What are the most common repairs at sea for yachts sailing across the Atlantic? ARC survey results tell all
We surveyed nearly all 290 yachts in the 2016 ARC transatlantic to find out what broke and how it was fixed; what worked and what didn’t.
You cannot presume to be able to sail across an ocean without experiencing some problems or breakages with your equipment. We issued the 290 yachts sailing in the 2016 ARC and ARC+, transatlantic rallies with a survey to detail their breakages and solutions.
The first thing you notice from the results is that there were few empty columns for yachts without problems. In total, 167 yachts, or nearly 60 per cent of the fleet, had a breakage.
Problems are of course to be expected, but breakages can spoil voyages. One of the best ways to avoid them is to learn from others’ mistakes.
We collected all the data and questioned the skippers that had relevant issues to understand how they fixed them and the lessons they learnt.
- The most common casualties were ripped sails and breakages caused by chafe – which, going on past feedback, is nothing new. But prudent seamanship, plus routine checks and maintenance will limit these.
- A worrying number of yachts had problems and breakages with their vangs and gooseneck fittings – something we see time after time, so we have dedicated a large section of the results report to this.
- There were also a number of steering problems, which we followed up on with the relevant skippers.
- Ten toilet blockages or breakages reported
- Eight watermaker malfunctions.
- Ninety-three yachts suffered sail damage, 62 of which were ripped or damaged flying sails (spinnakers, gennakers or parasailors). The majority of damage was caused from the yacht being overpowered, or when hoisting, furling or dousing. Some skippers admitted that they were using old sails or that it happened during poor gybes.
- Thirteen yachts had batten problems or breakages (mainly from flogging in light winds), which were replaced, removed or repaired. The simple message coming from the majority of these cases is to carry spares!
- There were 68 reported rig problems or breakages – mostly broken halyards – with chafe being listed as the primary cause for over half.
- There were multiple failures to preventers, blocks, and furling lines, again largely through chafe or overloading.
See the previous Yachting World ARC Surveys
95% of participating boats completed the survey. Click to enlarge.
Generator and battery problems on ARC 2016
Twenty-one yachts had problems with their generators. These mainly involved cooling issues, including coolant water, impellers, and salt or fresh water pumps.
A few changed impellers and filters to resolve the issues, but the majority had to switch to the main engine for power. The trend here showed a lack of routine maintenance.
Out of the 15 reported battery issues, the majority were charging problems put down to old batteries, which required more regular engine use to charge.
The starter battery exploded aboard the Ovni 365, Zigzag de Villeneuve, which skipper Mike Midgley put down to overcharging on a corroded terminal. They replaced the battery in Mindelo, which caused a delayed restart.
The crew aboard the Sweden 50 Scarabaus was unable to charge the batteries until they fashioned a new fan belt. The result was the loss of all fresh food.
Charles Chambers said that they were unable to charge the batteries aboard their Grand Soleil 50 Mk2 Betelgeuse. “We had to run the main engine continuously to maintain the boat’s systems, the battery charger overheated due to high demand when run off the generator and stopped working.” This resulted in a diversion to Cape Verde. “The boat does not have any wind, water or solar generation, which might have helped.”
Wind, water and solar power: how alternative energy has been transformed
Damage to booms, preventers, goosenecks and vangs on Atlantic crossing
The broken gooseneck bolt aboard the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43 La Capitana
Another serious issue we’ve seen many times on ARCs concerns poorly led or set-up preventers. This happened aboard a Maxi 1300, resulting in a broken boom. No more details were given, but this generally occurs when the preventer is led to the boom’s midsection rather than the end of the boom.
The Moody 425 Pierina, meanwhile, broke three preventers during crash gybes.
When the rivets of the gooseneck worked loose on the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42i, Serenity, Roy Matheson used webbing straps for a temporary fix. He put the problem down to general wear and tear to his seven-year-old yacht, even if “it happened a lot earlier than it possibly should have.”
Matheson points to being caught in a storm for two days of slamming into waves on the way to Gran Canaria. And that, “during the first week of the ARC, there was a lot of light wind and the boom was swinging around a lot, causing stress on the gooseneck.”
Matheson now carries a large pop rivet gun with the correct rivet sizes to repair everything on board. He also now rigs a boom preventer in lights winds from any direction.
“I now have a more permanent setup to secure the boom at all times when at anchor or in a marina. In the past I would only secure the boom in severe, rolly conditions. This should help a lot to reduce long term stresses on the gooseneck and other parts.”
Tested: boom brakes and preventers, including Walder boom brake and Wichard Gyb’Easy
The gooseneck bolt broke aboard Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43, La Capitana during the ARC+ disconnecting the boom. “I just noticed the boom hanging lose under the main sail,” Jan Lindroos reported. “Nothing alarming or special happened during that moment or just before. The grinding and wear and tear had somehow loosened the nut on the bolt and then the bolt dropped off its position.
“We lifted the boom back into its slot using the spinnaker halyard and tied the boom in position by means of rope as there was no suitable bolt or pin material (The original bolt was bent).”
Lindroos explained that the picture now shows the boom with a bolt in it, but that the whole boom end still needs to be changed and the mast connection looked into before their next crossing. He says the biggest take-home lesson is “to inspect critical points more often.”
Both the gooseneck and vang mast fittings broke aboard the 72ft Southern Wind Far II Kind. Heavy-duty ratchet straps were used as a temporary repair and the bolts needed to be retightened regularly. Skipper Will Glenn explained that the boom and vang had been removed prior to the ARC during rig survey work.
Heavy-duty ratchet straps (a wise spare to carry) secure the vang on Far II Kind.
“The holes for bolts needed to be re-tapped or Helicoiled before putting the boom back on, but it turns out this was never done; therefore the bolts weren’t tight enough and pulled some threads out.”
Glenn said in hindsight they should have checked that the riggers did what was asked of them properly – and that they should have trialled the boat in stronger winds than the 7-8 knots they had post rig survey.
L.I.A. of Sweden, one of four new More 55s on the crossing, damaged their mast track and pole during an accidental gybe, which also damaged the vang. A rope vang was made up as a repair. Fredrik Olsson reports that they were using a preventer at the time. Heeling to windward one night, the spinnaker pole dipped in the water to windward, breaking its attachment point at the mast. “This also disabled the cable which runs on the outside of the vang.”
The goosenecks also failed on the Lagoon 450F Calypso 166, the Solaris One 42 Albatross and the Archambault A35 Argentum, the latter when the vang fixing came loose. All were successfully secured with Dyneema/Spectra.
The gooseneck bolt/pin came out aboard the Leopard 48 Jolly Dacha and the Nautitech 542 Hugo. The vang pin worked loose and the vang detached on the Beneteau Sense 50 Jayana and the vang mast fitting ripped off when it was over -tensioned aboard Reliant 49, Rogue Trader – once again Dyneema came to the rescue.
Video – installing and testing a rope preventer and boom brakes to safely manage accidental gybes
Steering problems on the ARC 2016
Problems with steering linkage give cause for concern. David Dabney had some valuable advice after the cable broke aboard his Chris White designed trimaran, Juniper, despite upgrading it from 5mm to 6mm before the ARC after noticing broken strands.
“The steering on Juniper is all exposed so the cables and sheaves can be observed at all times,” Dabney explained. “Twelve hours out from St Lucia I noticed the cable had broken strands so the emergency tiller was fitted. Six hours out the cable broke and we completed the rally with the tiller.
“The 6mm cable I fitted in Denmark lasted approximately 5,000 miles. In my opinion the quality of the stainless steel available is of a lesser quality than in previous times. Most 316 cable is manufactured in Korea despite being marketed as German steel.”
Rudder failure – 1500 miles to sail across the Atlantic without a rudder.
Talking to other skippers that have experienced cable failure they have gone over to Dyneema cables. We have now fitted sheathed Dyneema to Juniper that has lasted 500 miles from St Lucia to Puerto Rico.
“Will it get us home to Denmark? I will let you know.”
The steering cable broke on the Beneteau Oceanis 58 Boni Venti, which was put down to a combination of chafe “and the block not articulating”. The crew replaced the wire with Dyneema and it then worked fine.
The Baltic 51, Gatsby, also broke the pulley and cable to their steering system, which needed to be replaced in Cape Verde.
There were also a couple of sobering incidents with rudders. The crew of Endorphine II, a Bavaria 47 AC, found a leak in the rudder shaft, which they put down to wear and tear. They applied epoxy to the leak and were able to steer using the windvane rudder.
And in one of the most serious incidents, the outer casing of the rudder broke off aboard More 55 Lady Nor. They put the cause down to possibly striking a floating object. It took 20 hours to fabricate an aluminium sleeve from a floorboard.
The underwater video footage the crew sent is alarming, clearly showing the bare foam innards of the rudder and how they dived and strapped plywood around the rudder to secure it.
Deck and rig fittings
What would you do if hardware, hatches or fittings ripped out of the deck or rig? When the mainsheet track car broke on Harmony 38 Oginev, the crew was quick to jury rig solutions. Pavlin Nadvorni told us that the Lewmar car suffered metal fatigue (and that their 2005 boat is ‘not exactly spring chicken’). “However, we’d run a soft shackle as a security measure, so when the aluminium casting broke, the mainsail and the boom didn’t fly out of control.”
“We then made a stainless steel backing plate under the car with an off-the-shelf stainless steel 12mm ring bolt. When that started showing signs of dying on us, we replaced it with a 20mm thick D-shackle secured to the track with 20-30 wraps of 5mm Spectra. That kept us going for roughly 300-400 miles and we would just replace the chafed-through Spectra and keep going.”
Nadvorni says that fatigued hardware remains a chief concern – “even on a recent IMOCA 60 delivery in the South Pacific (3,500 miles) – so it is something to be expected even on a high-tech carbon fibre boat.”
The traveller car broke during a crash gybe aboard Oyster Reach, an Oyster 54. This was also then lashed with Spectra. Jose Roberto Arruda confirms they were using a preventer at the time. “The preventer helped to reduce the impact when the unexpected gybe occurred but the problem arose when the person on the helm tried to correct the route and gybed again in the other direction, which had no protection from the preventer.”
The lesson here he says is not to try to correct the route when a gybe occurs – “stay on the same side until you return control to the boat.”
The bowsprit pulled clean out of the deck aboard the Elan impression 434, Ocean Diamond 2 when it was overloaded, damaging the anchor stem, but they too managed to lash it using Dyneema.
The crew of Betelgeuse had more serious issues when the decklight set into the sail locker hatch on the foredeck of the Grand Soleil 50 tore out between Gran Canaria and Cape Verde in rough conditions. “The decklight is approximately 25cm x 60cm,” skipper Charles Chambers reported. “This left a large hole in the foredeck potentially allowing serious water ingress.”
“We were able to make a suitable blanking plate from a locker cover in the saloon. It was a perfect size and did not need cutting down and it even had a suitable hole for the locking bolt. We also managed to fit a seal all the way around the blanking plate by using a length of cockpit locker seal.” They successfully fitted the blanking plate and avoided serious water ingress despite the conditions.
The importance of carrying Dyneema for running repairs
X-562, teamgeist broke the connection between mainsheet and boom. Philipp Schubert says they tried replacing the four screws with Dyneema and attached that to the mainsheet, but that this chafed through the carbon of the boom in swell.
“The second solution was a big M12 screw with an eye-shaped female screw in which we put the mainsheet again. Fortunately it lasted for the rest of the crossing but had to be replaced in St Lucia because the screw had bent at least 5-10° from the pressure.”
The cause he cites as the banging of the sails in low winds and big swell while the preventer wasn’t tight enough. “We will really tighten the preventer in future.”
The crew tighten up a new fixing point for the mainsheet on the boom after the original connection broke aboard the X-562 teamgeist.
One of the more significant rig issues happened aboard the Hanse 505, Hanse Sailor. The D1 & D2 shrouds failed on the starboard side and they had to reinforce them with Dyneema and ‘sail conservatively’.
The breakage led to them requiring assistance from the cruise liner Costa Magica to obtain enough fuel to get to St Lucia, says Andy Brock. “They sent us by long line 100 litres, which is all we needed. The reason for the breakage is unknown.”
The Fortissimo 33 HavAnna also broke strands on their shrouds during squalls and used bulldog clamps jumped with new wire. And the Beneteau Oceanis 41, Endeavour of Cork broke a spreader bolt, which strained their spreader. They “supported rig and sailed cautiously.”
Richard Downing aboard his Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 509 Caledonia Spirit, showed resourcefulness when his spinnaker pole tang broke into three pieces. He repaired it using resin and machine screws. “The holes were drilled and tapped, then loose assembled,” Downing explained. “Resin was then poured into the joints and the machine screws tightened up squeezing the resin out.”
Chafe and ripped sails sailing across the Atlantic
As mentioned, by far the most common breakages are to flying sails. The Lagoon 52, Cat’leya experienced more than their fair share. They blew their spinnaker out and broke their bowsprit early into the crossing. They then chafed through their spinnaker furler line, before breaking both the mainsail halyard and the head of the mainsail six days later.
Impressively, however, they succeeded in fitting spares for halyards and repaired all breakages at sea.
The Hanse 575 Siberia also had a catalogue of sail repairs, including two ripped gennakers, a ripped Code 0, halyard chafe and breaks, masthead block breaks, and a broken batten. And the Nauticat 40, Pureblue chafed through their genoa sheet three times – and despite buying new sheets in Cape Verde, these failed in 24 hours.
Torn sails and broken halyards are one thing, but what happens when you can’t get a sail down? The spinnaker snuffer aboard Betelgeuse fouled and jammed at the top of the mast. “We were unable to get the spinnaker down in the snuffer for six days,” said skipper Charles Chambers.
“We lashed the snuffer to the mast and rig as high up as possible to prevent it flailing about. We tried to send a crewman up the mast but the conditions were never calm enough and we did not want to risk injury. Our concern was as the weather deteriorated and squalls of 35+ knots hit us that the snuffer would fail and the spinnaker would launch and potentially bring down the rig.”
Chambers’ solution was to monitor the top of the snuffer by lying on the deck and using a 400mm telephoto camera lens, “which enabled me to review the images on my laptop rather than try and remember what I could see through binoculars.
In hindsight he says:” “We should have followed ‘Jerry the Rigger’s’ advice and fitted a block to the mast ring.”