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

Day 671 [Aug. 4/10 JST] -- Reports trickle in on Saito-san's latest saga

Today's Report
Aug. 4/10 0800 JST 

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

Reports and photos have been trickling in from Hawaii that showed how close Saito-san came to losing Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji last week, not to the weather and seas of the moment, but to the extremes the vessel -- and the skipper -- have faced over the past months and years.

There were smaller problems that could be handled, and were, which became known even before he left. During the first sea trial, a scorched exhaust tube fell apart when engine RPMs were applied, and that was the first indication of damage from overheating that occurred weeks earlier from a failed impeller. The tubing was fixed, but then once he was on his way a blockage of the same cooling circuit and the loss of another impeller silenced the engine about 5 days out from Hawaii.

Saito-san has rounded the globe in races four times before sans engine, so that was no great shakes. But then a leak sprung and for a time it appeared impossible to completely close a balky seacock, resulting in the stark possibility that the leak could suddenly become much, much larger. The electric bilge pump that had passed inspection a few weeks earlier had also stopped working, so Saito-san was forced to resort to a manual pump.

And then his back began hurting, and now it had become a cyclical problem, this time involving the most critical "system" on board -- the skipper himself. The more he had to pump, the worse his back. The more he had to rest, the more seawater would collect to be pumped, as much as 200 strokes a session, in the hot, airless confines of the engine room.

The difficult decision was made for a "U turn" back to Hawaii before he had gone too far -- a term that in a sailboat is entirely relative -- as in relative to the winds and seas and currents.

So what had been a nice wind at his back was now a strong headwind, and what had been a virtual bee-line back to Japan became a crabbing, frequently tacked slog against the elements. When he finally did make it back he had sailed three miles for every one in the direction he wanted to go. And the distance of 500 nm that took 6 days to achieve going out required 15 for the excruciatingly slow return.

All seemed fine, regardless, but then the slamming of multiple, half-controlled tacks began to have its affect on the standing rigging. In normal conditions, a skipper yells commands to his several crew, who all have their own jobs to carry out during a tack. The commands ("Ready about!") are signals, actually, to let each know when the helm is to be brought around ("Hard alee!"), then the eye of the wind passes across the bow, the sheets are freed, then tightened at just the right moment, and the jib slips smoothly to the lee side and resumes its job. It's one of the most exhilarating and beautiful maneuvers you'll see on a well-crewed sailing yacht.

All that is the stuff of teamwork, and through the crew's much-practiced effort the sails and rigging are spared most of the slamming forces of the wind. Such tacks are easy and usually problem-free.

But to a solo skipper, there's no such teamwork, and especially when there is no engine to help the vessel pivot through the eye of the wind, there ARE no "easy" tacks. And over time it can take a toll on the rigging, the furling system, the sails, and the skipper.

Tomorrow we'll post some pictures that show the sort of damage that can occur, along with assessments from Team Hawaii, our volunteers there.

Here's one comment we received from Dave Cooper soon after he had brought NBSDIII into port at the end of a "very long" 54 nm upwind tow.

Aloha Hunter, at noon today I visited a much rested Saito-san. He was in very good spirits after the long ordeal of working his way back upwind to Oahu only to be frustrated by the broken backstay a few short miles from the barn.

We traded a big bear hug and hearty handshake. I had thought it was humorous that he hadn’t realized that I was the one towing him in and the boat was Swan Song. He has been aboard her when he was here but of course didn’t board from the stern. That was about the only part of her that he saw for the long tow back! He apologized for not making the connection in his mind. None required!

Tomorrow Ed will bring him to the monthly Hawaii Yacht Club monthly breakfast. Saito, it seems, likes to cruise our waters so what better group to be a part of. Most will be quite surprised at his presence as they aren’t aware of the saga of his return! We’ll take care of that pretty easily though.

Meanwhile he sure has a smile on his face!


So please stay tuned. There's more to follow from Dave, Ed, and Scott over the next several installments of the Daily Log.