Winter Harbour to Ucluelet. 22h 43m. 150.8 nautical miles
This is our biggest day, meaning our longest leg, almost 190 miles from Winter Harbour to Ucluelet. We had a “following” sea meaning that the swell and waves were hitting us in the stern. In addition, the wind was off our stern quarter helping to push us along.
The combination can make the boat sloppy to steer. As the wave catches up, it lifts and tries to accelerate the stern while slightly digging the bow into the water. This tends to make the boat veer off course, so you steer in the opposite direction to counteract it. Then the wave passes and grabs your bow, usually pushing it in the opposite direction (I.e. in the same direction you’re steering) so you have to switch your steering to counteract that, usually just in time for the next wave to grab your stern again.
In addition, boats are set to have “weather helm” meaning that without intervention by the person at the helm, the boat wants to turn into the wind. This is usually safer, but means that the boat is fighting you all the time that you are running away from the wind.
The third factor is that there’s occasional rebellious waves that refuse to march along in the same direction as all its buddies, but decides to march at some angle to them. Just as you’re getting into the rhythm of it all, one of these rebels comes along and pushes your boat in some unanticipated direction.
The end result of this is that if you don’t stay on top of it, the boat has a tendency to try to “broach” on you. This is a situation where the boat tries to switch ends and face into the waves instead of keeping its back to them. It’s a somewhat violent maneuver (though better than a pitch pole maneuver where the boat tumbles forward instead of turns). It’s not a recommended thing to do on a boat. Things go flying across the cabin, including people.
We broached. Violently.
The thing about a broach is this. Much like a car losing traction and starting to spin, people have a tendency to turn the wheel as hard as they can to counteract the turn. This is actually the wrong thing to do, and here’s why. The rudder is, essentially, a wing in the water. When you turn the wheel, the rudder creates “lift” sideways in the water, pushing the stern in a particular direction. If the rudder is at too much of an angle to the water, it “stalls”, meaning that it actually loses power and simply acts more like dragging something rather than acting to turn the boat.
Instead, you have to partially turn the wheel to the point where it is applying maximum turning force but hasn’t stalled yet. It takes time to learn where that point is.
We were traveling under a state called “reef one” in which we have reduced the amount of sail. This helps prevent the boat from being over-powered and putting a strain on the rigging, as well as keeping the boat more manageable. We should actually have been at “reef two”, which reduces the amount of sail even further, at least on our main sail, which would have left more pull on the foresail (the sail attached to the bow of the ship) and helped to hold us running downwind.
In addition we had a somewhat inexperienced person on the helm and they weren't as fast to counteract the boat starting to turn. Wwhether it was one of those rebel waves or they simply didn’t anticipate the rhythm in time, I’m not sure. The result is that we broached, hard. Down in the cabin, things went flying around, as did the people. One person was sent across the cabin hard enough that when he hit the table, he broke the supports on it, pulling them out of the deck. The people who saw it were surprised he hadn’t broken some ribs.
Our instructor came up above he and I started reefing the main sail some more (after assessing the people and boat). I was handling the reefing lines (the lines that are used to pull the sail down a bit and hold it there) while he was handling the halyard (the line used to pull and hold the sail upwards). All of a sudden, we heard a metallic “PONG!!!” sound and the main sail just fell down.
We had broken the main halyard, the line that holds the main sail up. I clambered slightly up the mast to see what had happened. The halyard had parted about 40 to 50 centimetres (about 1 ½ feet for the metrically challenged) from the top of the sail. It proceeded to pull itself up over the “block” (basically, a pulley) at the top of the mast and then fallen down inside the mast where it was likely laying at a tangle.
A word about how the lines are done on this boat. They lead from the cockpit through some fittings to the bottom of the mast. There, they change direction at a block and start going upwards. Many of them disappear into holes in the mast to continue their journey upwards inside the mast. This is “cleaner” looking since you don’t have as many lines traveling up and down outside the mast, or slapping the mast at night when the wind is blowing. However, in a situation like this, it’s difficult to get at a broken line.
The decision was made not to try to get the main sail up. Instead, the decision was made to proceed on a combination of motor and foresail, and that’s what we did for the next 23 hours.
Did I mention that I had learned from the previous day’s experience with sea sickness and had taken my sea-sick medicines? I had a slight touch of a headache and uncertainty, but by noon, even that was cleared up.
During this leg, we never posted a speed less than 7 knots and peaked at over 11 knots of speed. So though this leg was not as long in terms of time, it was our longest distance covered yet, 145 miles. My personal opinion is that we would have done it even faster under full sails and no motor, but that’s a pure guess on my part.