There is nothing quite so tempting about roller furling headsails, than the ability to take in a few turns and almost instantly reduce your sail area. Unfortunately, if you add a spinnaker pole or whisker pole to this equation in heavy winds, this could cause serious mast damage.
Craig and Kay Compton left Bora Bora in French Polynesia on board their BCC 28, Little Wing running wing and wing in fresh trades with good weather forecast to last until they reached Suvarrow Atoll 600 miles to the west. Unfortunately the South Pacific Convergence Zone formed over them and winds kept increasing. They dropped the mainsail and rolled in a bit of their jib then continued running fast. By the time the winds increased to 35 knots Craig had only 4 or 5 feet of jib still out. “That’s when Kay and I decided to put up the storm trysail and then take down the pole. Not that things seemed bad, we were running along just great at about 4.5 knots. Just felt the storm trysail would be a better choice if winds increased and we decided to heave to.” No sooner had they clipped their harnesses on and begun getting the trysail ready than – the boat was laid over on its beam ends – the whisker pole in the water. The whisker pole acted just like a big oar, putting a terrific point load on the mast. Little Wing righted almost immediately – and as she came up Craig was shocked to see the pole had creased the mast and the mast had a bend from the deck level, past the gooseneck and several feet beyond.
“If I had normal hank-on headsails, I would have had that jib down and been running with a staysail which wouldn’t have needed a pole.” Craig told me. “Even if I had just taken the pole down sooner and run with the scrap of jib it would have just been a small incident. Not much water came below decks because we had the boat well closed up. But when that pole hit the water at speed all the force went directly inward and we were lucky the mast didn’t fold and come down.”
Craig and Kaye were able to work in to Suvarrow Atoll where they jury-rigged supports for the spar with help from other cruisers who were at anchor there. They then carried on to Pago Pago in Samoa where they were able to repair the mast. “We were having the time of our lives until this happened,” Craig said. As I write this they are anchored not far from us in the beautiful lagoon at Nuitapotapu one of the northern most islands of Tonga.
You can read more about this on Craig and Kay’s blog at www.sailblogs.com/member/littlewing