Slugs & Shackles

Another note from the island…

Things didn’t go as planned.  I am solo sailing in 23 knot winds when I notice that the traveler for my main sheet is not working properly.  The line won’t feed through, which stops me from letting out the mainsail enough for a safe downwind run.  I finally notice that the tailing end of the topping lift (the line that holds the boom up) is jammed in the traveler, prohibiting the main sheet from feeding out.  Not a good thing.  While steering the tiller with one hand, I lean over and with several tugs loosen the topping lift line out of the block pulley where it was jammed. We are sailing well again.

I’m now approaching the offshore island of Klein Bonaire.  With these winds, I don’t want to get too close to shore in case something goes south.  That’s a little trick I learned from Capt. Dave while sailing the Grenadines two decades ago.  Thanks for instant recall.  So about 100 yards offshore, I perform a controlled jibe.  It’s like tacking except rather than moving the bow through the wind, one moves the stern of the boat.  It is infinitely trickier, but what the hell.  I do the jibe, the boom quickly shifts to starboard and then I release the jib (the foresail) so that it too moves leeward.  Well done. I am now heading toward Punt Vierkant on Bonaire.  I look up to check the shape of the main and I gape like an openmouthed tarpon.  The top 2/3rds of the mainsail, rather than being tight against the mast, is blowing out a couple of feet away.  Suddenly, there is trouble in paradise.  I sail Padilanti close hauled and try to figure out what went wrong.  I’ve never have seen this before.  I look back up.  It’s a problem with either the slugs or the shackles.  Slugs fit into a vertical slot in the mast.  Shackles clip the mainsail to the slugs, keeping the main next to the mast.  I look down to the deck.  I see broken pieces from 5 of 8 slugs.

Broken slugs.

Old plastic.  With this wind and 20 years of use after the mast, the slugs just could not take the wind force anymore. They snapped. What to do?  This is not something I can immediately repair while on the water.  I look back up and the mainsail is flagging badly and will soon damage itself.  I point the boat into the wind and drop the main.  I limp home with only the foresail and finally get back to the dock before the sun goes down.  Where the hell is the chilled rum?

The next day I take an undamaged slug and shackle from my boat to Budget Marine, the only chandlery on the island.  I am not surprised that the store doesn’t have the parts I need.  That is what usually happens.  But the clerk, Renee, looks up the mother store in Sint Maarten on the computer only to discover that they don’t have these parts in their inventory either.  “You can better try ordering these from the States,” says Renee.  “Who knows when we will get them in.”

And that is what I do.  I check E-bay and order 8 slugs and 8 shackles.  I’m going to replace the whole lot. I own an old boat and it’s preferrable to get all new parts before another mishap. In the meantime, it dawns on me that I’m stranded on a sandbar.  It will be at least three weeks, probably four, until the parts get here.  I contemplate being grounded for that long.  All I can say is aaaargh.  After all, sailing is my addiction uh, passion.  How will I pass the time?  I glance up to my kayak strung up toward the ceiling in my garage.  I tricked it out a couple of months ago with a sail.  I’ll be back on the water tomorrow.  Slugs & shackles?  I patiently await your arrival.