We’re Jammin’

Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Full Disclosure: That’s not me up the mast. There was a time when it could’ve been me, but that ship has sailed. Photographic proof of me climbing a mast does grace (or deface) the cover of an Outside magazine article that chronicles my 1981 transatlantic crossing in Betelgeuse. That picture in Outside, shot from an angle directly beneath me–and up the leg of my shorts–exposes my, um, man parts. And it is published on the cover of a high-circulation national magazine! (And no, I’m not going to post a copy of it here.)

But I digress…

These days, I leave the mast-climbing gymnastics to the pros, and with good reason. My personal history includes a 16-foot fall to the deck of a boat, a severe crack on the head, and a metal knee, all of which now limit my boat work to the deck.

This recent mast work aboard Flying Fish was necessary to resolve a mainsail jam in the mast’s furling mechanism that occurred on passage from Fuerteventura to Gran Canaria. Jamming the mainsail is a serious problem, especially when the sail needs to be reduced in a hurry. I am fortunate that this didn’t happen in mid-ocean, in a gale, or I would have been the guy in the hardhat going up the mast—metal knee or no.

The mainsail furling system has frustrated me since the day I took delivery of Flying Fish, but this is the first time I have had to call in professional help to get it sorted out. A furling mainsail is one of the “conveniences” of a modern sailboat that has turned out to be not so convenient. It used to be that you would pull on a rope and the sail would go up, and when you released that rope the sail would come down. Simple, right? Now, the sail gets wound up inside the mast and it comes out like a sideways window shade. What could possibly go wrong with that? Of course, the sail will jam, and it’s always going happen at the worst time. The mast manufacturer blames the sailmaker, and the sailmaker blames the mast manufacturer. But neither of them is onboard when the sail is stuck.

I spent hours trying unsuccessfully to resolve this jam. I trimmed and winched and yanked, all to no avail. I Googled forums and troubleshooting websites. I pulled out my climbing rig twice, and then common sense prevailed and I put the gear away. If a sailor falls off the mast and no one is around to hear it, does he make a thud?

I finally said fuggit, sailed to Gran Canaria under jib alone. Once I made landfall, I called in the pros. Juan Manuel Santana and Airam “Lolo” Bautista, arrived with a pit bull named Vela (Sail) and agreed to climb the mast for 400 euros. Expensive, but it was Sunday, and the job wasn’t easy. After a couple of hours and several trips up and down the mast, Juan and Lolo cleared the jam. Vela and I just watched. Clearly, there was no way I could have done it alone. But maybe when I was 25 years old…

I never saw the Outside cover before it was published, the one of me climbing the mast of Betelgeuse and exposing my privates for a national audience. But when the magazine hit the newsstands, my wife’s secretary Deborah saw it, and she said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “Your husband is a famous sailor! He’s on the cover of a magazine, hey… wait… is that his…?


Juan Manuel Santana is geared up for safety to clear a jam of the mainsail inside the mast of Flying Fish. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places where Flying Fish carries me, and the flora, fauna, and people I encounter along the way.

Please click “Follow” at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update,- and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments, and I will always respond when I have an Internet connection. I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Atlantic by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish. A Bonus: Click the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for passage notes while I am sailing offshore. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   – Fr. John Baker


15 thoughts on “We’re Jammin’

  1. A few years ago, after I too had gone beyond my mast-climbing years, a new boat owner wanted me to rig his spin halyard. There was a bale above the headstay, but no block or halyard. I found a nearby teenager, equipped him with safety gear and hoisted him up. For fifty bucks he did the job while I directed operations from the deck, using binoculars. Lily likes to go up (must be genetic) and I thanked God for that when we worked together as the need sometimes arose. Often in connection with a jammed in-mast furler. Of all the stuff invented to make sailing easier, this has to be the worst idea. For cruising a big boat, I think the best setup I have experience with is a Dutchman combined with an electric winch for the main halyard and slab reefing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh the irony of reading this today. We have an in-mast furling mainsail on our IP 349. Just this past weekend, we met a captain delivering another 349 with a stack pack main. He claimed to be a professional rigger and couldn’t say enough about the disadvantages of our rig.

    My question is, were you to commission the boat today, would you again select the furling mainsail?

    PS I’ve enjoyed your writing and photography. Thank you for sharing your experiences. -Allison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment and your compliment, Allison.
      I absolutely positively would never select a furling mainsail again. In addition to it being a PIA, it is also dangerous. You have to have positive control of raising and lowering your mainsail, regardless of weather and regardless of point of sail. I have learned that you you cannot do that with a furling mainsail. Furling jibs… they are magic!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had such a great laugh at this post, Jeff! —at least the magazine cover part. Since I (sadly) have not been on a sailboat in decades I was unaware of the “improvements” that you described. Glad you were able to get it fixed. I very much look forward to your posts and photos.

    Liked by 2 people

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