Hello, I'm Henry.  

Welcome aboard my blog's home. 

If you come along with me, you'll become acquainted with my motley mates and faithful crew:

Experiences, Sightings, Observations, Impressions, Ideas, Reflections, Remembrances, Insights and Commentary.

They, after all, have accompanied me for as long as I can recall. Their tenure has helped me turn my tiller, fill my sails, and transport me over seas to distant lands. Maybe if you take the time to get to know them, a few will do the same for you.

Click this way and scroll along if you please...Enjoy your stay.   

Storm Headsail Changes

Threading a Needle While Riding a Roller Coaster - Part I
June 16-17 1976
Reindeer's 1976 Transatlantic Voyage
Blog Entry #7

Leg #2 of Reindeer's transatlantic passage
(1600 nautical miles from Newfoundland to Iceland)
- a 10-day passage averaging 6.6 miles per hours through 4 gales.
Like needy, neurotic Nellies, all sails require attention. Left unattended, they can lead to huge problems. Whenever the wind's velocity and/or direction changes, sails probably need to be trimmed and sometimes replaced. While trimming a mainsail or a jib requires some moderate strength, coordination and understanding with a winch and a winch handle, adjusting a sail can be accomplished relatively easily without venturing further than the vessel's cockpit. However changing a headsail is another matter. It requires a crew member fitting and buckling himself with a life harness outside his foul weather gear. Snapping and unsnapping to the lifelines as he moves toward the mast carrying the new sail bag and holding on to anything tied down as every significant wave challenges every attempt to inch toward the bobbing bow.    

Originally, Reindeer was built as a racing / cruising vessel so she had no pansy-ass jib roller-furler rig that is typically controlled from the helm. Reindeer carried 7+ different genoas and jibs for light air to storm conditions, all of which require a crew member to connect a replacement sail at the base of the forestay and then disconnect the old sail while underway.  While we never used any of Reindeer's light breeze sails during these ten tumultuous days, we used each of the heavy weather ones numerous times. Usually the axiom is the stronger the wind the smaller the sail. While there was some comfort knowing that when the wind increased, a smaller sail would be at least easier to manage to get up on deck. But the real challenge always came when the individual on watch who wasn't steering was designated the sail-changer.
Red jib sail bags waiting below
their turn on the forestay. 

We had eight people on board but only three 2-person watches. Each watch was on deck for 4 hours and then off duty for 8 hours. (Toby Garfield's wife, Paula, was sick below and barely got out of her bunk the whole trip while Newbold navigated and slept when he wanted.) Usually the two on watch took turns steering and tending to the sails and helping as lookout. Both tasks required full attention and continual balance. And because I had exerted so much energy during my watch, I either "slept" or ate during my 8 hours off.

 During this leg of our voyage two of these sails became so tattered or torn, they were useless to us until they were repaired ashore. If we had run out of sails, we most likely would have become below deck seamstresses. I am glad I did not have to discover how effective or ineffective our sewing and sail mending skills were in the hurricane conditions. I can only surmise, the stitching would have been erratic at best.

Staying in chapter 4 of Down Denmark Straits, Newbold wrote "In weather of this sort, the watch on deck usually keeps active adjusting the sails. Even the helmsman gets good exercise. Down below it is dry and comfortable, but in a storm the noise outside and the shuddering of the whole hull can be intimidating to those on the off-watch. 

These were the type of shackles we had to
snap on or unsnap from the forestay
while the bow bobbed up and down
in 36 degree water and with deck-sweeping
waves pushing us away from the bow
about twice every minute.
Not sure what boat or pleasure cruise Newbold was sailing on or if his memory failed him when he wrote this passage for his book. I have a slightly different version of his "dry and comfortable" experience below deck. How about damp, sweaty, smelly, chilly, rocky, noisy....damn uncomfortable! A typical prison cell would have felt more like a room at a Hilton Hotel in comparison.
(More graphic detail coming in another blog entry about the thrills of surviving below deck for the off-watch crew members. It was another adventure that needs telling!)

Newbold finished that paragraph with, "Sometimes you find yourself praying that all holds together. The worst noise comes when the hulls drops off a big wave and smacks the surface many feet below, like a falling elevator hitting the basement." 

Years ago, but long after my experience sailing on Reindeer, I was seated on a plane flying to Bermuda when the craft hit some mid-flight turbulence. All of the passengers on the plane had been eating their lunch at that time when all of a sudden the plane inexplicably dropped straight down. As if in slow motion each passenger's food tray appeared to be floating above each seat for a few seconds only to come crashing down seconds later. Newbold was accurate about the elevator, but that helpless,empty floating, gasping stomach near throat feeling one experiences riding down a rollercoaster is what it felt like each time I ventured to the bow to make a sail change.

With the winds nearing 50 knots and frequently gusting to 75, the water temp near freezing, the waves reaching top of the mast height, and Reindeer sailing close-hauled into and over these giant swells, getting to the bow pulpit was a minor victory while attaching each snap shackle felt monumental. Maybe similar to what a mountain climber feels when his fingers finally find a firm enough grip on an overhanging crag to pull him just a little higher towards the summit. In fact, changing sails may be one of the most challenging tasks aboard any sailing vessel, especially in "unsettled waters". And we had more than that. We had "double-troubled waters" to face. I equate the headsail changes to attempting to thread a needle while I riding a wild and angry animal. A rollercoaster may be too tame a comparison.

More detail of my headsail change experience in the next blog. And my fear of being washed overboard!
Movements on Dry Land

Movements on Dry Land

Birds Fascinate