck and I scrambled to clutch the stays as the boat swung to port. “Crick, criiiiiiiiick, criiiiiiick…” We worked together, Crystal pulling on the falls line and me easing the weight with my arms and legs as I monkeyed up the mast. Suddenly I looked around at my bird’s eye view, the sea was a sheet of royal satin and the palm-lined coral stretched both east and west as far as I could see. Lovely, but I didn’t spend much time pontificating as my hands trembled and body clung to the mast. The roll of the swell that was felt down on deck had to be quadrupled up there. I worked quickly and with adrenaline-enhanced precision as nausea crept up my core. One last glance at what my feathered friends see, and I was on my way down with the halyard swivel…
Crystal steadied me the last few feet and soon I was back on deck—sea-sick, sweaty, but thrilled that it was successfully over. I dug out the sail that my brother had brought down a year earlier, and we pointed Swell into the wind, and hauled it up the furler track.
Two solid hours later, we were spent, thirsty, and sun-burned, but the simple joy of forward motion towards our destination was enough to get us smiling again…