The Blessing of a Broken Shackle

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” –from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

We seem to be having no shortage of adventures on this trip back to Florida. I thought it might be too much to ask that we would have as uneventful a trip home as we did on the way to the Bahamas in the fall. But, of course, nice days do not make for very good stories.

Today’s adventure involved three mishaps: a broken shackle, a brand-new jib halyard made five feet too short, and damage to the top of the jib. We were headed straight for New Providence, our jumping off point for the leg across the Gulf Stream, sailing along nicely, when a loud noise and sudden flapping got our attention. I thought the jib sheet had broken, or that the jib itself had blown. Quickly we realized that it was actually the top of the jib that was hanging limp; our minds jumped to the conclusion that the brand-new, $500 jib halyard (which we replaced for this trip) had broken.

We got the sail down as quickly as possible, diverted to a quiet anchorage off of Wardrick Wells, and sent Eli up the mast. Upon further inspection, it appeared that it was actually a piece of faulty hardware that had snapped, and Eli was able to bring the halyard down with ease. A little too much ease, it appears, because the end of the halyard disappeared like a rabbit into its hole! Where was that stopper knot they teach you in sailing school? It turns out that the halyard is just a tad too short, and without the figure-8 knot in place, it just goes bye-bye. To top it all off, so to speak, the top of the jib where it slides into the roller-furling track was beginning to suffer some damage, and looked as if it might tear all the way down the sail without some attention.

If you’re going to be stuck somewhere making repairs, I can’t think of a nicer place to be than Emerald Rock on a sunny day. As Jay fed the kids and rummaged for a spare shackle the right size, I sat on the foredeck with sail tape and needle and thread repairing the head of the sail. I don’t know if I did it “right,” but it was, all the same, a very satisfying job, and it made me feel like a real sailor. I hope it holds until we can get the jib to a loft, and I hope the sailmaker doesn’t laugh at my awkward stitches! Jay then used the spare jib halyard, which was damaged recently due to over-use as the kids’ swinging halyard, to run the new one back up inside the mast. With new hardware in place, halyard running smoothly (complete with stopper knot), and sail repaired, we hoisted the jib in a stiff breeze—putting that repair to the test—and furled it as quickly as possible. It was just after noon, so we weighed anchor and pressed on toward home.


The upshot of this diversion is that we stopped about forty miles short of our goal for the day, and anchored at the southern tip of Shroud Cay. This is someplace I had wanted to go kayaking when I had read about it in the guide book, but we had passed it by on our way South. It’s in the Exumas Land and Sea Park, and is a far lovelier a place than any of us imagined. I was picturing the miles of mangrove estuary and intertwining creeks as they would appear in Florida—cool, dark, murky places, but this was mangrove forest at its most beautiful—clear aquamarine water in wide, easily navigable ribbons leading to snowy ocean beaches on the other side of the Cay. I could easily spend a week here with my kayak and never get bored. We took the dinghy and went on an Explore, thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Shroud Cay

As we returned to the boat, the sun was preparing itself for bed and the waxing moon was just waking up for the night watch. With a glass of wine in hand, Jay and I toasted our “last day in paradise” as the sun went down in fiery glory. I felt so happy to be alive—to be soaking up days like these to remember years down the road. And when I thought about why were so lucky to be here, I realized we owed the pleasure of this happy ending to our three-month cruise in the Bahamas to a broken shackle. Isn’t life funny?