19 February 2019

Sparking Joy for Cruisers

Cruising can be an odd and wondrous lifestyle. Here are a few things that spark joy for us on board s/v Argon. And a nod to Marie Kondo...

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Sparks of Joy for Linda:

Dinghy outboard starts on first pull

Water (and fuel) gauges full

Street food and local markets

Morning swims in beautifully clear, safe anchorages

Early morning coffee in the cockpit

Visits with kids

Paddle boarding

Sparks of Joy for Bob: 


4G LTE / reliable WiFi 
Solar panels generating 15 amps

Making pictures

Catching Mahi (confession: this pic is from 2017; no Mahi yet in 2018/9)

A clean bottom


Sparks of Joy for Both of Us: 

Finding unexpected roadside gems

Island hiking and exploration

Snorkeling on the anchor to find it well set

7.5 kts beam reach
Sailing Argon

02 February 2019

Fixing Argon in Bermuda and Antigua

Bob Damiano

During our passage from Newport to Bermuda back in late October we had a failure of the outer headstay while crossing the Gulf Stream.  The following details the process of making Argon whole again.  Apologies for the geekery.


This post is not intended as a criticism of Tartan or of the Tartan 4000 (or any other modern Tartan model with a similar rig). We are huge fans of Tartan and the designs. We can not say enough about how helpful, responsive and proactive Tim Jackett and the team at Tartan were throughout the process. This post is also not intended as advice. We are not riggers. We are sailors who follow the advice of professional riggers. It is intended to just clearly say what happened, and what we chose to do about it based on the guidance of several helpful professionals. One of the positive outcomes of this experience is that we have a much deeper understanding of our rig now, and I find that I can't look at another boat now without fixating on how the various mast attachment points are done.  Other Tartan owners have asked "should we do what you did?".  My answer is always the same:  "Ask your rigger.  Don't ask us".  There's more than one way to rig a boat.

Rig details:

Argon has a Solent Rig... two headstays. The inner stay is the primary stay providing stability to the mast and carrying the 90% working Jib.  It is attached to the mast with a spoon (or lollipop) type fitting (more on this later). The outer stay is there mostly to carry the 150% genoa (reacher).  It is attached to a sheavebox near the top of the mast.   The mast is a keel stepped one-piece carbon fiber stick. 

Argon showing off her perfect dual head stays anchored in Guadeloupe shortly after the repairs were completed.

Upon arriving in Bermuda after the rig damage, a tired (but relieved) crew began the work of lowering the separated outer headstay.  The sheavebox that the outer stay attaches to broke out of the carbon mast.  It appears that a weld failed behind the mast wall at the top and that the box cantilevered out of the mast, breaking off a small bit of carbon at the bottom.

Why did it break?

The $64K question.  The winds were in a good range and direction for using the reacher, however the sea-state was not so ideal. We found ourselves in a suddenly degrading sea-state with steep/confused waves which continually rounded us up into the wind. Our hindsight being 20:20, we should have switched to the Jib as soon as we were no longer able to stay off the wind due to the confused seas.  Interestingly, most of the gulf stream passage was quite benign and this all happened just as we were exiting the stream.  We thought we were home free!

We don't know exactly when the separation occurred.  It was a very dark moonless night (this stuff always happens at night).  We were struggling to control Argon and keep her off the wind.  At some point, Linda turned on the deck light to examine the rig and it was clear that something was not right as the luff of the genoa bowed out in an exaggerated curve.  We were unable to furl in the genoa so I went forward on a tether and saw that the outer stay was loose and the furling drum was trashing itself to death in the bow pulpit rails. After about an hour of manhandling with two of us tethered on the foredeck wrestling with the drum and two in the cockpit trying to control Argon's position in the confused seas, we were able to get the genoa furled, albeit sloppily.  We now hobbled along with a flailing outer headstay still two days out from reaching Bermuda.

The state of argon upon arriving in Bermuda

The sheavebox. Note that the missing baking tab on the right (top) side. This is the weld that failed.

During the passage, we could have chucked the whole stay overboard but we were hoping to save the sail and the furler foil.  The stay hung on the reacher halyard safely during the passage.  Ultimately, the foil was so bent up, we ended up chopping it up in dumpster-sized bits. But the sail was repaired and salvaged.

Lowering the outer stay upon arrival in Bermuda

The outer stay foil sadly chopped up for the trash.

We immediately contacted Tartan with photos and details about what happened. Job one was to go aloft and inspect the carbon for significant damage. Linda went up with a gopro and got some very close-up detailed video which we shared with Tartan. The good news was that it appeared that other than the tab of carbon broken out at the bottom of the sheavbox opening, there were no other stress cracks or signs of the weave splitting or de-laminating.

At this point, we were dealing with Steve Hollis from Ocean Sails in Bermuda. Originally, we assumed we would need the stick taken out and the full repairs done in Bermuda. This was quite stressful as we really didn't want to be pinned down in Bermuda that long (for weather and expense reasons). 

Linda doing a close-up inspection and video

Hello, what's this? 

During one of Steve's many trips aloft, he noticed a broken strand on our inner stay wire!
We now had zero functional stays.  This was also one of those silver-lining moments.  If the outer stay didn't fail, we probably would have never noticed the damaged inner stay.  A failure of this stay offshore would have been catastrophic.  This is another learning experience and we would definitely not miss a detail like this in future rig inspections!  But, now we worried that with the even more substantial repairs needed, our Caribbean trip might not be feasible. Happily, the plan evolved into getting the inner stay repaired in Bermuda providing stability to safely sail; and continuing south to our next destination (Antigua) with only the inner (primary) headstay. We would continue and finish all repairs in Antigua. 

Subtle but critical failure: broken strand of the inner stay serendipitously discovered.

So, now the process was all about having a new inner stay built and installed.  This is when I first started getting educated on spoon/lollipop fittings.  Turns out that the original manufacturer of this spoon is no longer operating so they had to build the stay with a different brand.

The old and new lollipop fittings
Steve Hollis got the new stay ordered and it arrived from Florida within about a week.  We did careful measurements to compare the old and new fittings and Linda went aloft to verify that the new lollipop would fit in the existing backing plate.  Steve (with a little help from Linda and I and a few other folks along the docks) got the new inner stay built and installed.

Preparing the new Stay for installation.
Tim Jackett at Tartan had very quickly sent us a drawing of a modification to the outer stay sheavebox.  The backing plate would be lengthened downward and a "doubler" plate welded in to fill in the extra opening in the carbon. Steve arranged for some initial modification to the outer stay sheavebox including drilling out the pin hole for a clevis pin instead of the barrel pin that was originally holding the stay in.

Here is where we have to say how awesome Steve Hollis and and is family treated us. Ocean Sails was in the middle of a huge custom canvas project while we were there as well as many other sailboats arriving in Bermuda with various sail and rigging issues, but we never felt pushed aside by him. Steve's wife Suzanne and their son Austin (Austin also did a couple trips up our rig) were immensely helpful and friendly.  In fact, we found ourselves invited to a lovely pot-luck dinner at their house after this was all done.


And we're off...

With a few other repairs complete (nav light replaced, lazy-jacks rebuilt), we were ready to set off for Antigua with our single stay fractionally rigged Tartan 4000 after just three weeks in Bermuda.  As it turned out, the conditions for the passage would never have required a reacher anyway as winds were light and way in front of the beam for most of it.

Before leaving, Steve sent an email to Stan Pearson at Antigua Rigging to give the overview and tell him that we were on our way.  The response from Stan (which came while we were under way) was "I hope they're not in a hurry".

Nine (yes nine) days later, we arrived English Harbor, Antigua.  That passage was slow.  (Should have been only six!)

Antigua Rigging

Upon arriving in Antigua (and getting some sleep), we contacted Stan Pearson at Antigua Rigging and arranged to meet him at his office. We went over what happened and the proposed solutions from Tartan.  Although Stan's shop was way too busy to start any work for another several weeks, he did arrange for his local carbon expert to go aloft and have a look at the damage, and he started working on the repair plan.

Apart from the outer stay, Stan was quite interested in the inner stay and was suggesting that we should not be attaching it with a lollipop. He showed us a typical "nose tang" from a Selden Rig he had at his shop and really wanted to pursue somehow having that kind of attachment with a toggle.

A Selden Mast with a nose tang for the inner stay attachment.
Since Stan was buried in other projects, I gathered up the info I needed and contacted Tartan about an alternate attachment point design. Tartan's opinion was that the lollipop is adequate and they certainly have the track record on many hundreds of boats to back that up. Ultimately, on advice from Stan and following the opinions of other pros we consulted, we explained to Tartan that we really wanted to try and come up with a tang/toggle type attachment point instead of the lollipop and we would appreciate the help with a design.  Within a few hours, I had a detailed engineering drawing of a modification of the lollipop backing plate that had a nice hefty tang protruding through the mast suitable for attaching a toggle. Stan and his machinist and carbon expert were all very happy with the design. We just can't say enough about Tim Jacket and the guys at Tartan for coming through with this.

A snip of the modification drawing

Ok, but what about the one that actually broke?

The re-design of the outer sheavebox was fairly straightforward. The design from Tartan was generally agreed to in Antigua but with the addition of a toggle on this stay as well.

A couple of proposed toggles for the outer headstay

Christmas on Argon

We were really looking forward to Christmas. Not so much because it was Christmas but because "After Christmas" was when Stan figured he could get to us.  As expected, things started to move forward late December and early January.  Phil Hopton from Antigua Slipway Marine would handle the carbon work and his shop would do the final modifications to the outer stay sheavebox.  We tied up at slipway and Phil went aloft with a grinder and cleaned up the broken carbon. He got an accurate measurement of the new opening so that his shop could do the final welds and modifications on the sheavebox.

The modified sheavbox in progress.
Within a few days, the new box was mounted and we were able to do a point-to-point measurement on for the new wire.  Stan had already ordered the new furler and foil sections and they were expected to arrive the week of Jan7.

The next step was to move the boat to Catamaran Club Marina (near Antigua Rigging) for the final work. The furler and foil arrived at Antigua Rigging and the guys were busy building the new outer stay.

Sunrise at Catamaran Club Marina

The Antigua Rigging team

On more than one occasion, Stan told us how awesome everyone on his team was. It was very nice to see so much respect from the boss for the guys and gals who make all this stuff happen. One guy in particular, Deron, was up and down our rig more times than we could count and usually doing some very tricky and difficult stuff up there. This was not a typical job! Stan later said in an email about Deron:  "While this needed the team to make this happen overall Daron was the MVP on this exercise for sure for dealing with the non-standard issues".

Deron up the rig (again)

On one particularly long day, Linda baked corn bread for Deron and one of the other guys, Vishal.  She also made cookies for everyone in the shop.  We really really appreciated all the hard work!

Building the new stay

Our shiny new furler
Toggle on the end of the outer stay.
The new outer stay went on without too much drama and for about twenty minutes, Argon had two headstays again.  But then the inner stay was removed for the more tricky modification of the attachment.

Attaching the outer stay at the bottom.

All pinned in.

New outer stay attached to the modified sheavebox with a toggle.

Detaching the inner stay.

Inner stay ready to go back to the shop to be rebuilt.
Once the inner stay was off, Deron, removed the lollipop backing plate and brought it down to be modified per the drawing from Tartan.

The stock lollipop backing plate.

Lollipop backing plate rear side.

The backing plate with the lollipop in it.

Inner Stay

The backing plate went off to the machine shop along with the drawing from Tartan.  Within a few hours, it was complete. Stan was so pleased with it, he made a special trip out to the boat to show us.

Modified attachment plate with tang and toggle.
Closeup of the new part

Now, how to put that plate in the mast?

We knew the backing plate would not go back in through the hole from whence it came. But how would it get back inside the mast? Originally, the plan was to remove the outer stay (again), remove the sheavebox (again) and drop this new part in through the hole and lower it down inside the mast.  The only problem is, that after going through all that effort, the part didn't fit through the hole

Deron wondered if it could be lowered in through the mast crane (on the aft side of the mast). We also considered opening the hole a bit for the outer stay sheavebox to allow this to fit.  Stan emailed Tartan and Phil (local Carbon guy) to ask about going that route. Neither were very enthusiastic about removing any more carbon from the rig. I must admit, I was not liking that idea either. At this point, I asked Stan if we should give up on trying to do this without unstepping the mast.  He said that was "plan B".

Linda going aloft to see if the part will fit in the crane.
In the meantime, Stan gave us the homework of sending Linda up the mast again with the backing plate to see if it would fit into the crane and around the 90 degree bend.  Linda went up with the gopro and the part and got some great video. The part would fit inside the crane with no problem.  But she did NOT think it would fit around the bend where the main halyard sheave and axle is.

The next day, Deron went up to give it a try.  We assumed it would not fit around the bend and so he was going to have to remove the main halyard axle and sheave.  The only problem is that this is the halyard he is hanging from.

After being up there a while and struggling a bit, amazingly, we saw him pull the plate through the mast. This was an amazing feat and very good news indeed.

Messenger line holding the part which has been fed into the crane opening.

SUCCESS!!! Deron managed to fish that thing around the bend and out through the mast.

Now, we really felt like we were on the home stretch.  The outer stay was attached again and then the newly built inner stay brought out and attached to the new attachment point with a toggle.

Both stays attached with toggles. Someday when the mast is down, we will clean up and paint all the bruises from the flailing attachment plate.

All that was left to do now was to do a dock-side tuning and put the sails back on.

This was a long time coming... two months after the damage, we've got two head stays again.

Argon on a close reach towards Dominica with the new rig. It's good to be sailing and exploring again!


We feel like Argon is better than ever now.  We also feel like we know Argon better than ever.  We have a new respect for the power in that 150% Reacher and will be much more judicious about when to use it and when to keep it rolled up.  And we know better what to look for in rig fatigue.

Although this cost us two months of delay in our journey, most of the delay was in a place we love: Antigua. Ultimately, we were able to continue moving south along our planned route, albeit several weeks behind. We've put quite a few miles on Argon since the repair and everything looks and feels great so far.  Tomorrow we sail to Martinique!