Balls, Q?

It is usually a nightmare to get an eighty-foot mast under a sixty-foot bridge. Usually, the only way is to de-mast the boat, which is a major undertaking for a forty-foot ketch. Man’s ingenuity never ceases to amaze me.

Two bags or “balls” are filled each with a ton or water and hung from the two masts of the ketch. By steering the boat sharply to port or starboard, the balls swing outwards and cause the boat to heel over. The boat is kept at the angle within which the ballast in the keel prevents capsizing. The heel is maintained by letting the weights go down to increase the proportional weight on the mast heads. Thus the boat stays heeled over even when it is steered in a straight line, and the heeling angle is under full control. The boat makes it under the bridge with only inches to spare.

If anyone recognises the music, please let me know what it is.

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4 Responses to Balls, Q?

  1. Father Martin says:

    Late last year I saw a very sure captain of a small but very expensive sailing vessel attempt to pass under a drawbridge, with the span down. He later told the newspaper reporter he was certain she would clear, needless to say he didn’t. He was not very happy but those of us on shore enjoyed the show. Better to heed the warning signs and wait for the span to open. Never trust a drunken sailor even if he is the captain.

    • Here’s a yacht getting demasted by a tanker. Someone else’s money up in smoke!

      It’s difficult to know what the skipper should have done. Obviously he was running before the wind with his spinnaker. He was hoping to make it across the tanker’s bow to keep up with the race. My solution would have been to gybe and sail along the far side of the tanker and then gybe again and cross the ship’s wake. He didn’t even need to heave-to and wait for the tanker to pass. He might have lost the race, but would have kept his rigging! Anticipation is everything.

      • Father Martin says:

        Unfortunately stupidity is a terminal illness.

      • In this case, a fanatical cause (winning the race) caused the skipper to disregard the bearing and speed of the ship. He obviously thought he could just make it past the ship’s bow. The spinnaker was flapping which indicated that the yacht was going slowly than the skipper’s previous calculations on the bearing and speed of the ship. In this kind of situation, I would have gybed or dropped the spinnaker and luffed up, putting the safety of my boat before winning the race. I had wondered whether the boat was short-handed, but there were four crew acting as ballast on the weather side of the boat. You only need that amount of weight if you’re reaching or beating. Normally, number one is up at the bow ready to change over the spinnaker pole for gybing, and also for hauling up and dropping. There would also have been the helmsman and someone at the “piano” (cleats on the cabin roof for the downhauls, uphauls and halyards). You’re talking of a ship’s company of 7 or 8.

        Something was already not right before the yacht passed the point of no-return. Just before the collision, something or someone is seen dropping from the starboard side into the water. They therefore had a man overboard situation to boot, and so close to the ship (and its propellers). The object or person dropped just before the collision.

        Going by the wind direction given by the wavelets and points of sail of the other boats, the yacht was in a close reach and shouldn’t have had the spinnaker up, the reason why it was flapping. There is something totally incoherent. He could simply have steered to port to avoid the ship, but he would have lost his wind by being to lee of the ship. The only solution to keep control and steerage would have been to start the engine – which would have disqualified him from the race but would have ensured his safety. He should have fallen off to port much earlier to keep his wind, and then he could have resumed his reach to go for the finishing line.

        I have already been in a similar situation with a passenger boat, but I was sailing upwind. I simply released my mainsail and jib and hove-to and let the motor boat pass at a safe distance, and then continued my course through his wake. It isn’t difficult. You just have to anticipate and have a decent eye for speed and distance.

        Finally, here’s the BBC version of the incident –

        Another version: the skipper was a Naval officer and was fined £100,000 for his stupidity and disregard of the rules –

        More details about the laws of right of way –

        If anyone is really interested in getting down to the bottom of it, just click on this Google search.

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