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…?
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.
Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021
Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives – Fr. John Baker