January 18, 2009 - Reached the East Pacific ice gate today. 1700 nautical miles to Cape Horn. We have pounded up to the ice gate in chaotic big seas and a lightening breeze. Made eight sail changes after reaching the ice gate.
Serious problem today. One of the topmast runners got hooked around the second spreader on the mast. When this happens and it goes unnoticed, gybing or tacking can break the spreader and the mast will come down. See the image of a mast with attached spreaders and runners.
So I had the runner stuck on the wrong side of the spreader. I had the reacher up and one reef in the main sail at the time. I rolled the reacher up, went to 2 reefs and then 3 reefs in the main for control, all the while fearing the worst—that I would have to climb the mast to unhook the runner.
First I brought the runner group (all the runners bundles together) forward, and swung them violently to try to unhook the topmast runner from around the second spreader. In the past, in a case like this one, I was able to yank it free, but not this time. I tried detaching the topmast runner from the runner group and swinging it separately, but no go. Then I had one more idea: bring in main sail tightly to the middle of the boat to support the mast and then release the windward runners (the runners on the same side of the boat that the wind is coming from). This move was very, very dangerous, but with just 10 knots of wind I thought that it just might release the runner. And it did. I didn’t have to climb the mast in very confused seas.
You should have seen me scramble to get those runners back and snugged down. I dove across the cockpit to reattach them. Then I re-lashed topmast runner to group. I still need to go aloft to make some final repairs, but only when the seas and wind die down more.
When I did this operation, I had on long underwear with foul weather gear on top and the helmet without a stocking cap. When I finished, I was sweating so much I couldn't see out of one eye for the salt sweat in it, and long underwear was just dripping puddles. I drank an entire quart of Gatorade in 30 seconds afterward, just exhausted.