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Just like a 'Barrel of Bricks'!
Unstepping the mast in a howling gale can be unpleasant. Taking it down though when there's barely a cloud in the sky, the temperature is over thirty degrees and it’s set fair to remain that way for another week is even worse in my opinion. And so it was yesterday.
Another season draws to a close. I don’t like this time of year. Fille d’Armor sailed far and well all summer but now she must come ashore. The cycle seems to come ever faster each year and apart from the fact that there will be no more sailing again until next April, I don’t like to be reminded I’m also another year older.
Our local yottie club, les Bateliers, organise the hire of a massive, fourteen wheel crane twice a year. Once in Spring to plop all their charge’s boats in the estuary and now in Autumn to hoik them all out again. Most of les Bateliers’ boats are laid up for the winter on a piece of land in the village right next to the quay and which is reserved for the purpose. We enjoy extraordinarily good facilities here sur la Rance. After lifting my own boat out though, as she's not too large, then I prefer to transport her back home on her own purpose built road trailer. Naturally therefore as the boat’s ‘air draft’ is over twelve metres this means that the mast must first be lowered. France Telecom would probably get a tad cross if I dragged her home and brought down a few kilometres of telegraph wires down along the way!
“What does Fille d’Armor’s mast weigh?” asks Raymond. A not unreasonable question. Especially when coming from one of the two friends selected from our motley crew to hold the other end of the rope supporting the ‘stick’ as it comes down.
“Do you know, I’m not actually sure. Never weighed it. I guess I can work it out though.” I replied.
After a few minutes with a calculator I figured it to be about 120 kilograms.
“Oh that’s nothing.” said Raymond. “About the same as me. Philippe and I should be able to manage that easily.” he continued.
OK. Fournissant tous les deux vous prennent la charge en même temps. “OK, providing both of you are taking the load at the same time.” I urged.
“Comment?” (pronounced ‘common’, literally ‘Comment’ but meaning ‘can you repeat please? I did not understand.’). Said Raymond.
“Oh never mind. You’ll figure it out.” I replied, somewhat dismissively.
Did I mention earlier something about mast stepping or unstepping sometimes being unpleasant? It is sometimes unpleasant. Not always. That depends upon the wind and the weather. What mast stepping and unstepping is always though is hair-raising! At least it is in my experience. When the last pin is drawn out of the last deck chain plate and nothing is holding the jolly thing up but two brave men on the end of a rope and a wing and a prayer.
“OK, together now. PULL!” I yelled from the deck.
“Comment?” Says Raymond
“LIFT!” I respond. With a degree more urgency.
“Comment?” Says Raymond
“PULL THE BLOODY ROPE!” I suggest. In a voice, a couple (maybe six) octaves higher.
“OK, OK. No need to shout. Philippe and I will now commence with the lifting of your mast.” Says Raymond, calmly and without any sense of urgency whatsoever (the French way then!).
Everything was going quite well. The mast came off the deck, suspended from the big post erected on the quay solely for the purposes. It was then rotated to the horizontal ready to be swung ashore.
Did anyone ever hear that wonderfully hysterical
monologue account -
‘The Bricklayer's Lament’?
As told by the late Gerard Hoffnung at his address to the Oxford Union in 1958. If you’ve never read it then I urge you to do so. And, providing you don’t have a weak heart, then do try and get to hear the live recording. Even funnier. Gerard Hoffnung's delivery and timing were exquisite. His story included the line “Unfortunately the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was, and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground.” I leave the rest to your imagination and say no more.
You should be ahead of me by now and when I explain that everything was going quite well, that is up until the moment Philippe decided to let go his grip of the rope to scratch his nose. Leaving just Raymond to take the full load. Raymond admittedly not diminutive at around 120 kilograms. However -
Even if I say so myself I had calculated the weight of Fille d’Armor’s mast reasonably accurately. What I had omitted though was the additional weight of six stainless steel shrouds complete with rigging screws, the mast spreaders, the main and jib halyards and sail downhauls, along with signal halyards, the Genoa foil and furling gear, the Genoa itself which was still bent on, the forestay, the back stay, tensioner blocks and lines, the VHF aerial, the masthead steaming and sailing navigation lights, the wind vane, all the electrical and radio wiring, .... etc., etc.
"Où le raymond a disparu?" ("Where has Raymond disappeared to?") askes Philippe.
Fortunately the ground where the mast and Raymond fell was quite soft. So after close inspection it appeared there wasn't a mark on it. Quite lucky really as kit like that can be jolly expensive!
“Comment?” Said Raymond
I’ve finished unstepping masts now.
For the day anyway.