Light bulb takes the spotlight off Spirit of Australia

Light bulb takes the spotlight off Spirit of Australia

Hi all,

Two nights ago, one of the light bulbs on Spirit of Australia

blew. One tiny, 5p (10 cents) light bulb. The problem was that this particular light bulb is the one that illuminates the steering compass that the helmsman uses to keep the boat on course.

Unable to see the compass, the helm accidentally steered the boat into a crash-gybe, a dangerous manoeuvre where the 400kg alloy boom sweeps over the deck at incredible speed and slams against the rigging on the other side of the boat.

Luckily, the safety line we have rigged to the boom in case of a crash-gybe held the strain. It did not come sweeping over and nobody was injured. Our mainsail was not so lucky; once we had settled things down and looked up, there was a 1m vertical tear along the front edge of the sail about halfway up.

I decided to reduce sail to take the load off the damaged area. The crew responded quickly and professionally and began the sequence of reefing down the mainsail. As the sail was coming down, another problem reared its ugly head.

Our forward sail, the Yankee is attached to the forestay with a set of brass clips, called hanks, which are evenly spaced about 1m apart up the front edge of the sail. These hanks bear the load of the sail evenly.

As we were reefing the mainsail, the very top hank on the Yankee snapped off. This put twice as much load on the next hank down and it snapped off too, which led to the third snapping off and so on. The rest of the hanks snapped off like a zipper going down leaving the sail free-flying and flogging uncontrollably above the deck. It took 12 brave crew five minutes to wrestle the sail down, arms and bodies aching and bruised.

After we had lashed the sail to the deck with every spare piece of rope on board, we turned our attention back to the mainsail and reefed it down to its smallest and least powerful setting and sailed on like this for the rest of the night.

Yesterday morning, Bob "the builder" Bell — Spirit of Australia’s boat engineer — and myself set about repairing our damaged mainsail.

We donned harnesses and spent nearly eight hours up the rig, stitching, lashing, bolting, sawing and generally doing our best to jury rig a repair which would stop the tear becoming any worse before Cape Town.

It was hard work up there. Bob and I were violently thrown around like rag dolls at times as the boat lurched over the swell. We finished the repair at about 11pm.

So, now we are looking down the barrel of penalty points for sail repair and a general drop in confidence among the crew. Hopefully the damage can be repaired quickly and cheaply in Cape Town and we can find our racing stride again in these last few days.

All for the sake of a 5p (10 cents) light bulb.

— Brendan Hall,
Skipper, Spirit of Australia