Mid-ocean foul-up of cut sheet

Sailing schoolby Mike Perham, 17, jumped overboard in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to free a fouled mainsheet from his rudders.

‘I think I tempted fate after yesterday’s blog about settling into a routine! Today turned out to be one of the most action-packed I’ve had so far.

It started out dull enough – I was almost totally becalmed for most of today; it’s been tough only doing one or two knots in the same amount of breeze. I’ve been flying the genneker recently and after yet the direction changed and the speed picked up ever so slightly, I banged in a gybe to help Totallymoney.com move that extra 0.1 of a knot.

I saw the clouds starting move away – good news – as a sign of increasing winds and sure enough it suddenly picked up to a beautiful 8knots, which was very welcome! But then my genneker sheet managed to wrap itself around one of my stern rudders! The steering suddenly became very sticky, and the pilot started to struggle.

I spent around 15minutes trying to hook the line off where it was caught under the rudder but it just wasn’t budging so I had to cut the sheet at the clew of the sail and furl away the sail using the other sheet to keep the tension on. I couldn’t have a flagging sail, as that’s very unhealthy for both sail and rig.

As the newly-cut line fell into the water from the clew of the sail it floated under the boat and then got wrapped around my other rudder. Not fair! Luck really wasn’t going my way. It should have just floated due aft and hung behind the boat making it easier to untangle from the one rudder but no, it decided to somehow drift off 20ft to the left and wrap itself around my port rudder as well as the starboard one it was already tangled round!

I tried every possible way I could think of to get this line off my rudders, which by now had started to make odd noises as the rope was pushed into the tight space where the rudder moves over continually. I tried using my deck brush to push the line down, sailing the boat backwards, using other lines to pull it from the bow, using a section of my anchor chain to try and get it to fall straight down with the added weight but none of these worked – much to my frustration!
If anything they probably made it worse. My steering was now pretty much totally jammed up and I had to head to wind in a kind of very slow upwind position. Thankfully it was blowing only about 9knots, nice and light and easy to handle.

The afternoon was getting late; I didn’t have much daylight left, so I decided the only thing I could do was to jump in and untangle it myself using my hands and if I needed to, cut it off totally.

I need my steering system to sail and it’s something I really can’t do without. I stripped down to just my boxers, put on a harness, got a good line set up, which I tied myself too and with one knife taped to my harness and another in hand I jumped in from the stern and set about sorting this mess. I’m a strong swimmer so I had no problem in keeping myself in a good position by the rudders.

As the pilot couldn’t handle the steering, I was moving the rudders myself from under the water to keep me in a very slow upwind position doing around 1.5knots, which is nothing.

The sheet was jammed in much worse than I had imagined and it had managed to slot itself in past the gap between the skeg and rudder and was firmly set against the rudder and the external plates for the skeg. I could see it was being pinched by the rudder and so I wasn’t surprised that my earlier attempts had been useless.

I took a few deep breaths before diving underneath Totallymoney.com. I spent about thirty seconds at a time trying to both cut the rope away and get it out of its pinched position.

I tried to put the unpleasant feeling of seawater on my eyes (which I hate) out of my mind and pressed on. After about 40minutes I thought: “Well this really is a pain in the arse, but hey, something good for the blog tonight!”

Finally the lines were free. My lovely nice sheet with it’s special anti chafe cover was now in pieces and totally useless for genneker flying but hey, at last I had the steering back. The sun set just as I climbed out the water back onto the boat so if it had taken much longer it would have been dark – which doesn’t bear thinking about!

Once out of the water, I checked myself over and could see quite a few bruises coming up, plus a few nicks on my hands from where the skeg knife caught me and also tonnes of black anti-foul all over my body. I was quite a mess!

Looking back, sure it was a pain to have to jump in and untangle the mess, but it was great to go for a swim. I didn’t expect to be doing that in the middle of the Pacific. If only it could have been in better circumstances…

Since then I’ve warmed up, stuffed down a good freeze-dried meal and am working my way though a giant (and rather melted) Toblerone. The stars are out shining amazingly brightly and I’ve seen loads of shooting stars. Every cloud has a silver lining…’

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