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Update, day 104: the writer is back!

This dismasting and jury rig experience has been so intensely emotional and such a challenge for my resolve I barely know where to start in telling the tale.

I guess it makes sense to go back nearly 8 years to August 2008. It was a stifling hot summer on the south coast of England where I was racing at Cowes week, the biggest regatta of the season with nearly 1000 boats on the water at a time. I was racing as jib trimmer on a matched set of 52 foot yachts as part of the GBR yacht racing academy but instead of going to bar with my crew after sailing I went to the sail loft to work the late shift.

At the time, Medina Sail Care was precariously perched on the edge of the water and on the second floor over an outboard mechanic's workshop. It was, and still is, run by Gerry, a warm natured South African who's everybody's friend in the small community of Cowes and who regularly takes young guys under his wing if they're ready to work until 3am to learn the trade.

Sunburned customers would arrive after a day's sailing, their celebratory beers on their breath and a wet spinnaker under their arm. Plooof. The sodden mass fell to the floor sending a tidal wave of salty water across the floor. "Can you fix that for tomorrow morning?". We eyed the dripping tatters that once had been a proud sail. We always could but first had to wash it with fresh water, hang it up to dry, clean it with acetone, stick down new cloth with double-sided tape before sewing it all down. Nothing sticks to wet, salty sail cloth.

All of this to say that when I had to make a new mainsail for my jury rig, I was in for quite a challenge. I didn't have acres of floor space, fresh water, sewing machines or a second pair of hands! Because there was no way to build up the reinforced corners of the sail that would take the sailing loads I had to "find" a ready made sail within the scraps of my old main. Turning the sail 90 degrees I could use the reinforcements for reef 2 for the head and the tack (top and bottom corners at the front of the sail) and another existing reinforcement became the new clew (back corner). The bottom of my new sail was thus the back edge of the old mainsail.

I spread out the new edges as best I could, rubbed the salt off with my clothes, laid down long rows of double-sided tape and then taped over the seam again for security. Reinforcements went on for where it would be tied onto the boom (mast), I cut out a batten pocket from another piece of the sail and glued it down with flexible epoxy (Thanks Dr Sails!). It sounds simple but it took me a whole day. As the forecast is thankfully for mainly running and reaching until Les Sables I spent a little extra time to make a square head for the main that gives me a little extra surface area. I think it's the only square headed main in the history of jury rigs!

I was working in such a cramped space that I never saw the whole sail at once until the mast was up! That's also because I tied the main to the mast instead of making a halyard to hoist it after the new mast was in place. That added a lot of weight when I had to put the whole lot on my shoulder to help hoist it vertically but with such a small sail I don't think I'll need to take a reef in the coming days!

In comparison, the storm jib was easy. Simply unfurl, change the luff cable and hoist. So nice that the IMOCA rule requires us to have a such a tiny sail (19.5 square meters). It's almost as if they had this use in mind because I have only ever seen the storm jib in use on these boats when the mast has come down!

Now all I need to do is make it to Les Sables before I turn into a skeleton! I'm already down to powdered soup and life raft biscuits but that's a topic for another day.

© Foresight Natural Energy / Conrad Colman #vendeeglobe

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