Written by Kyle Hahn
Photos and captions by Kassandra Henning
January 1st, 2016, we departed the San Blas Islands, ambitious to head back west to Puerto Lindo, and onward towards Colon, the entrance to the Panama Canal. We said our goodbyes to S/Y Monarch, not knowing if we would see them again. Our plan was to stop over in Puerto Lindo, then continue to Colon, where we needed to complete the formalities for the Panama Canal transit. We motored north for a few hours, directly into the wind and waves, attempting to clear the surrounding reefs so we could sail west in deeper water. The waves were close together, and fairly steep, making Winnie roll side to side without any sail up to stabilize us. We were doing fine, knowing we had to do this for a couple of hours until we could sail.
During this time, we lost a fender lashed down near the bow. It was our nicest fender. Although the seas were rough, we had to try to recover it. Unfortunately, the fender had no rope attached to it, making it nearly impossible to hook it with a boat hook. When approaching the fender from the windward side hoping to drift to it, Winnie’s rocking motion sent waves pushing it just out of reach. On our final approach, realizing we weren’t going to be able to get a hold of it, I grabbed our roller furling line, told Kassie to hold the boat in neutral, and jumped in the water after it. It was only about 10 feet away from Winnie. Once I had it in my hands, Kassie reeled me back in. I was in the water for maybe 30 seconds, but it definitely felt strange swimming in the open ocean, loosely connected by a rope. It could have easily been one of those obviously stupid maneuvers or an awesome save. I had a nice bath, and we didn’t lose a thing! Another hour longer and we were sailing west, with a stiff breeze, 3 meter seas, but comfortable.
After a full day of sailing, we approached Puerto Lindo in late afternoon. Making landfall is so much easier and stress free at a familiar place. When we turned equipment off and walked the deck to check the rigging, I noticed our inner side stay was loose, and fraying near the mast. We felt lucky that despite this cable failing, the mast was still standing, and we had no other damage. If it had been any other cable (outside side stay, backstay, or forestay) we would have surely been de-masted. Our ambitions to leave the following day for the Panama Canal were instantly crushed, knowing not only was it necessary to fix this single stay, but it would be prudent to replace all of our standing rigging, given its unknown age and obvious ware.
We were losing confidence in Winnie. We have been through plenty of rough weather that challenged both Winnie and us. We have also spent most of our time in the past several months tackling large projects; mainsail tear, cracked backstay chainplate, both bilge pump failures and countless smaller repairs and general maintenance. We had to be confident in Winnie’s ability to take us safely, weighed down with provisions for 40 days, across the great Pacific Ocean. We questioned it all now.
What was certain was we needed to figure out how to replace our standing rigging. “Standing rigging” includes all 8 stainless steel (SS) cables that keep our mast upright. We spent many hours hoisting each other up and down the mast, taking measurements of the cables, as well as the pins and holes the fittings would have to match at the mast and the turnbuckles on deck. To simplify things, we decided to upgrade the rigging to have ¼ inch SS cable all the way around (prior inner stays and backstay were 7/32”). We needed 210 feet of cable to be on the safe side, which could be coiled and weighed in at 37 lbs. Because we did not have access to a swage machine, we opted to use swageless, mechanical fittings (Sta-Lok) to attach each cable at both ends. After a few days of research and asking around, we concluded we would have to order the SS cable and fittings from the U.S. to ensure we purchased quality materials. Luckily for us, our good friend Austin was planning a trip to Panama and was happy to haul the cable and fittings in his checked luggage.
While awaiting the arrival of our friends and project materials, we left Winnie at Linton Marina and took an inexpensive flight to Bogota, Colombia and return flight from Medellin, Colombia. We spent eight days in Colombia and loved it. We decided we wanted to sail Winnie to Cartagena, Colombia, and we came to the firm decision we are not going to take Winnie across the South Pacific or risk more damage doing the Baja Bash up the coast of western Mexico to California. Factors that we took into consideration included: 1) A dreadfully long nonstop passage of around 40 days from Panama to the Marquesas, 2) El Nino weather patterns possibly increasing the chances of tropical storms, and decreasing the chances that we would have wind and current with us, 3) We do not have a water-maker, making it difficult to pack enough water to safely make it that far, and 4) The last straw being the standing rigging replacement. We are disappointed our grand plans of sailing around the world are most definitely not going to happen, but we have other ideas in mind now. We still have work to complete and the Caribbean to cross before we are back in the States. Though it is the end of one plan, our adventure is still far from over.
Austin, along with the band mates/brothers Enrique and Diego Chi flew into Panama on January 27th. With all the parts in hand to fix our rigging, we carried out our plan of attack. One cable at a time, we would hoist one of us up the mast, take and re-take measurements, and place safety lines to support the mast before removing the old cable. We attached the appropriate fitting to the end of our new cable and attached the fitting to the mast.We then pulled the cable tight towards the turnbuckle on deck, and marked the spot to cut it. We then pulled the cable tight towards the turnbuckle on deck, and marked the spot to cut it.
We used a Dremel tool to cut through the ¼ inch 1X19 strand cable, giving us a clean cut.
Attaching the fittings to the end of the cable involved separating the strands to squeeze a cone around the inner core, and within the outer strands of wire. Once in place, the top and bottom piece could be joined to make a single, strong, connection point. It was tedious work cutting the cable ends cleanly, and forcing the cones into the wire. It had to be done correctly, so we could trust it to take the loads our sails and mast exert.
We did about 2 cables per day, limited by the hot sun, and waiting for periods of calm. We completed the work at anchor and couldn’t work efficiently if we were swaying too much while hoisted and sitting in the butt bucket. We probably went up and down the mast around 20+ times for this project. The project went as expected, and we are confident in our completed standing rigging. Even doing all of the work ourselves, the parts alone set us back about one grand.
So proud of my Lees Summit gang! Safety first. Sailors forever! Better luck for the passage home!! Baja Bum