The Ceramco Files: The Crew's Views

Ceramco in the Southern Ocean
Ceramco NZ
This week it is the 25th anniversary of the dismasting of Ceramco New Zealand. Over this time, Sail-World is featuring a series of images and sound clips from one of the seminal moments in New Zealand yachting culture.

Day 27: Thursday, September 24. Noon position 11.27S 18.47W Day’s run 209 miles. Course 230 degrees.
Wind SE 15 knots. Barometer 1019.

We may look a bit like a Chinese laundry, but we can’t complain about the results of our efforts — 198 miles to noon yesterday and then 209 miles to noon today. I think the euphoria has got to the Doc. The log last night read: ‘Dr Trevor Agnew just saw a racehorse run across a paddock. I think all those pills are getting to him.’ The writing was Simon’s.

Someone else added: ‘I’m surprised you think.’ The humour is back.

The south-easter increased to 20 to 25 knots soon after we’d set our cutter rig and Ceramco, although a little twitchy, picked up her skirts. Yesterday we rigged one of the heavy wire-running backstays as an extra forestay (run through a big block on the bow and back on a double purchase to a grinder winch).
Ceramco-Crew-2
Ceramco NZ

Today we used the other heavy runner in the same fashion as a new backstay, through a block on the quarter, on to a winch and ground in tight. With traditional-type runners from the hounds to cockpit winches, the whole set-up now looks absolutely sturdy. There’s a slight kink in the mast, which happened when the top section went over the side, but it’s of no real concern.

It looks as though we’ll have this breeze for the next 1000 miles or so. The course we’ve chosen should give us the majority of wind on the beam or from aft of the beam and we already know we can really cover the ground if that’s the case. But there’s 3700 miles to go on our loop to Cape Town. How can we make the boat go faster still?

We’ve already worked out a system to use a fully hoisted mainsail, even if it does have four reefs in it. With the electric drill, we bored holes up the luff of the sail at every seam position (about 3ft apart) and inserted long ties cut from foredeck headsail lashings. Then we rolled the sail into a sausage and hoisted it until the headboard was in its correct position at the top of the mast.

OC then went aloft and came down the mast securing luff ties around the spar and undoing the ties on the ‘sausage’ so that the sail gradually came free as he descended. The bottom part of the sail was secured to the main boom and, when the last luff tie was in place, the fourth reef was put in so that we were in the traditional ‘four reefs in the main’ configuration.

We have a problem in that the sail can’t be hoisted or lowered and, if we strike a severe squall, we’ll have to brail the sail by pulling some lines around the leech and back to the mast. But, if the worst comes to the worst, we have a spare halyard on which to send someone aloft in the bosun’s chair to quickly cut all the lashings and drop the sail on deck.

Day 28: Friday, September 25. Noon position 14.18S 20.25W
Day’s run 196 miles. Course 225 degrees.

Wind SE 10 to 15 knots. Barometer 1019.

Since dropping the rig we’ve covered 667 miles to the SSW. We should be happy with that, but the wind has been dying and we’re not finished with our quest for maximum speed.

The pressure from the ‘new’ mast, once it was all tensioned properly, was making the deck creak and groan quite a bit and it was clear we’d have to do something about an under-deck support. Staggy and Jaws got to work with the second jockey pole. This was cut down to length and jammed under the new mast base, below decks, as a reinforcing strut.
Ceramco-Crew2
Ceramco NZ

We’ve cut the covers for the generator hatches into four pieces and used them as a pad under the alloy deck. To this pad we’ve fixed strips of aluminium angle to form a collar into which the four inch diameter, heavy-walled aluminium jockey pole is jammed and pop-rivetted between the main mast step on the keelson and the deck head. While this was hammered and levered into place, we slacked off all the stays and ran the boat downwind, to relieve the pressure on the deck. The finished job looks substantial enough and is doing the trick.

While this was under way, the rest of the crew were implementing our plan to turn Ceramco into a ketch. The two spinnaker poles were lashed together at their tops and hoisted into position as a bipod mizzen mast over the helmsman’s cockpit, just in front of the wheels. The feet of the poles were mounted on cockpit cushion pads out on the sidedecks against the toerail. A pulley system was rigged for a backstay bridle which runs from one quarter, through the pulley block at the apex of the bipod and back down to the other quarter of the stern, then on to a winch.

A forestay and halyard completed the job. We couldn’t wait to test it. First the new spinnaker staysail was set sideways with the luff at the top, but it was much too long on the hoist (even some of the sails we consider small are proving to, in fact, be quite large). Next came the trisail with the leech as the luff, the luff as the foot and the foot as the leech. This was sheeted to a block on the rail — and it worked like a charm. Boat speed jumped up more than a knot and Ceramco steadied down considerably.

Necessity is quite definitely the mother of invention. We must look something akin to a rigged tuna trawler right now, but who cares. Spirits on board have soared and we’re not done yet. The next job we must tackle is to devise ways of rigging more blocks and tackle so that we can free a winch or two and improve our set-up.

The support team in Auckland hasn’t been idle either. Martin Foster has had a team talk with everyone involved in rigging the boat — A. Foster & Co (who supplied the extrusion), Terry Gillespie (our rigger), Graeme Woodroffe (the Navtec rigging agent in New Zealand) and Jimmy Lidgard (our sailmaker).

I spoke to them all by radio telephone, for a total of 51 minutes, giving them a full description of what happened, plus a long list of what we would need when we reached Cape Town. Everything will be ready. Now it’s up to us to get Ceramco there as quickly as possible so that we have enough time to rerig the boat, fix up our sail wardrobe and prepare for the Southern Ocean.

There won’t be much shore time for the crew in South Africa, but they won’t mind that. I couldn’t have a better bunch of people to sail with. Their reaction to everything has been magnificent, totally constructive. The feeling is one of ‘let’s get this mother to Cape Town, stick a new mast in her, and then we’ll show them across the bottom of the world to New Zealand’.

Radio time is building up. On the 23rd, I had 21 minutes talking to Pippa in the UK while Don England put in a call to his mum and fiancee Alison in NZ. I had regular scheds with Alan Sefton and Peter Montgomery who, by all accounts, were keeping New Zealand fully informed of the events 8000-odd miles away in the South Atlantic.

This time I had to catch up with them at Antoine’s restaurant in Parnell where we’d had a fabulous dinner just before Cerarnco left Auckland and where now, they claimed, they had a business meeting. As it transpired, they taped the conversation with the whole restaurant listening in, and then had to lend the tape to the kitchen staff.

We always find it remarkable that there is so much interest and support back home and this is no small factor in the crew’s determination to fight back.

Log extract and text from 'Blake's Odyssey' reprinted by kind permission of Alan Sefton. Sound recordings kindly provided by Peter Montgomery from his personal archives.