Trans Pacific Plastic Pollution Survey: Sharks and Jerry Rigs (Day 49)

June 24, 2014
Ocean Research Project
Ocean Research Project, Nikki, samples, microplastics Matt Rutherford

I’ve had a busy week. The day after we sailed passed Wake Island we sailed out of the easterly trade winds and into a windless void nearly 800 miles wide. After sailing west for 5,600 miles we have found the end of the easterly trades. Now it’s time to head north to Japan.Six days ago we were pulling our net collecting a micro plastics sample like we have many times before. I was sitting in the cockpit staring out to sea in a mindless trance when all of a sudden, SHARK! An 8-10 foot white tip shark was swimming straight for our Avani net, which was slowing being pulled through the water. I stood there feeling quite helpless wondering how our trawl would look after a shark attack. The shark came right up to the tail end of the net, mouth wide open, just a few feet from the boat. I’m yelling and waving my arms knowing that the shark isn’t paying any attention to me. Just then the shark closes its mouth, rams the mesh net, sits there, and disappears. The white tip shark must have realized that the Avani net wasn’t food at the last second. I’ve seen many sharks while sailing and they usually come and go fairly quickly. The whole encounter is typically over in less than a minute. For a moment I thought that our net would be destroyed and our research would be over, but the shark spared our Avani net.

Sailing for days on end is tough on the gear, tough on the sailors, and tough on the boat. Blue Water sailors recognize stuff breaks on passages. Long non-stop passages are especially tough. There is no chance to rest & refit not for the gear, not for the sailors, not for the boat. I check every critical component of the boat every morning knowing full well that eventually there will be something significant to repair.

The wind shifted to the west and for the first time in 40 some days we have had headwinds. The winds were only 10 knots and we were moving along well when Nikki said with concern in her voice “come inside see this”. The deck underneath the mast was flexing more than an inch as we were coming off the waves. It looked as if the deck above our heads was breathing deeply. It’s very common for sailboats with a deck stepped mast to have compression issues. The Albin Vega 27 is notorious for it. In the case of the Vega 27 the problem was never corrected and all 3,800 Albin Vega 27′s have the issue. I added a 3 inch white oak beam under the Vega’s mast before taking it around the Americas.


Prototype boats are typically not sea trailed as extensively as Sakura. The Trans-Pacific Expedition might be considered the most extensive sea trial ever under taken. This sea trial is a great opportunity for WD Schock’s product development. If there are any improvements needed in the Harbor 29, Nikki and I can report the issue. This way all Harbor 29′s will have all the kinks worked out and will be perfect.

I noticed some slight cracking above and below the mast. Chances are we could have made it to Japan without any reinforcements but I didn’t want to take any chances. A mast falling through the deck is not a pleasant thought. So it was time to jury rig a compression post. Fortunately, WD Schock had provided an extensive kit of boat builder stuff stored in the lazarette. I took our biggest spinnaker pole, some spare wood, fiberglass, resin and went to work. I had to cut two square pieces out of the wood that would go on either end of my cut spinnaker pole then screw and glass them into place. Then cut the spinnaker pole just slightly longer than needed and beat it into place with a hammer, this way it’s nice and tight. Finally I used some screws to secure the pole to prevent any slipping. It took almost the entire day but now we have two compression posts, one that came with the boat and one forward of the original that I built. WD Schock jokingly said that I had done such a good job, that they might leave Sakura with 2 compression posts installed. The whole thing sounds more dramatic than it is. The problem is solved and WD Schock has already worked out a solution for all future Harbor 29s.

Since we are out of the trades we wanted to change out our head sail from the 150% Jib top Reacher to the 100% Blade Jib. We had been sailing with the larger sail half rolled up so it made sense it switch it out. The sail came down okay but when we tried to raise the working jib it went 2/3rds of the way up the furler and stopped. I looked up and saw the top foil had lost its screws and come undone making it impossible to raise a headsail. The foils of a Harken furler are held together by inside connecters that the foils screw into. Two screws on top; two on the bottom; the four screws hold the two foils together. There are five or six foils combined that make up the furler. A few days before I saw a furler screw sitting on the deck, it was an ominous sign. We need a jib to sail north to Japan, the mainsail provides balance while the jib provides horsepower.


Plan A was to climb the mast, remove the furler and repair it on deck and put it back up. I secured the mast forward with a spare halyard, removed the pin at the bottom of the furler and started climbing. Climbing that high up a mast at sea makes for one heck of a wild ride. Again the ATN mast climber made it possible. I got to the top of the furler and realized that the furler was connected to the mast with a modern t-ball fitting. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get the fitting out of the mast. Plan A was a failure.

Plan B was much more of a jury rig. I had to wait a couple days for the seas to decrease and again I climbed the mast. Once I got high enough to reach out to the dislocated foil Nikki could raise the jib and I could manually work the sail into the upper foil. Now the sail was up but you can’t just leave it like that. I had a furler lose the screws on its foils and come apart once before. Back in 2009 I was sailing off the north coast of Morocco single handed and was hit by a gale. I didn’t notice my foils near the top of the mast had lost its screws and so I reefed my sails like I normally would. During the gale the two foil pieces moved back and forth inside the rolled up sail so when I unrolled the jib the next day I had a big hole followed by a smaller hole followed by a smaller hole all the way across my sail. I had to secure the two foils or the same thing would happen again.

Nikki cut a 2 inch by 5 inch piece of metal off of one of our cans of freeze dried food. This I could bend around the outside half of the foils as a coupler. I covered the bent metal coupler with fiberglass tape completely saturated in fast cure 5200. This will both hold the metal piece in place and protect the sail from the sharp edges of the metal. Over that I put a large piece of sail repair tape that will hold it all together until the 5200 cures. Now two foils are connected and I can furl the sail without any risk of damaging the jib when it’s furled. I did notice that many other screws have fallen out of the furler, at least half of them. With 1200 miles to go hopefully the rest will stay in until we arrive.


Outside of jury rigging the winds have been light and we have been slowly making our way northwest. All problems have been fixed and we are once again 100% operational. Now it’s just a matter of getting to Japan and it looks like a lot of headwinds between here and there.

Although the problems related to various jury rigging may seem dramatic they are very easy for WD Schock to adjust on future Harbor 29s. I would like to applaud WD Schock for their willingness to allow Nicole and myself to give Sakura this extensive sea trail as we couldn’t do our research without a boat. The few small issues we have encountered are in no way a reflection on WD Schock as they have been building quality boats since 1946. Sakura, the prototype Harbor 29 (which is a Daysailer), has done very well during this ocean crossing. Can you imagine if every boat builder had the confidence to allow their prototypes to be sailed across an ocean for sea trials? Every boat would be flawless.

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