Preparations for a stormy night

Blog Post #4: This maneuver was clearly out of control!

We sailed into the night with full sails up. The sun was just going down and the A4 gennaker pulled the boat through the water with enormous power. In order to be able to move Sisi's 10 tons at this high speed, huge forces tugged at the sails and at all the material that held them in place. It was important to find the right balance between size of the sail area and thus speed, but also caution and foresighted action. Because it could be too much of a good thing when the wind picked up. If the balance was not chosen correctly, sailcloth could tear, other material could break, or at least the maneuverability and thus the speed of the boat could suffer.

As the weather-conditions were predicted to change, a balanced strategy was sought for the night. Perhaps now was the right time to reduce the sail area and set a smaller headsail instead of the A4? The decision was made to reef the mainsail and change the headsail, so all crew members were mobilized to help. These maneuvers were complex, exhausting and required everyone's full attention. So it wasn't a job that could be handled simply as a reduced watch team. We had a piece of hard work ahead of us.

When one unfortunate circumstance leads to the next

The decision to reef came not a minute too soon. The wind had picked up, the waves were building higher and higher. The thunderstorm ahead of us came closer faster than predicted and bared its teeth. In all the preparations for the reef and the sail exchange, it was not even noticed that one of the guests was still at the helm. As a rookie, he had his hands full keeping the boat on course in these conditions. And so came what was inevitable: a particularly strong gust caused Sisi to heel heavily, and the boat began to approach windwards. Alarmed by the heeling, the skipper shouted: "Easy the main sheet!" to instruct the trimmer to take the pressure off the mainsail. Unfortunately, the boom got caught in the loosely hanging backstay – a kind of support rope on the mast. Although the main sheet was loosened, the stuck boom only moved a few centimetres. The wind pressure could not escape from the sail. The boat continued it's approach unstoppably while the heeling increased threateningly. With the rudder at the stop, the flow of water stalled with a hissing sound. Everyone knew the boat was no longer responding to the helmsman's steering attempts. We quickly looked for a hold and continued to try to take the wind pressure out of our sails. A crew member managed to reach and release the gennaker sheet. Loudly fluttering, the enormous load discharged itself from the huge cloth. This was a temporary solution only as now there was a risk of tearing the material and thus losing this strategically important sail. So we tried to get the main boom clear again, which finally succeeded.

"Can we please change the helmsman?!"

The helmsman was relieved and left his post in frustration. After a good hour's work, all but the current watch crew crawled into their sleeping places, wet and exhausted.

Mein Team war weiter an der Reihe und so blieb ich. An Deck kehrte gespannte Stille ein. Nach ein paar Minuten meinte ich: „Niemandem von uns wäre es anders ergangen. Mit dem festsitzenden Baum war die Situation einfach nicht mehr zu retten. Dafür kannst Du nichts.“  Mein Team-Kollege schaute wortlos in meine Richtung, nickte und blickte wieder nach vorne in die schwarze Nacht. Es vergingen wieder ein paar Minuten und eine weitere Crew-Kollegin sagte augenzwinckernd: „Versprochen, Du darfst trotzdem wieder ans Rad“. Wir kicherten etwas. Als dann ein weiterer Kollege dem Unglücklichen aufmunternd auf die Schulter klopfte, meldete sich dieser erstmals zu Wort. Er meinte: „Ich finde es wirklich bemerkenswert mit welcher Behutsamkeit ihr Eure Unterstützung ausdrückt. Das freut mich wirklich und das tut mir gut. Danke dafür!“ Langsam aber sicher besserte sich so die Stimmung, es wurde wieder gescherzt und natürlich analysierten wir, was hätte besser laufen können. An Ende blieb die Erinnerung an ein etwas mißglücktes Maneuver aber noch viel mehr, wie stark wir als Team zusammengehalten hatten.


There were a few mistakes made in this situation. But it's not at all about pointing fingers at anyone or shaking one's head. We've all had our dark moments on this journey and no one has ever been perfect. Learning is part of an ocean crossing.

Looking back, however, this event was very valuable and it strengthened us as a team. In my view, these success factors were crucial:

There are no magic formulas to resolve such events. Too many influencing factors determine the possible success. The more conscious interventions can be made, the more leeway there is for the people involved. Properly handled mistakes can help to strengthen the team. There was not one responsible manager here, all team members spontaneously assumed responsibility.