Offshore Rigging

June 22, 2010

I arrived back in Deer Harbor over two weeks ago hopeful, motivated, and dreamy. A 40-day absence lubbing land and visiting loved-ones all along the west coast had fueled my imagination and sharpened some points of my impending sail south to California. Within days of my return however, bubbles began to burst- pierced by the one point I had been taking too lightly: offshore rigging.

Dreamers don’t make good blue-water sailors unless they can turn down the IZ cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World” long enough to assure their safe passage offshore. Preparing this vessel to sail for 7-10 days at sea, 100 miles out, in winds likely reaching into the 30’s and maybe the 40’s of knots, with seas building into the teens or even 20’s of feet high requires clear, realistic thinking. Preparations must be uncompromising- using more practicality and less inventiveness, more fore-thought and less intuition. And the area of transition, from creative to pragmatist, I am learning, is a stormy sea unto itself.

As I surveyed the Bruja Dulce’s sails, rigging, and equipment, and refreshed my understanding of safe offshore preparations, I noted my own neglect, oversight, and lack of planning. Some critical points like the condition of my sails and the lack of a storm sail rig never made it over the rainbow and into my offshore list. This was deeply unsettling. I thought about what I had been doing with my time, recently, and over the last 3 1/2 years. I had been living a dream. But you don’t take dreams offshore, you take mended sails, well-tuned rigging, and a ready-to-deploy liferaft.

The “uncomfortable” feeling that resulted from this revelation, I have learned, comes from cognitive dissonance

The Turtle Cover and related supplies, the elephant on the boat

a well-studied lack of harmony between a persons perceived world and the real, cause-and-effect-based world. The dissonance, the internal struggle, tore at my sanity- it was way more than uncomfortable. As I was taking down the “Turtle Cover”, the project I had spent many dollars and hours creating (which will be absolutely no help to me at sea), I cursed it, along with my inventive self, and other aspects of “the dream” I had been living and creating. I felt far away, out of control, and somehow fraudulent.

Dissonance happens. In music, it is dissonance that gives contrast to consonance- harmony. It is necessary. What is important, I think, is what you do with the dissonance, and there seems to be two basic paths: You can listen to it, shouldering the discomfort, and search for it’s natural resolve, or, you can “rig” a system which moves the dissonance “offshore”, away, out of earshot.

It’s much easier to recognize this in others. And though it’s a grave folly to be outwardly critical and inwardly naive- I say this with recent experience- it’s important to recognize the many ways this dynamic manifests in individuals, groups, and societies. I had been thinking about this other type of “offshore rigging” for weeks before it hit me between the eyes.

The Enron corporation annihilated itself through the use of “offshore” financial entities, dissolving it’s toxic assets into the larger economic ecosystem in late 2001. The executives and consultants who generated this toxicity believed the energy-trading company they were crafting was sustainable, forming offshore entity after offshore entity to store their bad assets in an increasingly complex system of self-delusion.

The recent financial meltdown? It was crazy rigging, way offshore, see Financial Derivatives and Housing Bubble. The 4.6 lbs of waste the average American generates each day which are buried-away in landfills and burned-away into the atmosphere? It’s sometimes literally dumped offshore. The dependence on mono-cultural industrial agriculture? They’re rigged ecosystems based on non-renewable energy, where we ship bees around the country to pollinate because the immense single-species crops won’t sustain a hive for more than a few weeks per year.

The modern offshore oil and gas rigging systems?

Illustration from Wikepedia Commons

Deep Water Horizon (AP Photo/US Coast Guard)

On an individual level, more so with isolation, this dynamic can also be very difficult to deal with. On July 10, 1969, Donald Crowhurst’s 40′ trimaran sailboat “Teignmouth Electron” was found off the coast of South America, empty- the electronics inventor’s presumed suicide the result of a torturous nightmare of his own creation.

Donald Crowhurst departing from England in 1968.

One of seven entrants in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe “Round the World” single-handed yacht race he had left in a frenzy at the last minute, unprepared, on an untested vessel, his house and failing business mortgaged to pay for the attempt. He planned on crafting the boat’s safety systems, a self-inflating balloon mechanism of his own invention, while sailing.

The boat’s progress south was very slow, and troubled. He was intentionally ambiguous with his initial location reports back to England. Within a month, Crowhurst was faced with only two real choices: continue the race with his unprepared rig and surely be lost in the Southern Ocean, or turn back, and arrive bankrupt, but alive.

The abandoned Teignmouth Electron

Crowhurst crafted a third option. His reality split against the sharp dissonance of a perceived “lose-lose” scenario. He radioed back to England an increasingly complex fabrication of an around the world voyage from his nearly stationary position just offshore from Brazil. At first he hoped to slip in at the end of the race, burying his false journey in the distant field of a last place finish. But as the race developed, he let his imagination rig more and more solutions to the ever-changing scenario. For seven months he kept two logs, one real, and one imaginary, descending into a madness that is as telling as it is frightening. Entries found in his log read:

The shameful secret of God… is that there is no good or evil — only truth…”
I have become a second generation cosmic being, I am conceived in the womb of nature, in my own mind… In the womb of the universe. “
“I had a complete set of answers to the most difficult problems now facing mankind. I had arrived in the cosmos while contemplating the navel of the ape…”
“It’s a small sin for a man to commit, but it is a terrible sin for a cosmic being.”

“Deep Water”, a 2006 documentary about the Golden Globe race and Crowhurst is an excellent and yet positively excruciating film.

This sign is just down the road from the marina in Deer Harbor. When I first saw it, I thought it was neat, and timely. But then, as the true reality of my situation clashed with my fancy point of sail dreams, the sign began to taunt me. It’s message amplified the dissonance.

For a while, I fought to rig my situation. Just over a week ago, I imagined forming a partnership with a canvas/sail-fabrication company to develop the Turtle Cover into a marketable product- their equity share into the idea being, of course, a new mainsail for the Bruja Dulce- all in three months….crazy. Remember Donald Crowhurst’s safety preparations? The one’s he invented and planned on crafting while sailing? He also planned on marketing them and selling them upon his successful return.

An apt name for a common offshore rigging system. Chase what? Chase Manhattan? Maybe, but not on credit.

Over the following few days, I came to terms with simply borrowing the money, “going for broke”. I got a North Sails business card from my practical and very helpful neighbor, Lee, and planned on calling them the next morning. Imagining myself hoisting a sparkling new mainsail up the mast as I headed offshore in September- a tribute and lasting member of my offshore rigging- didn’t feel quite right, but it seemed to quiet the uncomfortable feeling, curing the symptom.

Kevin's driftwood farmstand under construction

Then, just when I thought I had solved the problem, I met another liveaboard neighbor, a local carpenter and wood-enthusiast, Kevin. He’s my age or younger with a 38′ Ingrid Ketch- a well-rigged deep blue, blue-water boat, with ladders in the rigging like a pirate ship. I discovered he’s the one building the beautiful driftwood-timber farmstand down the road, just past the damn sign. He’s also planning on sailing south, offshore, to California this summer. His sails are in about the same state as mine (without the tears), but he has extras. He sounded competent, or at least consonant, and this sent me seeking my natural resolution.

The Bruja's new (barely-used) storm jib.

For now, each day is a struggle. I am humbled daily. My imagination now serves to render the effects of crashing seas and gale force winds, my creativity picking up the pieces.

A new mainsail would be nice, but it’s hardly a panacea for my rig. I can mend the old sail. I scored a used storm jib in excellent condition today from Second Wave in Seattle. This is what you use to ride out the bad weather anyway, not the old mainsail.

It was a good day. I spent 33 cents at Fisheries Supply, an all time low. It felt incredible. Upstairs in the North Sails loft, I met Angus, the sailmaker that Lee wanted me to talk to. I told Angus I was going to mend my own sails. He sold me some sail cloth and gave me some professional needles, thread, and much much needed advice. I paid him with the cash I got from selling my old Nelco sewing machine- it wasn’t up to this task.

I think I can do this. But if I can’t, I won’t- not until I’m ready. And the same goes for any culture that has a dream: check your rigging. Our society is farther from understanding what it means to be sustainable than I am from sailing to Chile, New York, or Tahiti. We’re just getting started. What’s the point? Be real.


One comment

  1. Oh my!! Bless your heart! What a job you have ahead of you. I am so thankful that you are “thinking ahead” and listening to your “inner thoughts”. I know absolutely nothing about what you are talking about when you say “storm jib” or some of the other terms you used. But I’m glad you are not going to rush the trip before you KNOW you are absolutely ready and everything is in top shape. The day will come! Just maybe not today. Keep the faith! Just know that I love you and wish the best for you. Hang in there!!!!

    Love you,

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