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By - John Votaw


Probably the most significant event of the week for us was the jamming/unjamming of our centerboard. First, a bit of background. The Princess 22 centerboard is controlled by a block and tackle rigged right at the head of the board. This system provides a 4-fold purchase on a very short level arm. This makes for a very compact arrangement but it also makes the system a bit "mushy", ie. it is hard to tell if the board has actually moved when you slack or pick up on the pendant a little. On top of this is the fact that Pilgrim's centerboard fits in the trunk a bit more snugly than it should. Consequently there is a tendency to put it all the way down and not manipulate it as much as you normally would on a different boat.

So there is our excuse, now for the story. It all happened on the first day, we had a great day sailing from White Sands up the Laguna Madre. We found that the little Welsford designed Sherpa dinghy we were towing provided very negligible drag at 6 mph or less. As we increased speed over 6 mph the painter started to take a strain. Even at that, it was very well behaved as we towed it at over 9 mph many times in the very fresh winds later in the week.


Anyway as we got closer to Mansfield channel and our turn East toward the jetties, we began to look for opportunities to cut the corner in order to minimize the beat upwind. Our original way points were established after studying both the charts and satellite photography from Google Earth. But now we could see another boat easing to the northeast out of the channel and it "looked" like good water. We decided to follow suit thinking, "what's the worst thing that could happen, we drag the centerboard a bit and ease off back to the west." Navigation by braille is no big deal in centerboard boat in these skinny waters especially if you're bumping bottom on a windward shore. At this point the centerboard was all the way down and the pendant actually had probably 3 or 4 inches of slack in it. We took a more NNE'ly course than the other boat but knew we would still be flirting with some shallow water. As we sailed along, we could see that the water was getting shallower so we eased our heading even more to the north. Then it happened, we touched bottom. We put the helm up and headed even more downwind. Unfortunately we had sailed up into a little tongue of deeper water so the board came up even more. So we reached down to pull it up, only to find that we couldn't move the pendant at all. About this time we started dragging even more and began to hear a very unsettling screeching/grinding noise. The boat was almost stopped but we were still in two to three feet of water. So I jumped over the side to lighten the load and walk the boat off of the shoal. A little grinding and screeching later and we were freely afloat again.

John Votaw

We continued on to our original way point and then turned up the Mansfield channel. Since our centerboard was jammed in the halfway position, we figured trying to beat to windward was a fools errand. We fired up the motor, doused the sail and begin to motor up the channel looking for a bit of sheltered water to pull in to so we could try to effect repairs. A couple of miles up the channel, we found a little cove on the south side that provided deep enough water. We dropped anchor and went over the side to see what we could do. We found that the centerboard was jammed tight. The slack pendant had fallen down enough that it had become sandwiched between the rising board and the side of the centerboard trunk. The 5/16 inch pendant was compressed down to a rock-hard 1/8 inch.

Now what? We couldn't leave the board like this. Even if we finished the trip using the alternate deep water routes, we still wouldn't be able to get the boat on the trailer in Seadrift at the end. After trying numerous ideas using an oar, improvised block and tackle with truckers hitches, muscle and sweat; we began to crack the trailing edge of the board that we were bearing against. We realized that this repair wasn't going to be accomplished in the water.

In the Harbor

We heaved anchor and headed into Port Mansfield for the night, hoping to find an available boat lift in the morning. Our plan was to hoist the boat out of the water and use hydraulic jack to jack the board down. Sure enough, the fine folks at the bait shop in Port Mansfield put us in contact with a fisherman who had a boat hoist. He was planning on being out fishing the next day and told us to use it as long as we needed it. That evening we saw several of the TX200 fleet in town. Some were pulling out of the event due to trouble, some were unwilling or unable to buck the headwinds up to the Mansfield jetties and elected instead to enjoy the benefits of civilization in Port Mansfield. Among those in town were the Devil Dogs, a couple of USMC veterans, in their Buccaneer floating condominium/supply warehouse/machine shop. We related our troubles to them and they offered whatever tools from their ample store that we might need. They didn't have a hydraulic jack but did have a sawzall that they loaned us.

The next day we were able to hoist the boat and jack the board down and were back in action well before noon. The centerboard now has a couple of battle scars in the form of a nice curved rope shaped indention on one side and a notch cut into the trailing edge just right for putting a jack against. Many thanks to those who helped. The folks of Port Mansfield were extremely friendly and helpful. The Devil Dogs were totally generous and prepared for almost any eventuality.

What I learned: Don't leave slack in your centerboard pendant! When you plan your route, select your way points using all available resources. Once out on the water don't deviate from your plan unless your eyes tell you that your plan is going to run you aground. If your eyes tell you your plan is safe stick to your plan no matter what other boats may be doing. Your charts on board may show more water than the satellite photos that you used when you were planning your route. Your effort to save a few minutes while you're out on the water may cost you half a day... or more.

If I was a better writer, I could add some more stuff from the trip. We had a great time! Every day had a story to tell.

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