re-post Backstay

{July 1989, 300 miles E of Rarotonga, South Pacific}

“ALL HANDS ON DECK!” and your heart stops, but your feet move, out of the bunk, into the nearest shorts, across the wet floor, thru the fallen dishes and up the main hatch. Immediately your drenched, but it’s fresh not salt, a squall, a bad one. Your pitifully underdressed, but it’s not a fashion show, no time to change – a strictly come-as-you-are crisis.

“DECK LIGHTS!” But the wind is so strong the words have to be repeated to complete their ten foot journey. After some fumbling below, the powerful mast mounted lights blare on. You force your eyes to adjust and there’s the problem. The backstay has snapped. This piece of 3/8″ braided stainless steel cable is writhing on the deck like an angry hydra, nipping at your bare feet.

“DROP THE MAIN!” Heeling severely, water is racing over the leeward deck, if another stay breaks we could be demasted – potentially life threatening. Justin moves forward to release the halyard, a two handed job.

“WAVE!”, but the warning is too late, Justin is hit from behind and slides on his back, across the deck towards the raging sea. Sputtering and flailing in the water, ultimately he grabs the life lines. If he were to go over the side now it would take five minutes to drop the main and turn the boat around. We’d travel almost a mile in that time and with these deafening winds and high seas a mile is forever. We’d never find him. He’s not wearing a safety harness, no one is, it’s not part of tonights dress code. Doc’s big hand is reaching towards Justin’s feet, but he’s too slow.

“WAVE!” but before it hits, Justin vaults over a winch and lands beside you at the mast. “I’m okay, let’s get this fucker down.” he shouts thru the gale. You can see blood mixing with rain on his shoulder. Al takes over at the halyard with Doc’s hand firmly on Al’s shoulder while he works.

“COMING DOWN!” The halyard is released, but the main does not drop. Instead, it presses against the spreaders, held up by the same 40 knot winds propelling us.

“LUFF UP!” Martin, captain at the wheel, begins to turn the boat into the wind. The sail comes alive, a drunk flying carpet, batting off anyone who tries to hold it. Everyone tries to pounce on it. Cursing the nylon burns against your hands, you can barely see in the downpour. Eventually, the sail surrenders and is tied down.

Everyone strips and throws their drenched clothes into the companion way. Drying off below the jokes are that everyone needed a shower anyway and “We can’t loose Justin til he’s done the dishes”. Justin’s arm is examined, a handful of smallish cuts and what will be a bad bruise, but there’s no ice so we all just retire to our berths. In ten minutes the rain stops, but your heart and the boat are still racing. In twenty minutes, your asleep, exhausted, but there’s no question – it wasn’t a dream.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

One response to “re-post Backstay”

  1. Scott Busby says :

    Loved reading your Sailing story! I’ve been in a couple squalls myself on a sailboat, so I know exactly what it feels like to be in that situation. Never did loose a backstay, though..

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