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From Crayfish to Iron
1. The DismastingBang. Sigh. Splash. Thump.
Those were the sounds my mast made as it came down in a Red Sea storm. From what I had read of dismastings I expected something more dramatic. Perhaps more clatter and ripping. Perhaps the sounds of tearing sails and rending aluminum and the pounding of the spar as it sought to stave in the hull. But after the initial, understated drama, a vast peace came over Unlikely as she settled down, unstrained and beam to the nasty little seas.
The bang was the backstay parting; the sigh the sound of the mast, still draped with stays and shrouds, as it leaned to starboard and, like a felled sequoia, eased majestically into the sea. The splash, hardly audible, absorbed much of the energy of the fall, so that when the mast went thump against the side of the boat it barely left a mark on the teak capping.
I was surprised, even a bit disappointed, that when the time had come for my dismasting it proved to be so anti-climatic.
My mast normally is 53 feet above the deck and also extends down into the boat another 11 feet to rest on the keel. But now there remained only a stub no more than 20 feet high. Thirty-three feet of mast hung from the stub by yards and yards of cables, wires and line. The top of the mast, with its array of instruments, antennas and lights, was upside down in the water alongside the boat.
As I watched the mast splash into the sea, I did four things, almost simultaneously. I called my two crew members on deck, asked for the new Norseman hydraulic cable cutter that I had purchased (after much soul-searching over the price), tied a lanyard to the tool and found a comfortable seat in the cockpit from which I could survey the damage. I spent the next 10 minutes taking stock.
The crew I had summoned on deck was composed of an aging boulevardier who should have been sipping his morning cup in the Café de la Paix and a 19-year old lass from Liechtenstein (of all maritime places) whose sea experience was, well, limited. I myself, half a decade older than the boulevardier, might well have been playing golf with boring colleagues in Miami Beach, Florida. But no, here I was in the Red Sea with untested crew, a crippled boat and half a ton of liberated mast poised to wreak havoc.
I quietly considered my predicament. As the minutes passed and we remained afloat and intact, I began to suspect that some dismasting tales recounted by sailors eager to beat chests, were perhaps a bit one-sided about what actually happens in a dismasting.
In my case, although most of my rig had fallen, no one was hurt, the integrity of the boat was unchallenged and, most important, the boat lay ahull with reasonable, if jerky, motion. It seemed the task of readying her for a jury rig was not going to be impossible even for two creaky ancients and a small unsuspecting girl whose eyes had become as big and round as Necco wafers (large size).
The Red Sea is no place to practice dismasting. It is hardly a place where a sailor should find himself at all, as it is a nest of dangers that sailors pray to Poseiden they will never have to face. Big ship traffic is intense. During the time that we lay ahull cleaning up the mess, the big boats dodged about us like electric cars at the fair. Most altered course and passed well away. Some, to our consternation, did not.
The Red Sea itself is unpredictable: unstable due to its lack of depth, full of coral reefs and shallow banks, subject to fierce, hot (Hasmin) winds and short, choppy, seas. It is, as we were to discover, completely surrounded by Third World countries whose hatred and jealousy of all things Western has only been heightened by their recently won independence. (However, the only really bad time we were to have would be at the hands of armed Ethiopians, who we believed were intent on taking, or at least stripping, our boat).
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