Still Stuck

The gods are becoming more and more inventive in their bid to prevent us from leaving French Polynesia. I hope there isn’t some underlying omen behind all this. We are making progress to the West, but slowly. The winds over the past month or so have been terrible for making any sort of long-distance crossing. Periods of good winds for three days at the most have been forecast but these have been invariably followed by long periods of calm, or strong winds from the South – a phenomenon known locally as a Maramu which occurs normally at this time of year. So, we have been island hopping during the good periods and have made it as far as the island of Raiatea, which is almost as far West as it is possible to go in French Polynesia before one must make the 4-5 day hop (in good winds) to the Cook Islands. Finally, last week, the forecast looked great for a run to Rarotonga, but there was something I wanted to check first. During the sail from Huahine to Raiatea (just 22 miles) I heard an unusual ‘pop!’ from somewhere in the rigging, so I went aloft yesterday to double check all the fixtures and fittings and quickly discovered the source of the sound. This toggle fitting has failed in a very worrying way.

 

Like the rest of the rigging it is only 2 1/2 years old, so there really is no excuse for this. I’ve spent the best part of the last 24 hours mulling it over in my mind and can come to no other conclusion than it being a manufacturing defect – the result of poor quality materials and/or poor manufacturing processes. But if this one has failed, what about the rest of the rig? The wire at the base of the terminals is showing disturbing signs of rust despite being rinsed down with fresh water after every dousing with salt. It’s supposed to be top-quality 316-grade stainless steel. We’re not the only ones with these problems either – our friends Mark (s/v Pilas) and Mario (s/v Ann Cailleach (or something like that!)) have both found that their new rigging, only a few years old, looks to be in a similar condition to the old rigging that they removed and replaced, and which had been in service for more than a decade. Mark has even kept his old rigging and it is clear to see that the quality of the steel that his old rigging was made from is superior to what he has now. And he didn’t skimp on price when he purchased his new rigging.

Not only are we going to miss out on our weather window, but fixing our problem might not be an easy one. Our fitting is imperial, not metric, so it’s unlikely that one will be found in Tahiti, never mind here in Raiatea. We could order one in, but to get it here in any kind of decent time we’d have to FedEX it, and French customs charge a percentage of the freight cost as well as the value of the item. A $100 item such as this, plus a $200 FedEX charge from the States ends up costing $400 after customs duties are paid. To make matters worse, this fitting (a sta-lock terminal fitting for 3/8″ wire and a 5/8″ pin, which should be overkill for our boat) is not as simple as it appears. The whole thing from the toggle to the wire terminal is a single unit, with the threads welded in place at the factory so that it cannot be disassembled. Well, we’ll see about that. I’ll be taking it in to a local machine shop first thing on Monday morning. With luck the guys here can come up with something that will be strong enough to get us to somewhere with better access to a replacement fitting. We’ve got a couple of ideas that we think should get us there. Fortunately, the next leg should see us on a port tack the whole way. If we can’t get something sent to Rarotonga maybe I’ll switch the shrouds from side to side for the next leg to Palmerston, back again to Beveridge, back again to Niue and we might just be able to make it all the way to Tonga without ever putting too much pressure on the ‘bad’ side 🙂

It’s not all bad though. We had the most amazing experience as we were hitch-hiking into town yesterday to try to find somewhere with internet so that we could email some friends in Tahiti and ask them to try to source this part for us. We were picked up by a young local couple, Marjorie and Loik. First, they insisted on stopping at a shop and buying us a beer. They then drove us into town, but, on discovering that everywhere including the cafes was closed due to it being a Saturday, they took us on to their house on the other side of the island where we met their family and were able to send our emails. It turned out that the lady of the house had served us pizza the previous night at a fast-food takeaway at an event ground, and although she spoke no English we managed to have a good laugh over this serendipity. The next thing we knew we were having dinner, more beer and were driven back to Bob feeling very, very welcome indeed. I sincerely hope we can get Marjorie and Loik out to Bob at some point before we leave, in order to reciprocate their generosity in some small way. Maybe we’ll have ample time to do so. Fortunately it is possible to FedEX stuff to Raiatea……………. but it still takes 2 weeks.

7 Responses to Still Stuck

  1. All sounds like rather an exciting nightmare! C’est la vie! Just like home, where tonight the pot drawer got stuck shut by a pot lid. Nothing would budge it and then when I turned around, the elbow on the pipe under the kitchen sink had corroded through and sprung a leak, gushing all the water I was draining out of the sink into the cupboard and onto the floor. Ug! Your amazing expertise for problems is needed here 😍 Love to you both XO

    • Oh no! It’s a common problem on boats too. Everyone moves around in the drawer while you’re sailing and wreaks havoc when you need to open it to get something in a hurry; usually some vitally important bit of equipment that you need right then and there 🙂

  2. Sounds like your having a fantastic time when will your journey be over looking forward to getting to know my neighbour .Take care stay safe.Barbara&Pete xxx

  3. This happened to my Back stay on a 53 ft heavy boat. The ‘pop’ was a rifle-crack, just above my head. After having the terminal fitting sawn apart, we discovered that in the hydraulic process of ‘crimping’ the s/s wire to the fitting, insufficient expansion room was left and it set up internal stresses which eventually gave way with internal s/s ‘corrosion’. So it may not be the quality of materials but the expertise in putting it together. Rather than worry, perhaps always have a handy-billy at the ready and wire clamps with integral rings. Easier said than done, as the terminal fitting may be at masthead. Good luck with your solutions and onward progress.

    • Yea I’ve seen the same thing too, especially on swaged fittings – they look fine on the surface but there’s crevice corrosion that is invisible from the surface.

      It was me that put it together! But, the bit that has broken is the toggle, not the bit that I put together, so that makes me feel a little better. A very close look along the middle of the fitting latitudinally reveals a tiny crack. I presume these toggles are machined from a section of flat bar. I think they bent it too quickly at the factory or something.

      An internet search has revealed similar failures in toggle fittings from fatigue, but always in older fittings. Certainly a 2 1/2 year old fitting should not fail from fatigue. We’ve done a fair bit of sailing in those 2 1/2 years but still, they say these things should last for 8 to 20 years or 25,000 miles. We’ve only done about 5,000 or so.

      I will be installing a makeshift backup system made from dyneema for these two fittings and maybe some others as well. I guess we’ll have to replace the whole lot again at some point though. I’m looking seriously at ‘soft’ DUX rigging – no fatigue failures and lots of strength, provided chafe can be eliminated.

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