C'est la Vie is a 1966 Charlie Morgan 34.

Her home port is Everglades City, FL. Our typical cruising area is Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys, the Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, and the Bahamas. We are C'est la Vie's third owners and purchased her in 2005. We continue to maintain and update this classic vessel. Please post any questions or comments about C'est la Vie or our travels via the comment links below.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dis-masted - Part 2

Click Here for Part 1

Fortunately, Anne and I were both in the cockpit and clear of all the rigging and sails. My initial scene survey lead me to the port side of C’est la Vie. The rig and sails were visible at the water’s surface. Unsure of the extent of the damage, I told Anne to disengage the auto pilot, put the boat in neutral and attempt to hail Tow Boat US or other vessels in the area. Despite the now sickening motion of the boat rolling in the seas, my initial instinct was to salvage the rig and sails. My effort began with the mainsail sheet shackle at the bail on the boom. By the time I was able to remove the split ring and unscrew the pin, the rest of the rig and sails sank below the boat. A couple thumps resonated through boat as the rig struck the hull underwater. Our broken mast could strike the hull and sink C’est la Vie. This thought convinced me that quickly cutting away everything hanging below the water was our only option. Passing Anne hailing all vessels on the cockpit VHF, I dashed below and excavated the cable cutters from below the vee berth. I vividly recall standing below decks with the cable cutters in both hands saying aloud, “I never thought I would need to use these.”

Returning to the cockpit, Anne informed me that she did not think the VHF would work with the mast head antenna under the boat. Damn, why didn’t I think of that? She went below to retrieve the handheld VHF and continued her efforts. Fearful the backstay could foul the rudder or prop, I began cutting at the stern. I wanted the backstay gone. Hell, I wanted the whole rig gone. Moving along the port side towards the bow of the boat, I began clearing standing and running rigging… the roller furling control line – snip; the genny sheet still on the winch – snip; the starboard side cap shroud puling tight across the cabin trunk – snip; the port side dyneema dux lower stays – snip, snip; the inner forestay - snip. At the bow, I realized the roller furling foil shielded the forestay from the cable cutters. Clearing the forestay required exposing the wire. I shouted back to Anne to get the hacksaw. Moving along the starboard side of the boat to retrieve the saw from Anne, I cut the starboard headsail sheet on the foredeck, and then found no other taut rigging to clear in my trip back to the cockpit.

Anne took the cable cutters and I started back to the bow with the hack saw in hand. Before I cleared the cockpit, Anne requested that I clip in. Typically, while offshore on C’est la Vie anyone going beyond the cockpit on deck must clip into the jacklines that run along either side deck from the cockpit to the bow. Focused on the task at hand I had jumped into action without donning my PFD or clipping into the jacklines. I donned my PFD, but starboard jacklines were covered with rigging and the portside lines were buried under my paddleboard. I returned to the bow to clear the forestay. Keeping the saw moving in the growing kerf required two hands. While frantically working to clear the foil my torso bounced between the bowsprit rails. Later in the day I would discover the bruising, in the moment I was thankful the rails were keeping me on the rolling deck. Once the cut extended through one wall of the foil, the forces bearing on the thin tube of aluminum quickly tore through the remaining material. I returned to the cockpit, traded the saw for the cutters, and then made my way back to the bow. Again, working in space between the bowsprit rails required some two handed finagling, but the forestay eventually succumbed. I watched the roll of crisp genoa sail cloth sink out of sight.

Thinking the rig is now free of the boat, I turned back to the cockpit. Stanchions on both sides of the hull bent inward. The portside dorade vent was gone. Electrical wires sprouted from the tube in the center of the now naked mast step. My paddle board, originally tied off to the starboard life lines, now lay on the side deck with a couple rips visible in the cover. Snaking my way back to the cockpit I felt an odd jerk in C’est la Vie’s side to side motion. It felt like being restrained by a seat belt in a car making a sudden stop. Realizing the rig was still hanging below the boat, I started back up the port side and discovered the intact cap shroud stretched taunt between the chain plate and the dark surface of the ocean. The wire cut easily. Our mast, two year old standing rigging, two year old genoa, one year old whisker pole, and 8 month old mainsail were now drifting to the bottom, 75.1’ below.

At some point in the following 24 hours I realized the blind luck of missing the port side cap shroud on my initial pass. If I had cut the shroud on my way to the bow, then the entire rig would have hung from the forestay while I struggled to cut through the foil. I have no doubt the forces involved would have destroyed our bowsprit. 

Reunited in the cockpit, we melted into an embrace as tears overtook both of us. We were numb, sacred, sad, uncertain, weary... listing the mix of emotions washing over us is an impossible task. Standing together in the cockpit we shared feelings of relief that neither of us were seriously injured. 

What next? To our alarm the bilge pump ran once while I was cutting the rig free, but it now remained silent. Fortunately, at this time the engine and rudder appeared unaffected. Lacking an antenna, our primary VHF was out of service. Anne’s efforts to communicate with the handheld VHF proved fruitless. Our cockpit mounted GPS has an internal antenna and was continuing to function properly. Oddly, the depth sounder simply flashed the depth of the site of the dismasting. Lacking sails to reduce the effect of the seas, C’est la Vie rolled uncomfortably. Necessity required we set our emotions and discomfort aside. Anne began to steer a course for the Cape Fear River Inlet. I went below to rewire the VHF to the am/fm antenna mounted astern on the wind generator pole.

motoring towards Cape Fear River Inlet with the rig gone.
Part 1
Part 3
Afterward & Lessons

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