Yachting Monthly blogger, Jonty Pearce, shares his tales from the boating world. This week he explains sailwhipping

One of the problems of being a busy GP living three hours away from our boat is that we have to schedule our diaries a long way ahead. Our planned visit to recommission Aurial for the season was set for just before Easter. This was all very well, except that the weather forecast had not taken notice of our diaries and had itself commissioned gales for the same period – we had requested gentle zephyrs and warm sun.

Whilst there are many jobs that can be completed in the warmth of the cabin, refitting the sails is not one of them. This year I was fortunate to have Carol on board whose help, when not asleep below, made feeding the genoa into its roller reefing groove so much easier. It was a straightforward job except for the wind which eagerly grasped the clew and its sheets to take sadistic pleasure in ‘sailwhipping’ me around the head while I winched. Finally the job was done and we were able to tame the beast by rolling it away. Oh joy, and a cuppa tea.

The next task was persuading the mainsail’s bolt-rope back into its groove on the boom. The complication here is that the stackpack has a central thin section meant to be wrapped around the bolt-rope as the pair are simultaneously pulled along the boom and fed in at the mast end – a job requiring more than the four hands we possessed. Design shortcomings of this system mean that there is not enough room to bundle up the stackpack over the boom by the mast whilst leaving a suitable angle for the sail to be fed in. We ended up with the sail to port and the stackpack to starboard, and managed remarkably well despite the unwelcome attention of the gusts insistent on blowing the whole caboosh into the trees. After another rewarding cup of tea, it was time for Carol’s next snooze below while I fed the sail slides into the mast groove, pulling on the halyard until the 3rd reef was exposed. I was then able to route the reefing line through the cringle and down through the stackpack zip before trying to remember how to tie a perfection loop onto the boom fitting, whilst being continually sailwhipped again by the gale. Repeating this pastime for the second and first reefs, each time revealing more and more mainsail hoist to the ravening wind, was not a pleasant experience, but amazingly I made no errors (I hope) and, with another sigh of relief, zipped it all safely away.

Which only left the mizzen which, being the size of a dinghy mainsail, was easier to manage even though the wind still managed to flick one of the gooseneck nuts over the stern, nearly followed by my favourite mole grips. The final deck jobs were to refit the dodgers and sprayhood, both buffeted by the breeze until blessed calm was finally attained once they were in place.

Feeling chilly now, I started up the Eberspacher diesel heater. Wherein lies a story. On the previous visit I had cleverly (I thought) installed a 10L paraffin tank for the heater. Eberspachers tend to coke up after prolonged running on red diesel, and an evening fuelled by paraffin has an effective decoking effect. A few years ago I had added a second fuel pump on a changeover switch to enable simple alternation of diesel or paraffin. It had worked perfectly, sucking the paraffin out of the supplied 4L plastic container through a pipe shoved through the drilled lid. However, I did not consider that just tucking the paraffin container into a corner of the lazarette was a secure arrangement, and had screwed a purpose built tank to the lazarette wall. When we had arrived on Aurial at 10pm the night before I discovered that the bottom seam of my nice new tank had leaked all over the insulation covering the heater hose to the main cabin. No worry, thought I, and switched to diesel as the tank was now empty.

In no time Carol complained about a mist of paraffin vapour that soon pervaded the saloon. We opened all the hatches to the gale, but the boat still stank of paraffin – so Carol slept in the car, while I found that the aft cabin with the hatch open was bearable. I suspect that some paraffin must have pooled inside the heater duct somewhere – despite running it most of the next day it was barely acceptable by the time Norrie and Hutch came for supper and too much wine – the latter compounded by the arrival of Jeremy and Janet bearing yet more wine and whisky. Gladly, the alcohol fumes soon overcame the paraffin, and Aurial now smells pure.

Gales may be a menace during commissioning, but there’s nothing like them for ventilating the ship!


Jonty Pearce