Hall Spars Carbon mast for a Gunboat 90

One of the great aspects of my life is I get to wander around boat yards and so see lots of really interesting and innovative things to do with boats. Very kid in a candy store stuff. A couple of days ago I was at the Hinckley/Hunt marina complex in Portsmouth RI when I came across two Hall technicians prepping a Carbon mast to be returned to its boat, a 90 foot Gunboat catamaran.

Hall Spars has long been a leader in the construction of Carbon fiber masts. Brothers Ben and Eric Hall have been building spars for pushing 40 years and carbon masts, booms, kite poles and other carbon bits for probably 25 plus years. This brief post shows some pictures of parts of the mast and some commentary from me. Enjoy.

This first image, below, is of the bottom of the mast. The rig is a partial wing mast (NOT a wing sail), which means that it is perhaps 700 mm long (fore and aft-Compare with the ladder or my coffee cup on the ladder) and is much more wing shaped, albeit thicker, as wings go, than a conventional spar.

gunboat-mast-step-1

There are a number of reasons for using a wing shaped mast on a fast boat, not the least of which is to reduce drag as the airflow begins to pass over the sail. The drag from conventional shaped, (roughly oval in cross section) adds up when you do the math to sum the cross sectional frontal area exposed to the wind. An additional benefit of wing masts is there is a lot less standing rigging required to hold the mast up-This has long been a benefit of multihulls because of the wide staying base.

A wide staying base reduces the loads on the mast, and also the amount of rigging needed to keep it up. With the elimination of multiple sets of spreaders, and intricate standing rigging, the mast can be this wing shape.

Today, composite standing rigging is certainly lighter and stronger than any metal rigging, but composite standing rigging is thicker in cross section, so having less of it is a big plus. The image below is of the ‘bobstay’ securing the top of the deck spreaders to the hull on No way out, the latest IMOCA 60 from VPLP/Verdier. The acute angle demands stronger, so thicker material, but  you get the idea.

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The bobstay, is secured to the hull in some invisible fashion, below. Notice that all of this is so the boat can have its own partial wing mast, or vice versa…

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Finally the drag goes up exponentially with the speed, so a cat or tri (Like Spindrift, shown in the featured image) is incorporated into the sail area and sail shape for considerations of sail shape.

The facility of wide shroud base has transitioned into the IMOCA 60 boats, (seen below is ‘No way out’) such as those in the Vendee Globe presently underway.

This latest generation IMOCA 60 has the now common deck spreaders and wing shection mast. The spreaders are to get a wide shroud base, to minize the compression on the spar so it can be a but lighter. Many many Excel spreadsheet Cells were sacrificed in figuring out the cost benefit of this arrangemebt.

This latest generation IMOCA 60 has the now common deck spreaders and wing section mast. The spreaders are to get a wide shroud base, to minimize the compression on the spar so it can be a bit lighter. Many, many Excel spreadsheet Cells were sacrificed in figuring out the cost benefit of this arrangement.

The variations in the size of wing masts are as varied as the boats themselves, as this picture below, of Spindrift, shows. (Spindrift Racing was kind enough to let me have some of the Prout Sailing Team visit Spindrift a couple of years ago.) On the forward side of the mast, at the base, you can see the rotating quadrant with tackle attached. See too, the knife in the yellow sheath, just next to Julia’s left calf…..

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Back to the Gunboat mast.

Because it is a wing mast, it is deck stepped so it can be rotated. (Or perhaps it is the other way around. It is stepped on deck so it CAN BE a wing mast). To achieve this rotational ability, there are two unique details. The bronze colored circle in the middle is the fitting, slightly concave, which lands on top of its mate on the mast step, on the boat. It is basically a bearing surface for the mast to sit on, so it can rotate.

gunboat-mast-step-2

The half circle looking part is on the forward side of the mast. It is, and so acts like, a quadrant, in a wheel steering system providing a lever arm to move the spar. There are control lines mounted to it and when actuated, these lines can turn the mast thru, what looks like 90 degrees, but is probably only 45 degrees, either side of fore and aft, in practice. You can see these more clearly in the Spindrift images, above.

This closer detail shows a remarkable piece of carbon detailing and finish work. Smooth, shiny and undoubtedly strong. It is as much a work of artisan craftsmanship as an engineering part for a 90-foot high-speed sailboat.

gunboat-mast-rotation-quadrent-detail

Built into the base of the mast is a detail to accept the halyard turning blocks. This design is necessary because the (aft side of the) mast moves thru, perhaps 12-18 inches when being rotated, so incorporating the blocks mounted onto the mast eliminates the traditional idea of mounting them to the deck with big pad eyes thru bolted.

gunboat-mast-base-blocks

This traditional method would not be very successful in any event because the halyard’s lead out of the mast would be moving all over the place as the mast rotates. In keeping with the proliferation of using cordage in lieu of metal for securing things to the boat, these Harken blocks are looped onto the mast with large diameter spectra. The Harken Velcro straps stop the loop from separating when there is no load on the block. The little piece of light line is probably to keep the Velcro attached to the boat when working on the block

At the loads the sails on these boats generate the engineers must consider the transfer of this load thru the (main) sail’s leech to the mast track.  In this picture, a section of track is the pewter colored piece on the aft side, the bottom, of the of the mast in the image. The loads on this boat, when sailing full speed, close to the wind, with a fully hoisted main are considerable. Bear in mind that a 90 foot cat, particularly a light fast one, generates the kinds of sail loads roughly equal to a 140-150 foot monohull

gunboat-masthead-track-reinforcing

And just as much load is generated when reefed. This next image shows the beefy metal (I did not ask what) at the reefs too. The luff track/batten car slider system is suitably large Ronstan ball bearing equipment. This construction detailing on the spar of course requires considerable communications between the Sailmakers and the mast builders as to where the head of the sail will land when the sail is reefed.

gunboat-mast-track-reinforcement-for-reefs

Another detail to do with the huge loads on this (these) boat (s) is that they do not use ‘conventional’ jib halyards & furlers but rather the foresails are on ‘free luff’ furlers. These furlers have become pretty commonplace on high test boats from Class 40’s to Ultimate trimarans, like Spindrift, above.The dead weight of the sail and furler combination is lighter than a conventional aluminum section (or Carbon sections on bigger boats) and can offer the option, quite often exercised of removing the sail and stay completely. The benefit to this of course is to, again, reduce drag and weight aloft and, incidentally, improve stability. The concept and equipment for this kind of free luff furler comes from the reaching Genoas used on furlers for the solo offshore race boats for perhaps the past 20 plus years that has now trickled down to all manner of boats. In order for the loads to be accommodated, the sails/stays are secured by halyard locks. The idea of halyard locks has been around for a while–many smaller boats, Finns, Etchells, and so on have halyard locks, for the mainsail at least, and have had for years.

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The contemporary high-load halyard lock is a bit more sophisticated though. The rigging of this halyard lock and free luff sail arrangement involves a ‘stay’of a lightweight composite fiber manufactured for the purpose, being captured inside a luff tape on the jib and secured to the head and tack of the sail.This idea is basically like the luff-wire in the jib of a 420-dinghy jib for instance. The rolled up sail is hoisted on a ‘halyard’ that is really just a length of line, robust enough, to hoist the sail and, when hoisted, the top of the stay is introduced into this metal lock and is thus held in place with no load on the ‘halyard’. The lock is held to the suitably reinforced part of the mast with Spectra loops, seen below.

gunboat-halyard-lock-1

This reduces weight in the mast because the sheave area does not have to be so strong as to resist the halyard tension, rotating over the sheave at about a 160 degree turn and the (hoisting) sheave itself can be much smaller, just big enough to sustain the loads of pulling the sail up. This absence of halyard load reduces the compression on the spar,(cf halyard loads in previous sentence) another element contributing to the weight (savings) in the mast. No (conventional) halyard means fewer blocks at the base of the mast, or winches and clutches on the mast and so on. The lock is probably one of the few metal parts on this mast. The lock hardware thus has a padded jacket around it to protect the (beautiful) carbon work the mast represents.

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The above view is up through the tunnel which the part to be locked, the top of the stay, fits.

The stay is tensioned by some combination of tackle, winch or hydraulics as seen on, again, the IMOCA 60, No Way Out.

Stay tensioning system on IMOCA 60 No way out

As noted, wing masts have a lot less standing rigging that a conventional mast, but they are not without some rigging. The picture below shows the additional layers of carbon laminated in  and around where the spreaders pass thru the mast. The technique the Hall folks use is a layup over a mandrel, so the outside of the mast shows all the effort put into the work by the technicians actually laying the fibers onto the  spar. Truly, art meets science. The shiny-ness of the mast is probably due to a clear coat paint job.

 

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The engineering of these masts is pretty complex and must take into account all manner of multi-directional loads, both static AND dynamic and peak loads, as when sailing into the back-side of a wave at 30-35 knots and slowing down rapidly to 20 knots or less. The composite lay up for the boat’s gooseneck must withstand this loading and have a suitable safety factor to boot. This probably accounts for the size of the gooseneck. My thumb is at 21 inches.

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A proper seagoing mast ought to have a tunnel inside the spar to run the cabling for all the electronic and electric stuff. An innovative variation on the typical round tube held to the inside of the mast is this sheath fabricated from some light sailcloth. All the cabling is captive inside this sheath. It is held in place and tensioned by, at the bottom, the piece of  lightweight Spectra, the blue colored one. The reddish piece of Spectra is probably mouse line for installing and removing cabling.

gunboat-mast-cable-run-inside-spar

Certainly not all of us have the means to own and operate a gunboat 90, but as noted above, hanging around in boat yards is, for many water rats, a fine thing to do.

Feature image Spindrift Racing, 30 meter Trimaran.

Picture courtesy Spindrift racing

 

 

Vendee Globe-Solo record still possible

The foiling IMOCA 60’s are giving a good impression of multihull speed over the course of the first 19 days of this edition of the Vendee Globe, solo circumnavigation. As of 1700 EST, Brit Alex Thompson aboard Hugo Boss has had the pedal down despite breaking a foil on something in the water a few days ago. (It is worth noting that at the moment four boats have hit something and broken the boat obliging three of them to abandon the race).

The VG tracker has a number indicating the percentage of the race the leader has completed. After 16 days Hugo Boss had completed 25% of the calculated great circle length of the race. Extrapolating on this data brings one of course gets to a 64 day circumnavigation. Will this be the end result? Too soon to say fo course. BUT I just did it again for 19 days at 30% which is 62 and some days, so they are not backing off at all.

Thompson has been able to get back up to full foiling speed having gybed to starboard for a while today allowing him to deploy the ‘good’ foil for a while. But sail boat racing regardless of what the boat or the course is needs wind and they appear to be light on for such at the momenet, light being the operative word.

The biggest hurdle the two front runners, now 25 miles apart (at 1700 Race time) is the wind petering out and becoming confused and light. Thompson reports basically sailing into the back of the front.

Oops- pays to pay attention. The 2200 race time position updates places The Boss stretching again over Armel LeCleac’h, (aka The Jackal in French solo terms) at 31 miles over his earlier 25 miles. AND the Boss has the juice again at 22 knots versus 18 of The Jackal.

British Bull Dog lives to fight another day.

The following link/news update courtsy of the VG press office.

http://www.vendeeglobe.org/en/news/16495/the-jackal-is-on-the-hunt

 

Offshore sailing-Ideas from single-handed sailing

Regular readers will know of my interest in the Mini Transat, OSTAR, Vendee Globe, Figaro and similar solo and double-handed races. Apart from the actual racing itself, these boats represent a melting pot of ideas and were lots of smart people invent ways to sail fast when alone or with only two people. The majority of cruising sailors sail with a crew of only two people aboard anyhow. Short-handed boats prepared for racing have been at the forefront of most of the ‘advances’ that cruising sailors take for granted today.  So when I see boats from this short-handed cohort of yacht racing, I am always curious to see what the thought process is and if there any new ideas I can pinch.

I was at Sail Newport last Sunday and I noticed the Mini Transat boat that, a couple of weeks ago was in the water, had been pulled out. I was interested in this boat because it had a canting keel, but there was no obvious dagger board or other device to resist leeway, at least as viewed from the dock with the boat in the water.

Not only canting side to side, but moving fore and aft close to a meter the fin on this Mini Transat class boat requires some pretty careful attention to detail.

Not only canting side to side, but moving fore and aft close to a meter the fin on this Mini Transat class boat requires some pretty careful attention to detail. That she had a canting keel is evident by the lines exiting the cabin bulkhead under the cowling-see below-(and passing thru jambers) These lines are part of  a three or four to one tackle inside the boat and  then lead outside to a winch so as to lever the keel side to side.

The large clutch on the deck secures the line controlling the canting keel.

The large clutch on the deck secures the line controlling the canting keel. The lines are set up to lead to a winch. The boat was set up with a canting keel but where the dagger boards?

 

This mini, designed by Simon Rogers for Australian Tom Braidwood and built in Sydney, Aust. 2006 has both a canting keel and the keel moves fore and aft too.

This mini, designed by Simon Rogers for Australian Tom Braidwood and built in Sydney, Aust. in 2006 has both a canting keel , articulating from side to side and the keel moves fore and aft too.

574 looks, at first glance, like a ‘normal’ (And not like mine) mini: beamy, twin rudders, skinny fin with a big bulb, huge rig, and articulating bowsprit

Apart from the ‘canting keel but no dagger boards’ question, a second interesting detail was the mast. It is longer in section (fore and aft)  than ‘normal’ mini masts and has only one set of spreaders. Hummm me-thinks.

MAST and Rigging

Tis boat has a maast with only one set of spreaders. IT can do this because the mast is longer in the fore and aft plane and probably thicker walls too. The underlying scheme here is to minimize windage, drag, from the rigging. The configuration of 574 is likely to have less exposed stays and certainly spreaders, than a 'normal rig'.

This boat has a mast with only one set of spreaders. It can do this because the mast is longer in the fore and aft plane and with probably thicker walls too. The underlying scheme here is to minimize windage, drag, from the rigging. The configuration of 574 is likely to have less exposed stays and certainly spreaders, than a ‘normal rig’.

Almost all of these speedy little boats, the custom ones, anyhow, have composite rigging today. Securing the shrouds to the boat is a wonderful throw back to the ‘old days when stays were lashed to the deck with lanyards and pad eyes.

The stays are secured to the deck/chainplates with Spectra line, with multiple passes around the chainplate and the stay. The black tube is what amounts to a reaching strut. This is inserted into a hole built for the purpose in the side of the hull. The end result is to holt the bow sprit after guy out away from the boat at a wider angle.

The stays are secured to the deck/chainplates with Spectra line, with multiple passes around the chainplate and the stay. The black tube is what amounts to a reaching strut. This is inserted into a hole built for the purpose in the side of the hull. The end result is to hold the bow sprit after guy out away from the boat at a wider angle.

 

This image shows the hole in the side of the boat to accept the strut.

This image shows the hole in the side of the boat to accept the strut.

Underwater: The keel and canard

It turns out that this boat has a lot going on down below. The keel swings, or cants in the parlance, port to starboard. It also can move fore and aft 800mm according to the designers website.

Here you can see the root of the fin disappearing into its own mechanism to handle the canting. The longer orange rectangle is the pathway for the fin to slide fore and aft.

Here you can see the root of the fin disappearing into its own mechanism to handle the canting. The longer orange rectangle is the pathway for the fin to slide fore and aft.

The fin on a canting keel boat enters into the hull through a suitable sized slot. There is an axel with bearings on it that passes through the fin fore to aft and is secured to the boat. Around the hole is a V shaped box, the top of which is above the LWL. This box has some kind of pretty waterproof cover on it too. The top of the keel pokes up thru this and has a block and tackle on the top. The l ine from this tackle is led outside thru a ferrule in the cabin wall as shown a few pictures above.

The fin on a canting keel boat enters into the hull through a suitable sized slot. There is an axel with bearings on it that passes through the fin along the fore & aft axis  and is secured to the boat. Around the hole is a V shaped box, the top of which is above the LWL. This box has some kind of pretty waterproof cover on it too. The top of the keel pokes up thru this and has a block and tackle on the top. The line from this tackle is led outside thru a ferrule in the cabin wall as shown a few pictures above. I am not certain that the area around the keel entrance to the hull is race ready, but it seems to me there are a lot holes and slots that would create drag when sailing, especially, fast. ON the other hand this boat did correct to third in class in the Pacific Cup in

The object when designing a racing boat of course is to have a boat that can, and will, win races. All manner of calculus goes into the design engineering and building of such a boat. One of the curious aspects of this boat is the engineering and building detailing required to make the keel more fore and aft. This requires a lot of additional designing, engineering and boat building time and skill. All of this of course consumes (extra) money. In simple terms, what is the risk reward, or if you, like the cost benefit ratio.

x

The white ‘thing’ sticking down to the left is the canard, set forward of the keel. This is deployed to resist leeway, acting like a ‘normal’ keel on normal boats. That it can be canted too is a benefit because when the boat is heeling, the canard can be vertical and so be working most efficiently.

This boat is a close sister-ship to the one Jonathon McKee (a prominent and successful US sailor from the Pacific North-West) sailed in the Mini Transat in 2003. Sadly he was dismasted while leading the second leg of the race. I don’t know what style of mast McKee had, but the one on 574 is configured in a way that many of the new IMOCA 60’s are, which is interesting since this boat is 10 years old now. The idea is that the mast and standing rigging has a certain amount of drag.

Another view of the canting Canard

And finally back to the mast

If you do the math on the surface area of the standing rigging on your boat—Sum the total length of standing rigging, multiplied by the various thicknesses, it is a lot of square units. Ignore for now the radar, radar reflector, satellite dome, spare halyards, the bulk of the furled headsail or staysail etc. Now, for the average 45 foot cruising boat, this kind of drag is repressed into oblivion by Bimini’s, dinghy davits and so on and traveling at 5 to 7 or 9 knots, BUT on a boat traveling at 15-20 knots, like a Mini or an IMOCA 60 traveling, as the boats currently leading the Vendee Globe are, at over 20 knots most of the time, for the foiling boats, drag becomes something to think about. Minimizing drag becomes especially important for boat traveling fast because the drag goes up exponentially with boat speed. Hence the wing masts and lots of effort art educing drag on fast Multihulls of IMOCA 60’s

This latest generation IMOCA 60 has the now common deck spreaders and wing shection mast. The spreaders are to get a wide shroud base, to minize the compression on the spar so it can be a but lighter. Many many Excel spreadsheet Cells were sacrificed in figuring out the cost benefit of this arrangemebt.

This latest generation IMOCA 60 has the, now common, deck spreaders and wing section mast. The spreaders are there to get a wide shroud base, to minimize the compression on the spar so it can be a bit lighter. Many, many Excel spreadsheet Cells were sacrificed in figuring out the cost benefit of this arrangement.

The benefits of reducing drag are even more visible on big trimarans. This picture is courtesy of Spindrift Racing.

Spindrift stb tack

 

 

 

Vendee Globe: Hugo Boss inches away.

So far so good for the tenacious Brit on his fourth attempt to get his Knighthood, I mean, win the Vendee Globe. Personally I reckon the big job now is to be steady and cool and not get too psyched by being in front. I am sure he’d rather be there than in some of the other positions he has been in during his three previous races. Right about now 4 years ago I think he was fixing one of the rudder connecting rods after the Watt and Sea came adrift and busted said rod. Ever the Sponsors Man, he recorded it on board the boat with Hugo Boss logos everywhere. And of course this time, he is posting positions on the Alex Thompson website, so more eyeballs again. THIS is great sailing as marketing tool thinking

The other two leaders are putting the yards (meters?) on the top of the next group. Currently in second is Seb Josse on his third Vendee Globe. Just the short version of his CV includes a fourth in the first leg of the 1999 Mini-Transat, a second in the 2001 Solitaire du Figaro-A four or five leg stage race soloin 33 foot one design boats, around the Bay of Biscay and the western approaches to the English Channel. ‘The Figaro’ is THE training ground for the serious French solo sailor, and lately Brits too. Josse was a part of the crew and so, co-holder, of the Trophy Jules Verne aboard the Maxi Cat Orange, nee PlayStation. Third in the TJV with Isabelle Autissier in ‘03, fifth in the Vendee globe in ‘05, fourth in the ’06 VOR on ABN Amro 11 including a 24-hour speed record. You get the picture. He is sailing for the financial house of Edmund de Rothschild, long a prominent name in sailing with a collection of Gitana’s.

In third lies Armel Le Cleac’h, presently 92 miles astern of The Boss. Le Cleac’h is another professional sailor with a long history of big time racing. Figaro, World Champion in IMOCA (these Open 60’s) fourth in the Route du Rhumb, France’s answer to the OSTAR. A second place, twice, in the 2009 and 2013 Vendee Globe gave him the scent no doubt.

Interestingly when researching the basic stats of the boats, the beam of Hugo boss is not given. But Thompson has the most upwind sail of the three leaders at 340 sqm. Compared to Le Cleac’h at 300 and Josse at 290. He is also a tenth of a metric tonne lighter, 7.5 vs. 7.6. And, in what must be an enormous mental boost for Thompson and a bit of a ‘WTF’ moment for the rest, is the fact Hugo Boss was abandoned in the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre, in November after being launched 01 September. After being recovered, a nice bit of work in itself I reckon, Thompson’s team spent six months rebuilding her again. And a slight bit of sailing trivia for you Thompson’s co-skipper in the abandoned TJV was the same Spaniard, Guillermo Altadill, (the most successful sailor no one has ever heard of) who was aboard High Noon, the youth boat that blitzed the 2016 Newport to Bermuda race.

Second and third are 89 and 92 miles astern of the Boss, and after that the distances really exercise the bungy cord. From fourth through tenth, they are respectively: 123, 195, 207, 285, 442, 575 and 619. And we are not talking about the rookies here either. Just in this group are a total of 17 (including this one) Vendee Globe races from a total of 43 previous races within the fleet.

From todays interviews with the sailors, Sébastien Josse remarks on the increasing discomfort aboard the boats in this race. ‘With each Vendée Globe it’s worse and worse. In my first one, I had a comfortable bed, but now it’s really uncomfortable and it’s hard to sleep’. Having boat speed is a great way to win a sail boat race but it does have its down side in a three-month race. Josse again:

When the boat is above 18-19 knots, it’s hard to move around. It’s noisy and it’s impossible to sleep with all the banging. It’s less comfortable than a multihull.

Then there are the forces these boats are subjecting themselves to. The following remark was made while the boats are sailing in 15 knots of true wind. We’re at the maximum loads for the boat. In the Southern Ocean we won’t be able to do that.”

If you did not know Thompson, (is British) it might be easy to infer it from his remarks from the same body of ocean. “It’s a bit bumpy. He goes on: (In this cut and paste from the VG news section whose work is duly recognized)

It is pretty amazing to be on a boat which in 16-17kts of breeze I can average 22kts. The breeze has finally come left a bit to allow Hugo Boss to lift up her skirts a little bit and go a bit faster. I have a bit more breeze for a few hours and then it will lighten up and drop a little bit before tomorrow when we will start a real fast, fast dash for three or four days towards the Cape of Good Hope. I could not have asked for it to be positioned more perfectly. It is a very normal scenario this. It is developing just to the south of us and will move down, and I will be able to stay ahead of it. I think just this lead pack will be able to stay with it. We will be with this low pressure for quite a while. I think Seb is right. This is going to be the first big test for the boats. I am imagining a wind angle of about 120 to 125 degrees true, sailing in 23-26kts of wind. Depending on the wave conditions is what will decide how fast the boats go. To be honest if it was flat water in those wind conditions my boat could average over 30kts. With waves I don’t expect to be going much faster than I am now, to be honest 22-24kts maybe. Today I will prepare the boat a little, re-tidy up, re-stack, and I will try and get as much sleep as I can in the next 24 hours. I have a little composite job to do, just to make sure everything really is ready, make sure my sail plan is correct for when it comes, make sure my contingencies are ready, make sure I am fresh to be able to hit the turbo button when it arrives. I guess we are going to find out how strong these boats are now. Who will be ready to lift the foot first? Show the French you have learned? I think these boats…well the limit is quite obvious. You know when you have to slow down. Last night I had to slow down. 24 hours before the Cape Verdes you get slowed down. You get told by the boat. The boat tells you when to slow. It is as demanding now as in more wind. We do not need a lot of wind. The more wind, the more waves, the slower you go.”

We’re not in Kansas any more Toto.

Sailing boat survives lightning strike

Every once in a while something momentous happens to us. Great and serious sicknesses, a death in the family, divorce, accident and so on. Measured against such profound personal challenges, it might seem slightly trivial then to read about the fellow in this picture. He is a long time mate of mine and one of the most remarkable characters any one will come across, Warwick, M. ‘Commodore’ Tompkins, Jr.

Commodore Tompkins once again at the helm of Flashgirl

A smiling and certainly greatly relieved Commodore Tompkins once again at the helm of Flashgirl, Thursday 29 Sept.  Picture by Kevin Meecham.

A few months ago, the 39 footer he built from a hull and deck into one of THE unique ocean cruising boats on the planet, was sitting on a mooring at one of the islands in the Hawaiian chain when it took a direct hit by lightning and sank. Later forensics determined that a PVC pipe connection to a thru hull shattered and so separated from the through hull. The boat sank to about a foot from the gunnel, better than under water, but not by much.

This was the first picture of Flashgirl after the blow cleared.

This was the first picture of Flashgirl after the blow cleared.

Flashgirl, as she is named, was not just a sailing boat. Apart from being the sailing home to Commodore and wife Nancy, aboard which they have been roaming the SW Pacific for the past 10 years or so, it is a reflection of the art of the man and his understanding of the art AND sciences of sailing and the power of the sea. For those of you unfamiliar with Commodore, well Google him for starters, but know he was a sailing professional before the term existed. Think back in your memory and consider the most famous sailors you know, Blake, Chichester, Robin Knox Johnson, Tabarly, Coutts, they are pikers compared to Commodore.

This from the 1970 Sports Illustrated article on Commodore

With something over 70 years of sailing in any and all Trans-any ocean you want to name, Hobart’s, Bermuda’s, Fastnet’s, various ‘xxx’ meter regattas, one design, winning the first Melbourne–Osaka double handed, races to Tahiti, deliveries, build projects, there is no aspect of the activity known as sailing that Tompkins has not done. In many cases he has invented the systems to make things better and easier on board too.

Commodore regularly sailed with the biggest and best names of the sport. In this case Ted Turner in the 1975 Sydney to Hobart race.

Commodore regularly sailed with the biggest and best names of the sport. In this case Ted Turner in the 1975 Sydney to Hobart race. Tompkins is at the shrouds in The Hat, for years, in fact still a trademark piece of his sailing kit..This picture courtesy of Aussie mate, fellow Finn sailor  and long time sailing writer, Bob Ross.

Anyway, every aspect of this boat, built over some 12 years is a reflection of, literally, a lifetime at sea, on every ocean, under every condition on the widest array of boats imaginable. Born in Boston in 1932, Tomkins was raised aboard the family Schooner in Boston. He under took his first Atlantic crossing shortly there after. His father used the schooner in what to day would be called Sail Training, taking high school kids out into the wilds of the sea. A few years later the family, including the then roughly 4 year old Commodore (and sister Ann) doubled Cape Horn bound from Boston to San Francisco, sans engine in the schooner, named Wander Bird, an 85 foot Elbe River Pilot Schooner.

Painting of the Schooner Wander bird

This painting of the schooner Wander bird, a Pilot Schooner from the Elbe River was completed and presented to Tompkins senior if, I recall the tale properly, by an artist, who had such a good time on HIS trip, he felt compelled to memorialize the ship in this fashion. It is a really great painting of a ship at sea under sail. Tompkins Snr. had purchased the schooner  from the financially struggling Weimar Republic in 1929 or so and turned her into the first school ship, offering summer ‘cruises’ to the offspring of monied northeastern nobility.

There has recently been released a movie, http://throckmortontheatre.org/event/life-on-the-water/2016-02-24/ that had its World Premier at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA  Feb. 2016

'A Lifetime at Sea', movie poster

The poster announcing the World Premier screening of ‘A Lifetime at Sea’, placed in the window of the Throckmorton Theatre. The movie, documentary is a lovely presentation of the life of one of the last of a breed. This delightful little theater in Mill Valley is something of an Art House, used for cinema, presentations, theater and so on. Similar to say Jane Pickens in Newport for those familiar with Newport. I was honored to be one of the speakers, sharing anecdotes of Life With Commodore on the first night and to be MC the second night. Both showings we sold out ,standing room only.

The movie opens the door a couple of millimeters onto the life of this remarkable man.

From a visit in the early 2000's to help Commodore trim some of the large trees in the back of his property in Mill Valley. I think he was only in his late 60's then.

From a visit in the early 2000s to help Commodore trim some of the large trees in the back of his property in Mill Valley. I think he was only in his late 60’s then. Cordage, blocks, and an old but serviceable Barient winch, fastened to a suitable sized plank of timber, said timber clamped to the back deck provided some additional horse power as necessary

Here Commodore and I are moving some of the exhibits of his life to the Throckmorton theatre, only about 3/4 of a mile from his lovely aerie in Mill Valley. We lashed it all up on a regular hand cart and traipsed down the back lanes with it all.

Here Commodore and I are moving some of the exhibits of his life to the Throckmorton theatre, only about three quarters of mile from his lovely aerie in Mill Valley. We lashed it all up on a regular hand cart and traipsed down the back lanes with it all. Cordage is a never missing theme in The Life of Tompkins.

Back to the tale of the sunk Flashgirl. She was quickly drug to shoal water by nearby mates and so did not sink to the bottom. Tompkins arrived on scene within 36 hours-and was dumbstruck, not surprisingly. In emails and calls with him in the first week or so the strain and incredulity of the situation was plain to hear. For any normal person they would have called the insurance company, taken the money and got another boat. In so many ways Commodore is not remotely like a normal person. This was literally losing a part of him, a part of his eternal essence and energy. Losing an arm or eye would have had less impact on him.

Flashgirl, not long after launching, demonstrating the water ballast system

Flashgirl, not long after launching, demonstrating the water ballast system

Well, what to do? Fix it of course! So began the best part of the last couple of months, many, many hours a day.

The guilty party was a failed part of the galley sink plumbing. The tube broke allowing water to flood in.

The PVC pipe, part of the galley plumbing failed from the morion. All the cabinetry around the mast and galley was showing signs of powerful wracking, presumably as the charge passed by.

The PVC pipe, a part of the galley sink plumbing, failed from the dramatic motion that accompanied the strike, the forensics later indicated. This force cracked much of the cabinetry in the vicinity. Said cabinetry was showing signs of powerful wracking, presumably as the charge passed by. The PVC pipe leading to the thru hull failed and not the thru hull fitting itself. The first people aboard, locals who were keeping an eye her, got aboard and closed the thru hull. Think about THAT for a minute…

 

This is what an alternator looks like after 50 hours or so in salt water.

This is what an alternator looks like after 50 hours or so in salt water.

Much of the work was, for the situation, fairly straightforward. Tossing the water logged charts and books, heaving the worst of the rusted tools and so on. I mentioned the boat is a reflection of Commodore-it has water ballast actuated by two large electric pumps, the Autopilot CPU, the B&G CPU, sails, clothes, music, meters, instruments, electrical panel, alternators, reefer, stove. Think about the list of stuff on your boat-It is all soaking wet with salt water.

Going out for a sail on the good yacht Flashgirl a few years ago. The canvas dodger has been upgraded with a solid one

Going out for a sail on the good yacht Flashgirl a few years ago. The canvas dodger has been upgraded with a solid one

So for the last couple of months or so Commodore has been plugging away on Flashgirl, washing all the sails-Flashgirl is an offshore boat and has more sails than the average 40 footer with a main and roll up jib. Repairing, drying, testing, inspecting and working on getting her back in sailing trim.

The large white structure to the right is the case for the lifting keel.

Commodore Tompkins aboard Flashgirl in palmier days. The large white structure to the right is the case for the lifting keel. Galley is to port, reefer and tools are to starboard. Engine is under the steps. Way aft is the masters cabin. There is an aft hatch, similar to offshore race boats to day which can be opened at rest to let a cooling breeze waft thru.

Because the strike hit the mast and blew out thru the ground plate installed adjacent to the mast step, an inspection of the rig was in order. The idea of getting up the mast while working alone is commonly a showstopper for most people. Not so Commodore. He has had for ages a biggish bucket with several hundred feet of suitable line rove thru a four-part tackle.

The view of Flashgirl's masthead. The tall stainless rod and its mate to the left are the rollers either side of the masthead spinnaker sheave that diminish the chafe on the halyard as it exits the sheave.

The view of Flashgirl’s masthead. The tall stainless rod and its shorter mate to the left are the rollers either side of the masthead spinnaker sheave that diminish the chafe on the halyard as it exits the sheave. The remains of the VHF antenna base are to the right. The B&G wind wand is long gone. These pictures were taken by Commodore after he hauled himself up the 60 foot mast by means of a 4 part tackle.

One end of said tackle is hoisted aloft on a halyard, and he hoists himself up on the purchase. Sitting at the top of the mast one day he sent me pictures of the terminals from the Jumper stays-Flashgirl is fractional rigged. The B&G wand was gone and there was a burn mark in its place.

A seagulls eye view of the masthead of Flashgirl.

A seagulls eye view of the masthead of Flashgirl.

We spoke about the issues surrounding the possible damage to the rods and related issues. He was his usual articulate, methodical, rational thinking self with a professional electricians scope of knowledge of the issues. He asked me if I knew any one in my part of the pond, Newport RI, with whom the issues could be discussed, the chap who built the rig having retired and moved to Australia. A few phone calls later we had input from Hall Rigging, Phil Garland, Southern Spars, Ritchie Boyd who has been around Navtec hardware since he built the rig (for the gangway) for the Ark and Chuck Poindexter at Sound Rigging. All gave their take on it. Thanks gents, it is really gratifying to have the resources of such a wealth of experience available and have them respond to the call so quickly.

This image is of the rod terminals for the jumpers to the spar. The rig is about 16 years old and so look a bit tatty. Very close inspection and consultation with a cross section of mates in the game suggest that the rod is still sound, relative to the strike.

This image is of the rod terminals for the jumpers to the spar. The rig is about 16 years old and so look a bit tatty. Very close inspection and consultation with a cross section of mates in the game suggest that the rod is still sound, relative to the strike.

Earlier today, I get a ding on my Face Book feed, that Flashgirl swims. Nancy sent pictures of Commodore and Flashgirl sea trialling on the sound offshore from where this work has been going on.

A view looking aft from about the companion way steps. The aft hatch lets in light and, when open, air. The autopilot hardware is readily accessible. The turquoise material is the aft berth.

A view looking aft from about the companion way steps. The aft hatch lets in light and, when open, air. The autopilot hardware is readily accessible. The turquoise material is the aft berth.

Sixty days of work: hard, demoralizing, wet, strenuous work, alone inside the piece of art you created. It has finally paid off. Commodore and a band of the Usual Suspects will sail her to San Francisco from Hawaii, in a week or so, where the repairs will continue.

A view looking forward to Flashgirl's galley. Light colors, lots of light and air, lots of stowage space all belie the outside impression of a 'race boat'. Flashhgirl is a cruising boat that sails fast.

The view looking forward to Flashgirl’s galley. Light colors, lots of light and air, lots of stowage space all belie the outside impression of a ‘race boat’. Flashgirl is a cruising boat that sails fast. The fasteners on the ‘wall’ attach water tank inspection hatches to the tank. Loading a few hundred pounds of water into the tanks is a lot faster and easier that struggling to get a reef in. And it can be done in ones silk jammies & carpet slippers under the protection of the, now hard, dodger.

It will be fantastic to see him and the boat in February. I plan on going to his 85th birthday party….