Day 672 [Aug. 5/10 JST] -- The "storm" that never quite came

Today's Report
Aug. 5/10 0800 JST 

Position:  21°16'N, 157°52'W (Honolulu)

There are different ways to describe the past three weeks:

"A cascade of smaller problems becoming bigger ones."

"A gravity storm."

Or, simply, just plain "bad luck."

Fortunately, the gravity storm -- one rigger's graphic term for what occurs if the mast becomes dangerously unsupported and comes crashing down -- never happened. Not that it wasn't about to, though, from all indications.

Here's the shot Dave Cooper sent of the jib forestay. That's its top, just short of the mast peak. The forestay is the most crucial of the two steel-wire support cables in the foredeck area. The other is the inner stay.

The forestay broke with a bang in the pre-dawn hours Thursday, leaving the mast perilously held up by what you can see in the second picture -- a bit of fraying rope.

That's the inner stay, attached by Saito-san with a piece of old line 8 days earlier after the stay's connecting pin was lost. The rope was only meant to keep the stay from flailing about, since the jib forestay was then in good shape, or at least thought to be.

Dave wrote:
Good shot of that homebuilt inner stay toggle [the rope].

You can see that the lower end is shiny where it was pulling the cotter pin thru to sever it. As this was a new clevis pin I doubt it failed. However the space is too large on the toggle for the deck tang so the toggle moves around on the pin. The last cotter pin was nearly severed on both this and the bottom headstay toggle for the same reason. 

The fitting had spread open and tiny jerking movements under extreme loads further weakened the connectors as time passed and forces increased, eventually causing the thick stainless steel pin to fall out.

So the inner stay didn't actually break 8 days earlier -- it disconnected itself. And due to the heavy stresses on the mast and rigging out at sea, the pin could not be safely replaced by Saito-san without the assistance of crew. Several crew.

We don't have a photo of the adjustable double backstays, which were described by Saito-san during his emergency Iridium call as suddenly "loosened" (or de-tensioned). "I don't know what happened," he told us at the time. "I can't see."

That would have been the moment the jibstay broke in the dark of night.

What he did then was partly from instinct but mostly from long experience.

He knew to quickly drop all sails and use the mainsail, staysail, and genoa halyards to substitute for the broken / loosened steel wire cables. Various lines, including even the mainsail boom topping lift, quickly formed a spider's web of rope support.

It turned out to be enough -- just enough -- to get him back to port under tow.

Here's how NBSDIII looked on arrival, with the partially furled genoa limp on the deck.

So a cascade of problems most certainly did occur. The engine, lost to a blocked cooling circuit and destroyed impeller. The inner stay's toggle connector pin, which worked free after its locking pin sheared or simply fell out. The jib forestay, snapped after too much back-and-forth slamming of the mast in headwinds and opposing swells. And the skipper, using every trick gained over 35 years of sailing, yet nursing a bad back and becoming increasingly exhausted. One thing leading to another.

But the mast stayed up. All 52 feet of it.

Again to quote Dave Cooper, after he and Ed Abbot had towed Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji 54 miles into port:

Here are the first pictures I’ve taken of some of the issues on Nicole BMW. Again I must say that the rattlesnake rattle from the shaman is really working. I’ve seen rigs on the deck with a lot fewer issues in a lake, yet he was sailing on the open Pacific in the swell, wind and wind waves. Incredible!

As far as luck goes, if you believe in a rabbit's foot, or in a Texas rattlesnake charm, who is to say this was not evidence of the "good" variety? At least that looming gravity storm never quite came.

But another storm did. Yesterday, Dave sent this further note:

Unfurling the [genoa] sail will take 4 guys and some calm winds...gusting 25 and raining today. Big south swell tomorrow so nobody will be at work. 

So Saito-san maybe will get some rest.

Saito-san just before his Yokohama departure in 2008, with the  
good luck charm he's carried on his last two circumnavigations