By Laurent Coquilleau - Houston, Texas - USA

First of all, kudos to Kevin for finishing the Texas 200. It was windier than last year and, out of three proas starting, he was the only one to finish the event.

To put it in perspective, there were 47 boats at the start and 28 at the finish...

From now on, at least for a short while, I will call Kevin not simply "Kevin", but Proa Master Kevin.

When reviewing my boat, Kevin had two comments. First, are you sure that those aluminum rudder pintles will be strong enough and don't
you think you should switch to stainless steel? Second, you should bungee down your mast foot to the hull, so it cannot pop out of the pin it sits on. That happened to me once, he said.

I should have listened as I sheared off a rudder pintle right above the lower rudder support and I popped the mast out of its pin.

What really happened on that f@#§ing first day? My bungee system to hold the rudder blade down was not tight enough and, when sailing above eight knots, the blade would slightly kick back generating a lot of load on the rudder pintle. I was trying to hold the blade in place with one hand on the bungee, but I should have stopped and put together a fix to limit the extra load on the pintle. I sheared off the pintle right above the lower support, where I had drilled a small hole to install a cotter pin to lock the pintle in place so it does not fall down. It was a typical case of bad engineering on my part with a "cut following the dotted line" weakness point.

When the bottom section of the rudder head was not held in place any longer, the rudder was swinging in all directions. The top support of the rudder twisted in all directions... BAAAAD.

I stopped the boat, secured the rudder and was in the middle of the forced shunt trying to figure out where I would end up on this new shunt, compared to where I wanted to go. The sea was really choppy and my mast popped out of its step at that point. With the wind in the sail, the mast foot fell into the water without touching/damaging the hull.

A few seconds of panic followed...

I had a one rudder proa and a mast horizontal in the water (I wanted to test before the race if my mast was floating or not. I know now - it does). The whole rig was still attached with the three stays and two shrouds and the strut. The top of the strut was bending alarmingly, with its foot still attached to the boat. This was the first line I cut to free the strut. Carbon windsurfer masts are tough.

I then pulled the whole thing, mast, mainsail and strut back on the boat. This was not a small feat. In the process I damaged the main sail in several places from it being against the spreaders, cleats and rudder extensions on the main hull. The main was covering the trampoline almost entirely, so I removed all the lower battens and tried to limit windage by tying the mast and the sail without the battens to the boat. I got my paddle out and started paddling to the shore on a beam reach. Dan and Brian passed by on their Tamanu catamaran with their Hobie 18 rig under jib only. (I was on main with one reef. I had to go upwind from the ramp in Port Mansfield to get into the bay and could not have done it without the main). I contacted them on VHF and they passed by proposing to help, which was nice but not really practical. They proposed to tow me to the beach by I was not sure this was really safe, especially with my mast sticking out so much from both ends of the boat. I did not want to jeopardize their boat, which was assembled for the first time the day before.

In any case, I was not in immediate danger. I was in the middle of the bay and the wind would push me against a shore, even if I was not paddling.

After 1 1/2 hrs of paddling, I reached the shore. During that long paddling time, I was able to come up with a plan. I had to fix the rudder first. If I could not sail on that same tack, I could not continue the trip, even only to camp one. If I continued to camp one, I would have to go to camp two, since camp one is on a small island in the middle of nowhere with no access from the continent, no permanent inhabitant, marginal cell phone coverage and so on. Camp two is a marina, where I can leave the boat, get a rental car, recover my car and trailer at camp five and come back and pick up the boat and so on.

If I could not repair the rudder, I have to walk back to the starting line (10 to 15 miles on the beach) and get someone with a power boat willing to come back to my boat to tow it. That would be a big mess and a long and expensive solution. More over, I landed on the shore of King Ranch, one of the biggest ranches in the US. The ranch is the whole county, King County! The personnel on the ranch are well known not to tolerate trespassers. Leaving my boat on their land was not very appealing. This part of Texas is a desert, in the sense that there is NOBODY; no road, no trail and very bad cell phone coverage. I had to expect to be on my own. If I could repair the rudder, then I had to remast the boat - all thirty feet of it. I would sail under jib only to camp one and then to Camp two.

When I arrived at the beach, I removed all my stuff from the boat (food, tool and clothes bags, mast, mainsail, jib in its bag, wishbone, strut and broken rudder) and I checked the rudder support. It was made of carbon toe wrapped around the rudder pintle. The bottom support was intact.
I did not see any "weird" load due to the failure of the pintle, as the pintle sheared off above it. The top support had been twisted in many directions but (almost) all the carbon fiber was still in place. There was some separation between the fibers, but a pintle well guided with the bottom support would not break it any further. Carbon fiber is TOUGH!

In the mean time, two guys on a powerboat out on a fishing trip stopped by and ask if I needed help. One of the guys tried to call a towing company out of Port Mansfield (starting point of the Texas 200), but got only an answering machine. He left a message saying that a sailboat needed some assistance at such and such location, but I was not very sure of seeing ever any tow boat coming for me. The communication was also really bad. They left going fishing and proposed to come back check on me when they returned to Port Mansfield. They were going out and did not really want to waste their fishing day by towing a crazy sailor with a weird accent to their starting point. Once again, I was not in real immediate danger and did not want to impose this on them.

To repair my rudder, I decided to use my other rudder pintle, knowing that if I installed it the same way I would most likely shear it as well through the same small hole for the cotter pin.
So I installed the pintle upside down, with the small cotter pin hole now in the middle between the top and bottom supports of the rudder head. This way it was not exposed to any shearing load. I installed a stainless steel wire clamp at the bottom of the pintle right above the bottom support to avoid the pintle to falling through.
Once the rudder was repaired, I untangled all the rig lines. I did not cut all the lines. I was careful during the rig recovery to limit my line cutting to a minimum and to non critical lines such as mainsail reef lines and the strut attachment line at the strut's foot. It had to raise the mast. I had already removed the shredded mainsail and rolled it into its bag.
The same fishing boat came back at about that time to check on me. They asked me again if I needed a tow. One of the guy was really friendly and the other was obviously bothered to have to stop for a f@#§¤g sailboat in trouble.

The nice guy said: "so do you want us to ask for a towboat when we get back to Port Mansfield?" Me: "thank you but it is not necessary, I am going to remast" Nice guy: "....." Strange look on his face; looking at me to guess if I have all my sanity. Nice guy to the other guy: "he says he is going to remast?!" Other guy: "let's go". And off they went.

With the four rig lines (two stays and two shrouds) attached, and the mast perpendicular to the main hull, I raised the mast by pushing on the strut.

I took me three attempts to get the mast up. The strut has to be in the right position to be able to do it. It was the first time that I raised the mast by myself.

Once the mast was up, a primal scream followed.

I then reloaded everything on the boat, raised my jib and went on to camp one. It took me about six hours to do the whole thing on the beach. I left King Ranch's beach around 8:00PM. I could have waited for the following morning, but I wanted to catch on with the rest of the group for two reasons. First, after the account from Dan and Brian, I knew that a few people would have been worried. More importantly, being only able to go downwind on only one tack, I had no choice but to continue the route. If I wanted the reassuring company of the whole group for the rest of the trip (my goal was camp two), I had to catch up right now, rather than sailing one day behind everybody.

Sunset was around 8:00PM, so from 8:00 to 9:00 I had visibility. From 9:00 to 10:00 it was pretty dark. I was thinking: "I thought it was full moon for this trip?! Where is the moon?" At 10:00PM I had a very beautiful and highly anticipated moon rise. After that, it was easy to see the channel marks. I crossed two HUGE barges with pusher tugboats. Those guys have a white beam light to see in front of them which is more powerful than anything else I have seen. I bet they can light up at least half a mile in front of them. They can scan back an forth the area in front of them. It was somewhat funny to see that light beam passing over me, then stop and come back on me and stay there. I could imagine the thoughts of the skipper "what the f@#k is this?".

I arrived at camp one at the opposite end of the land cut at 2:00AM, slept four hours and then said hello to everybody on the morning of day two. It was funny to see the surprise on everybody's face and a warm feeling to see that people were worried. I did not regret to sail in the dark to get back to the group.

The following day was one long broad reach under my 70 sq ft jib only. I actually passed quite a few (small and boxy) boats on my way to camp two.

Ten guys helped me to put the boat on the parking lot where I could recover it. Kevin asked me to crew on his boat, complaining that it was not fun to sail alone and somewhat stressfully. All alone you cannot let the tiller go for extended period of time to look at the GPS or attend to any of the other tasks. I was more than happy to do so.

Lessons learned

I was not prepared enough. I had not sailed into so much wind by myself. I had to be finished before the start, even at the expense of other tasks. Basically, it was too much of a rush at the end of the preparation period. Do not start from the lee side of the harbor it at all possible. There were two ramps in Port Mansfield. I launched for the lee side ramp, as the other one does not have a big parking lot and fishermen get excited really fast if you block the ramp more than three minutes. They want to get on the water as well and they want to get on the water NOW! The lee side ramps were actually three ramps side by side, so that was better. If I had launched the boat earlier and somewhat managed to have it tied to a dock on the windward side of the harbor, (not an easy task by itself as the wind was gusting at 20+ knots, head on), I could have started under jib only. I am not saying that I would have, but that might have been a possibility. I did not have this option from the lee side. I could have, and should have, lowered my mainsail once out of the harbor and raised my jib and sailed under jib. The feeling "I want to get there fast" took over from the more reasonable "I want to get there - period." I had never lowered the mainsail on the water before - just to show my shortage on preparation. I did take a reef on the water. It was slow, but it worked. It was a first as well. Yet another example of inadequate preparation.

My mast is too tall (DUUHHH!!!). I have to start with a smaller rig first and increase the horsepower if need be, rather than the other way around.

And, last but not least, the comment below from Kevin on my seamanship is very nice, but not deserved.

If you have good seamanship, you don't drop the mast in the first place or start the Texas 200 with so many shortages (see above).

I am just a bloody hard nosed Frenchman...


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