View Full Version : The crash gybe. ( don't worry. we're still with you)

John B
11-24-2002, 10:56 PM
Crash gybing a gaff rig.
After yesterday, it’s not something I’d advocate. Actually, it’s something I’ve been a bit in fear of for the last three years or so, ever since we re rigged to gaff. New crew are always inducted with a small lecture on the importance of the running backstays and that they are critical to the ahem... upright nature of the rig. I’m guilty of a slight exaggeration I suppose, but it doesn’t hurt to impress the things on them.
Anyway, yesterday I trotted on down to the boat for her first race of the season confident in the 15 knot forecast that we would be setting all sail,.. topsail ,jib , staysail and the 600ft gaff main. I was a bit uneasy at the wind strength at 9.00am. By 11, the wind speed at Tiri, north of Auckland and close to the Americas cup courses, was 27knots . Add the sea breeze to that and I should have known that it meant 37 a bit later on.You know the Americas cup course don’t you.... that’s where they never race. Saturday I was out on a quick test sail doing 6 knots under main and working jib. Cup racing cancelled for lack of wind. Sunday, the day I’m talking about ,we were racing and the cup racing was cancelled for too much wind. Today... welll gggguess what? Not enough wind.
So , back to Sunday.......In a flash of deductive reasoning over half an hour or so I reefed. We started the race and did the first loop of the course in quietly escalating wind strength. By the time we came to our second of three downwind legs, it was 30knots and we were heading for the beach. I’ve always been able to get the main right in before. Usually we swig her right in tight, set up the new backstay and release the old , clank her over and fizz that sheet right on out. This day it was like hauling on a steel reinforcing bar stuck in about ooooh 150 lds of cement. It was coming, but not by much.

Skippers mistake: I handed over the helm to help get the main in. We were doing about 9 and surfing up to 10.5. Unfortunately, that still meant 20 knots of apparent wind in the thing. The helmsperson who shall remain nameless but has long hair, is rather gorgeous and is married to me ,had some trouble coping with the ahem... frisky nature, that a counter stern imparts in a following sea , wind against tide, in 30 knots of breeze with a keel hung rudder.
In short. She cocked it up and we yawed up the wrong way and crash gybed. Do I blame her? No I certainly do not. I was helming and had the feel for the circumstances. I should have decided to give in and wear and I was right on that point when the decision was abruptly made for me.
So we are gybing you see. The boom has just made the start on it’s 28ft scribe around behind us. I’m still uttering the educated advice ” don’t let it gybe” as it whistles towards it’s inevitable conflict with the ex windward running backstay and the minimum damage of a break about the middle somewhere . In one of those slow motion moments I started my dive for the lever. fortunately time had slowed significantly and I was able to move relatively fast and got it off. Billy got the new windward lever half on and she slammed over and we rounded up to about 90 degrees off the wind. 500 square ft saying" don't mess with me"

It all stayed up. We crash gybed a gaff cutter in a ton of wind and we still have a rig. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me feel. I feel good. I feel vindicated in my choice of aft lowers plus aft intermediates (or “swifters” as they are sometimes called ) and I feel well set up for some good sailing this year without being over concerned with rig integrity.
Shortly after this, we caught a wave right on balance and scored our top speed of the day , 11.25 knots. The wind came up after this and the last leg into the wind and with the tide was hairy and wet in up to 40 knots. We finished though. Third out of three. The others all dropped out. I’m pleased and it was a great day really. What a mission.
The sprit under.

[ 11-24-2002, 10:58 PM: Message edited by: John B ]

11-24-2002, 11:12 PM
And people still try to convince me that Kiwi's aren't all insane..... :D

Gary Bergman
11-24-2002, 11:28 PM
My other half and I had exactly the same thing happen outside the gate,in the potato patch. For us though, the mistake parted one running backstay and my mizzen topping lift. splice,splice

John R Smith
11-25-2002, 06:34 AM
Thanks for report from NZ, John B. Your gooseneck fitting must be adequately robust, methinks smile.gif


Bruce Taylor
11-25-2002, 08:19 AM
Great story, John.

11-25-2002, 08:34 AM
John B. A gybe made famous on the Hudson River, hence the name 'Hudson River Gybe' has come in handy for me a number of times. The channel can be very narrow and can meander. With those huge booms, if they were approaching a meander and were on the wrong gybe, there was little they could do. They'd leave the main all the way out, tied the wheel hard over and everyone ran for cover. What you would expect to happen, did. The boat would turn, sail by the lee until the boat was perpendicular to the wind. When the wind reached the back of the sail, the boom came across like a freight train. However, since the boat continued to turn, the boom did not fetch up on the sheets. Rather, the wind hit the back of the sail on the lee side and the boom came to a stop, gentle as you please. Every one came out from under cover and they went on their way.

I have done that in small boats in very heavy air and once in ALITA, but in light air just to demonstrate it to a very skeptical friend. It is not a good idea to do that on ALITA as the mainsheet, fully extended could drag along the deck, take the helmsman's head off and fetch up short on any of a half dozen other snags. It works, though and has saved me from some serious trouble. When I'm in heavy air, now, I've started to rig preventers, especially when the seas are tossing the stern around. I hate preventers, but that mainsheet is a threat to life and limb.

11-25-2002, 08:37 AM
All I can say it "WOW!" and can I go for a ride?


Ian McColgin
11-25-2002, 10:24 AM
Great tale, John.

It illustrates what we all take some time learning about running backs - they don't really hold up the mast so much as tension the head stay. A proper gaff rig has a stout mast.

I can't off-hand remember a single Wianno Sr dismasting caused by failure to set the runners. Lots of broken gaffs in chinese gybes though.

As Rod points out, the nice thing about the gaff rig is that you can sail way off by the lee and do a no damage gybe if you can turn up to a beam reach and if the crew can keep out of the way of the main sheet.

On many gaff boats, however, the boom is really long and there could be a small chance of hooking the sheet under the counter. This is generally mitigated by the fact that when sailing by the lee and the boom right out against the shrouds, the main sheet leads a bit forward and should mostly flop into the cockpit.

Yet another thing macaroni boats can't do.

Alan D. Hyde
11-25-2002, 03:07 PM
Well done, John.

It's not what ya get inta, it's what you get outta...

That's what we said as boys, anyway.


John B
11-25-2002, 03:16 PM
Thankyou for the comments my friends.

The mainsheet. How right you are. My experience in a race start when we first changed the rig was to tack instead of gybe . It was the first year we had the new rig and I'd never done that manouvre before. So , chickening out on the gybe, I instead rounded up to do a tack from run to run. It used to work ok under the old bermudan but this time I discovered after I had gone around onto the new tack that the whole mainsheet had wound itself around the thing sticking out the back. A large thing called a counter stern.The absense of the standing backstay I was used to , plus the way on the boat, caused the bight of the mainsheet to tow aft and go right around. "Perplexed" is a word you might have used to describe myself for a half minute or so " what the heck is going on here". I had to unwind by tacking back.
So to chicken gybe, I have to get most of the mainsheet in to prevent that from happening. Or have a crew responsible for it.

Thanks for the info on the hudson river gybe too Rod. I'm aware of it and the theory but never been game to try it. In reality , that's pretty well what happened. Our gybe was quite soft compared to the crashes we do on the ali rig boats we race in winter .

Ian, regarding your remark on the backstays. You are right of course but it's great to have them on when you are pumping into a sea. Last year I started to run with them off.Up to about 20 knots calm sea. relying on the short staying base of the lowers and intermediates to look after the rig. I figured that it was better to do that than risk a boom backstay crash in an accidental gybe.( deja vous) Sunday though. geez. I didn't even contemplate it. Maybe I'll work my way up to it.I was pleased with our performance incidentally. There was too much wind for the jib uphill on the second 2 windward legs , so we went to staysail (and reefed main)main flaked off to about half working. the balance was good and she pointed up with the the bermudans. we stayed right with Moana( trailing a bit)47ft, but were well trounced by Tawera 50ft and Ranger 60ft. .Ranger was the perfect length for the day because she missed the troughs LOL.

Still buzzing. can you tell?

[ 11-25-2002, 03:22 PM: Message edited by: John B ]

11-25-2002, 03:25 PM
Great story, well told John. Could almost feel the wind way up here in Maine. Glad all's well that ends well. Clever of you to get to the lever in time!


John B
11-25-2002, 03:31 PM
Fear, Ishmael, is a great enhancer of speed. LOL
( add slightly maniacal laugh here)

Dave Hadfield
11-25-2002, 07:17 PM
Great story John.

I hate those "OH NO --- LOOK OUT!!!!" moments, but everybody has them.

I feathered the jib last month in 30kts of wind and jammed the sheet on the winch -- took a wrap on it. So I went up into the wind a bit to offload the sheet so I could clear it. At that moment the wind veered sharply and backed the jib completely. Downwind we pivoted, the wheel wouldn't answer, I couldn't reach the main sheet, my partner was down below in the head, and the full main was up. Over we went. Way over. Way, way WAY over. Farther over than I have ever seen before. In fact we tested the knockdown stability of the boat. Fortunately, they did their calculations right and we came back up again.

And I came up with a vow to mount a sheath-knife in the cockpit. (I should've cut that jib-sheet -- embarassing, but safer.) And this with a marconi rig and a standing backstay....

Peter Malcolm Jardine
11-25-2002, 08:02 PM
I could feel your story too, and I am impressed with the strength of your rig. (Bet you are too :eek: ) I started out racing dinghys of all sorts and we used to be awfully hard on them. I raced 1/2 and 3/4 ton in my twenties, and saw people break large expensive items on their boats, and occasionally breaking bits of people too. Glad no one was hurt, and your boat sounds tough as hell. :D By the way, your boat is gorgeous too.

11-25-2002, 08:48 PM
John -

Great story. I could feel the adrenaline rush as you dove for that lever.

I still think you need to get someone out in front of you to recreate that photo in full color.


John B
11-25-2002, 10:34 PM
Hey Lisa. I got it. at least, I pick it up tommorrow.( the other one I mean) You are the first to know.! keep it quiet.

11-25-2002, 10:39 PM


John B
11-25-2002, 10:51 PM
LOL. don't let anyone else know. I want it to be a surprise.

11-26-2002, 08:07 AM
Glad you got to the lever in time.

There can be a real problem with Highfields and crash gybes - if the boom does NOT break!

The sail is then trapped by the runner, and the load on the lever prevents anyone from lifting it over dead centre. The wind in the sail pins the boat flat, the lever is now under water on the lee side of the cockpit, the mainsheet is useless and the halyards are no use either because the friction of the runner on the sail stops it lowering.

This alarming tale, told me by the President of the Old Gaffers Association, did not stop me fitting Highfields, though.

Mirelle also does the "loop mainsheet round counter" trick, but only in light conditions.

Ed Harrow
11-26-2002, 12:49 PM
I'm going to see me Mum in a couple of days - I'll relay your story to her - the mere mention of 'gybe' still gets her into a state. ;)

John B
11-26-2002, 02:45 PM
Levers they are, Andrew, Highfields they are not. ( am I pedantic on this?... I don't know)
My levers are the J.Laurent Giles pattern but I'm sure they would lock up all the same, as you describe.
I know levers v tackle v track is one of those perennial points. Some people hate them but I admire their quality,( I'm a sucker for a beautifully crafted piece of bronze) and they haven't let me down. When we lost our rig in 89( was it 90?) after the lowers tang let go the levers stayed intact but the 8mm steel shackel linking on to them twisted and broke.
I like my Giles levers because they work so well and I tend to try and credit the designer when I can.
By the way, I came up with a great gimmick to ensure that I don't ever have to unhook. I get enough slack so the runner is moused onto the hook even for a run.

11-26-2002, 02:55 PM
Gosh, we could get really pedantic here! Anyone still got a pair of Warrington Smyth's?

Mine are Highfields, mainly because I could not source a pair of Giles levers. Classic Marine have got the patterns and the permission, but need six orders to go ahead.

I use a wire block on the pendant; the flexible wire fall goes from lever to block to Wichard high tensile hook through deck eye. Throw lever over to reach, unhook to run. Pendants drop forward to shrouds and are secured there with a toggle and becket on the swifter.

Wild Wassa
11-26-2002, 03:08 PM
Is this why one sails John B ?


ps, As Kiwis would say, "what a hoot". Top read John.

John B
11-26-2002, 03:24 PM
Yes Warren.
I found that my lever gives 500mm of slack when released. IE a double purchase on the deck = 1000. I needed 1500 for a full ease on just the release of the lever so I increased the purchase to 3 and voila. Mouse the hook. clank over the lever and I get a full 1500mm of slack in the backstay... enough for the boom to hit the aft intermediate ( swifter) should I desire.The backstay is never disconnected from the lever.

Billy Bones
11-26-2002, 09:19 PM

I like that Hudson River gybe, have used it a time or two on small craft.

John-o the back of my neck is all prickly! 600sf of sail and all its associated lumber and hardware got my attention all the way over here!

Ian, what's a Chinese gybe? is that when the boom heads one way but the gaff goes the other?

John B
11-26-2002, 09:42 PM
she was reefed Billy. main right down to 500 ft.LOL.
Incidentally... I would NEVER have sailed the old 400 ft bermudan main in that breeze.But then it was easy to reef.
Chinese gybe? that's just an unpredicted gybe ,, That right Ian?

I'm going to practise that Hudson river manouvre in some lighter air.

11-28-2002, 06:04 AM
Yes, as I understand the term, a Chinese gybe is when the gaff and boom, or the headboard and the boom if Bermudian rigged, finish up on opposite sides of the mast. Why it is so called I cannot say, because the fully battened Chinese lugsail is the one type of sail which cannot succumb to a Chinese gybe!

John's approach to runners is interestingly opposite to mine - I double the purchase to the runner and John divides it into three - on roughly the same size of boat!

11-28-2002, 02:24 PM
I wonder if "chinese gybe" is not a throwback to the days when whitefolks expressed their distain for nonwhitefolks in various ways. The implication is that someone did something wrong, resulting in the fouled-up and sometimes dangerous situation, such as would presumably be created by a chinese crew. Another example is the "chinese fire drill," which has nothing to do with a fire drill, but refers to a situation where the crew are frantically running about and ineffectively pulling on things. The classic example is a foredeck crew trying to unwrap a spinnaker that has tied itself into a figure eight so tightly around the headstay that it can't be doused. Fortunately, we in general have largely abandoned such somewhat derogatory ethnic references, but some have survived our newly acquired sensitivity.

[ 11-28-2002, 02:27 PM: Message edited by: Bayboat ]

John B
11-28-2002, 02:39 PM
Seems reasonable, Bayboat. that would have applied here as well.

John B
11-28-2002, 03:16 PM
Found a photo. What is the power there?

Gary Bergman
11-28-2002, 08:36 PM
Looks like 4 working parts.If the becket was at the sheeve where the line entered,it would be 5.

11-28-2002, 08:53 PM
Correct me if I am wrong, but the North River Gybe was usually performed, intentionly, with boats that were rigged, with no standing or running backstays, and no shrouds. That makes things a bit different, in terms of damage.

11-29-2002, 07:35 PM
I did a lot of sailing and racing on a 46' cutter, inside and outside the Golden Gate and between Honolulu and the west coast. One time we were between Bodega Head and the Farallons and suffered an accidental gybe in a gale of wind. I dove for the Hifield lever as the boom went for the taut running backstay, and reached it just in time to release it. But I didn't get my left hand out of the way soon enough to avoid its vicious backlash as the boom hit the runner. The thumb side of my hand swelled up to twice its size and to this day I can't open my thumb all the way. Within a week the owner had trashed the Hifields and installed four-part tackles with winches.

John R - Kitenui
12-02-2002, 03:17 AM
The system in the photo allows movement rather than mechanical advantage the movement is 3 to 1 the mechanical advavtage is therefore 1/3
Glad I went home if it got to 40 kts Must have been when we were heading past Kauri Pt
Ps looks as if that save s a lot of unhitching

John B
12-02-2002, 03:26 PM
three parts that move, but it turns 2 1/2 times. Never can work those ones out.

Were you out this weekend just gone Johnnymeboy?.talk about opposite weather!GEEEorgeous. Didn't do the cruise.... just lounged about in bays in no wind with few boats but got raided in the night by rowdy crewmates wanting a rum.They came out from Westhaven to drunks bay to find us .Apart from that,It was a good "we found 5 hats" on the rocks weekend (because that's what we found).

[ 12-02-2002, 03:27 PM: Message edited by: John B ]

John R - Kitenui
12-03-2002, 02:16 AM
Didnt find a green wool Logan by any chance did you? I lost one coming back from The Coastal on Ngataringa. But then that was in Russell Harbour. Tidal drift. Maybe
As for Sunday- what beautiful weather. Moved Wanderlust from the mooring up to W'Park as she has suffered some damage, from a boat riding up on her stern and smashing toerails and cappings and Brass Pushpits etc. ARC is on the trail of the offending mooring owner so that should help with the insurance.
By the way did you know that RONA buoy is sinking. It's down to the A. I told them (ARC) about it yesterday. It would be even more dangerous than normal going round it at the moment, as those evil little square corners are hidden 'neath the tide