Friday, July 22, 2011

Wet Pole

Leaving Echo Bay on Sucia for Mackay Harbor.

I almost lost my pole today.  I was heading down Presidents Channel in the northern San Juans heading toward San Juan Channel towards my next destination.  Presidents Channel is fairly narrow, and the winds were flukey, and the current slightly against me.  Anyway, I was tacking back and forth making slow progress.  In this situation, its better to keep the tacks as long as possible (taking wind into account etc.) and that's what I was doing.

I was on a port tack heading toward shore.  I was trying to tack fairly close to land, but with a margin in case things go wrong.  It was time to tack and I was still using the autopilot to help - so I pushed the button.  Once again, the autopilot tack was messy.  I ended up in irons, then the sail backwinded.  At this point I was preparing to reverse the sheets again to do the tack again when I looked forward and watched my new whisker/spinnaker pole fall off my mast and slide into the water.  Oops.

The pole has two ends (wow!) one of which is a jaw which can accept a sheet and the other of which is a socket which connects to a car on the mast which can set the height of the pole.  It was being stored by being attached to the car, then drawn up the mast with the free end fitted in to a set of jaws designed for the purpose.  Everything looked like it should to me when I stowed it.  Either the flapping sail hit the socket release lever or something else happened to release the pole - because it was free and floating away.

Now I had a $2000 carbon fiber pole floating away, a backed sail, a stalled boat and no chance to perform my man overboard drills.  I decided the easiest thing was to furl the headsail, start the engine and go back to the floating pole.  The first two steps were easy, then I started motoring back to the area I thought the pole should be.  The pole is black, and so was the water.  But I finally spotted it and I made a wide turn to put the pole to my leeward.  Just as I was pulling up to the pole it started going vertical.  It was dramatic!  The timing was made for TV.  Just as I approached the pole it started going down.  I ran forward with the boat hook in hand and managed to hook the release loop on the pole on the first try just as it was submerging.  The pole was seconds from being gone forever.

Once it was hooked, I pulled it aboard and stowed it in its deck storage location.

That was the last time I've used the autopilot tack feature.  Last year I used to always tack the boat manually.  Standing in front of the wheel I can manage both sheets and reach behind to steer the boat.  However this wasn't working very well as the brake on the wheel wasn't strong enough to keep the boat on a course it was left on - it would wander.  The helm brake was rebuild in the last visit to YachtFitters though, and it works great now.  Also last year the autopilot wouldn't tack at all, which was fixed.  I've been thinking that now that I have a machine on board to help with the tacking, I should be using it.  No longer.  I've gone back to my old style of tacking and its much better.  All my tacks are much more controlled again.  Yay.  A little more refinement to my sailing techniques.

It was a beautiful day of sailing today.  Sailing into 10 to 15 knots all day.  No rain, some sunshine, a few challenges with all the traffic and narrow channels.  Good stuff.

My old plan which was a short sail to the San Juans to work on projects has been abandoned.  I'm going to make this trip longer and try to get some offshore experience.  Now I'm heading out to Neah Bay via Port Angeles.

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