A Dockside Dismasting (1988)

A freighter causes trouble for Cloud Nine in Rarotonga.

Dockside Dismasting

After Cloud Nine lost her spar to a freighter while tied up in Rarotonga, we erected a jury rig using the spinnaker pole to extend the main mast, and under this new “schooner” configuration we carried on some 2,000 nautical miles to New Zealand.David Thoreson

It was a beautiful, sunny day in October 1988, when Urte, a 5,000-ton interisland freighter, approached the dock in the harbor at Rarotonga's Avatiu. The harbormaster assured us that this was a routine stop and there would be no need for_ Cloud Nine_, and two other sailboats moored stern to the quay, to leave port. However, Urte didn't stop at the commercial dock and kept coming toward Cloud Nine. Her bulbous bow went under both our anchor rodes, hitting our port bow forward of the mast and pushing us almost parallel to the dock and down on the other two boats like a row of falling dominoes. I believe her housed anchor caught our shroud, snapping our nine-sixteenths-inch wishbone backstay (between the insulators!) and our starboard upper shroud. The mast folded just below the lower spreader and collapsed over the foredeck of Urte. Luckily, it was low tide, and I think Urte was aground before making contact but hadn't fully stopped. Had she moved forward another six feet, Cloud Nine would've been crushed like an egg against the quay, but we still had significant damage to our port side from the impact of the collision.

Rona House, John Tepaske, and Jamie MacNeil were all aboard. “The crowd that gathered within two hours after the collision must have included nearly every inhabitant on the island,” said Rona.

About a week later, Cloud Nine was under way for New Zealand under a jury-rig cobbled together exclusively from onboard spare parts. We rigged a spinnaker pole to the stump of the main and set up a sail plan using a shortened genoa staysail as a jib, a storm jib as a staysail, and the storm trysail as a main. Having no triatic stay, our mizzen was intact, and the mizzen staysail was helpful in the trades. We sailed our "schooner" under this rig about 2,000 miles to Auckland—including some gunkholing along the Tonga chain and a stop at the Minerva Reefs—for a six-month refit. The last couple of hundred miles into New Zealand was hard work against strong southwesterlies because we had to retune the rig every time we tacked to avoid putting any bending stress on the spinnaker pole.