Almost 38% of ARC and ARC+ boats logged some form of equipment breakage during ARC 2015, which, whilst it seems high, is perhaps not unexpected for a year that was considerably windier than usual most of the way across. That said, even in a light-wind year, boats can expect damage from chafe and torn sails will occur if squalls strike. As expected, breezy conditions caused most damage to sails, poles, rigging and chafe, accounting for 56% of reported breakages.
Overpowered sails are the most likely reason for the reports of sail damage – 22% of all breakages. Common problems were tears in spinnakers/cruising chutes, clews ripped and battens or mast-car/track damage. Valeting sails before setting off on your Atlantic adventure is always sensible. A good sailmaker will check over your sails, repairing stitching and reinforcing stress points. Triple-stitching is a good insurance, and do remember that UV light degrades sail cloth and stiches over time. Make sure you have a well-stocked sail repair kit on board: sticky dacron, spinnaker tape, sailmaker’s palms and needles with thread. Have a suitable board, or flip over a cabin floorboard, and use pins to keep the sail in place when affecting repairs. Very heavy sail cloth may require a punch to get the needle through. Prevention is better than cure, so ensuring you reef early and keep a good look out for squalls.
After sail damage, chafe was the second largest area of reports, with 17% of boats recording damage. This highlights the need to paying attention to chafe prevention in boat preparations prior to the crossing, and whilst at sea during the passage. Spreader patches on the mainsail, not forgetting for reefing positions will help. Using snatch-blocks and barber-haulers can also be useful to work sheets and guys away from each other. Keeping sheets tight into the ends of poles will also prevent unnecessary movement resulting in chafe. At the masthead, make sure blocks for spinnaker halyards can articulate and that lead angles don’t cause a chafe risk on mast sheaves.
Rigging & Fittings
Thirty-two boats reported broken or damaged spinnaker poles; ether completely broken or fittings at either end damaged.
Rigging related problems accounted for 10% of the breakages. One was a total rig failure, the Dufour 34 Duffy in the Racing Division, whereas the other failures in this category were on hardware including boom goosenecks, vang fittings, blocks or shackles, travellers and furlers. Probable causes include undersized or worn blocks – remember these need to turn freely and be correctly sized for the loads and displacement of your boat, allowing for all the extra food, fuel and cruising equipment. Boom vangs take a lot of punishment downwind; boats stall into wave troughs and partial gybes when dead-downwind also add to the strain. Boats will roll much more in ocean conditions and for longer periods than in normal coastal sailing. Main boom preventers will help, but always ensure that the preventer is attached at the outboard end of the boom, and run forward before leading back to the cockpit.
Four boats tangled ropes or fishing lines around propellers or snagged fishing nets at sea; two reported broken steering cables (one fixed by using dynema lines) and at least three boats had to use their emergency steering, at least whilst affecting repairs to steering. Whilst it is difficult to draw conclusions from the data, general advice is to be careful of overloading boats before a passage as this puts considerable extra strain onto steering gear. Service your steering before the passage – look for dust build-ups or frayed cables – and carry dynema lines or spare steering cable. Two boats lost use of propellers which either jammed open or dropped off. A folding/feathering propeller in open will cause vibrations that can be damaging, test thoroughly before putting to sea. Losing a propeller just means an expensive repair and a tow into the marina on arrival in the Caribbean. Fifteen boats – 5% of the fleet – reported autopilot failure. Again, the advice is to ensure your pilot is specified for the loaded displacement of your boat and check for loose connections, worn rams and mountings working loose. At sea, don’t use your pilot all the time; give it a rest at least once per watch. Hand steering will give you a better feel for the trim of the boat and help you to recognise when the sails are unbalanced. If sailing double-handed, consider a windvane steering system as a back-up to your electrical pilot.
Most of the failures, with the exception of the dismasting, did not prevent boats from safely arriving in Saint Lucia. They may well have slowed the boats down, or reduced the level of comfort on board but were successfully coped with by the crews without outside assistance. Steering failures and broken booms were the most serious problems in 2015, but in each of these situations the hull was intact and the crew safe. Resourceful crews problem solved and repaired to get the boats going again. Having a good tool kit and being able to think of on-board solutions, or using alternatives to overcome the difficulty is the best preparation for ocean sailing, and of course, constant vigilance against chafe and other failing equipment to help prevent minor damage becoming major.