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Lost rudders
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Don Tracey
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Jun 30, 2012, 8:35 AM

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 Don Street comments on lost rudders.

During the Round the State race in Hawaii in 1974, on the Australian 73' mini-maxi " Ballyhoo", we lost our rudder on the windward side of the big island, on a lee shore. Due to Transpac rules we had provision for an emergency rudder, which we rigged ASAP. The system consisted of using the spinnaker pole secured to and pivoting on the backstay, with the teak salon table bolted on with threaded "U" bolts, with lines to the grinder winches P & S. With this rig we sailed the boat south round the bottom of the big island and back to the Waikiki Yacht in Honolulu, about 350 miles .
Where one of our Hawaiin guest sailors organized a replacement rudder to be built, and in 6 days we were back sailing again, and to my knowledge that rudder is still on the boat today.
The moral of this story is, safety rules are there for reason, and good seamanship is a necessary skill.

Don Tracey Skipper Ballyhoo 1974-76
Don Tracey


The Publisher
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Jul 2, 2012, 10:16 AM

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From Donald Street:
Regarding the loss of rudder and abandoning ship that was reported in Scuttlebutt 3622, it was in the 1953 Fastnet Race, right after rounding Fastnet Rock, that the Dutch yacht Oliver van Noort lost her rudder. They secured the spinnaker pole across the boat, streamed a drogue on two lines rigged through the ends of the poles, and then to winches. To turn starboard, they would take in on the starboard line. Opposite to turn port.

They were able to sail Oliver from Fastnet rock back to Plymouth, only taking a tow to Mashords to dry out on the tide and have a new rudder built. Oliver was a 53-foot cutter Deveres Lentch designed and built, very similar to Stormy Weather.

Doug Petersen told me the system would work even on a modern short fin keeled boat. He was on a boat that lost its rudder half way to Hawaii. She was a fat beamy IOR boat. They streamed a drogue, rigged lines thru blocks secured to the rail cap at the greatest beam then to winches. They successfully sailed her to Hawaii.

In the light of the above two stories, why do sailors abandon boats as soon as they lose their rudders?


From Bill Tripp:
Referring to Don Street's comments about abandoning vs steering with broken rudder, it is possible to sail a modern boat without a rudder as well. I had the 'bonding' experience on a Jamaica Race recently.

We lost the rudder on a 60-foot sloop going across the Bahamas in a 25 knot northerly, 60 miles north of Nassau. After spinning enough circles to focus the mind, we settled on a drogue triangulated aft, no main, and a staysail. The drogue kept the stern behind the bow, which was a decent starting point, and we got the boat to dead run in 2 meter and short steep waves, (surfing each briefly), steering the bow by the trim of the staysail. It took a few hours to get the feel down, and then we ran downwind at 5 knots managing to split the middle between the breakwaters into Nassau.
We called the Bahamian Coastguard for assistance into the harbor, but they never showed (it was a Sunday) so we sailed in with a line to the bow of an assisting local center console to make sure we didn't do a broach in the inlet's breaking waves and land on the bricks.

While we started with the triangulating drogue to steer, the response in the waves was too often out of phase, and we'd end up doing 90 degree turns. With the staysail two people could steer the boat reliably down the steep waves, flicking the staysail back and forth across the foretriangle, eventually finding a 300 meter wide entrance from 60 miles, and 12 hours, out.


The Publisher
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Jul 3, 2012, 2:19 PM

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From Dawn Riley:
Regarding the losing a rudder, the Oakcliff Sailing Center Ker 11.3 lost its rudder while racing double handed in the Newport to Bermuda Race. They were able to execute a plan that allowed them to sail the boat back to the U.S. over 100 miles to within 15 miles of shore where we sent a boat out to meet them to get to the dock. I was very proud of their efforts and seamanship. Here is how they did it: http://tinyurl.com/OSC-070212


The Publisher
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Jul 3, 2012, 4:40 PM

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From Donald Street:

My compliments on the stories on loss of rudder and boats that succeeded in getting in without calling for help.

I agree with Dawn Reilly that rigging the spinnaker pole with a blade on it as a rudder has little chance of success.

In the light of the rig Oliver van Nort used in the 1953 Fastnet to sail from Fastnet rock back to Plymouth when they lost their rudder, I feel that as soon as it is ascertained that the rudder is gone, immediately once sails are shortened down, rig the spinnaker pole across the boat with lines lead thru the ends of the poles to a drogue.

This will give a much better angle than leading the lines from the drogue thru blocks on the widest part of the boat.

Also a number of years ago I recommended in an article in Cruising World that if a boat has a spade rudder, an emergency rudder should be made, with fittings on the stern so it can be easily mounted when the rudder is lost.

The rudder should be made up of plywood bolted together and tested.

If it works, then the parts should be carefully marked the bolts knocked out, the rudder disassembled, stowed in the lazarette ready to go when needed.

It is worthy of note that there is a company in South Africa that designs and builds emergency rudders of this type for use when a spade rudder is lost.

They design the rudder for the boat, make up the fittings and attach them to the stern.

The rudder is made in pieces bolted together, once tested disassembled and stowed hoping it will not be needed.

In the light of this it would appear that South African boats frequently have spade rudder problems.

Because of the frequency of boats losing their spade rudders I feel that before long ocean races or long ocean passages, boats with spade rudders should go out and test the Oliver van Nort method of steering with a drogue or make up an emergency rudder as described above.


The Publisher
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Jul 5, 2012, 7:31 AM

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From Dana Timmer:
Just to add a short note to the current discussion regarding steering after breaking a rudder.

In 1981 I was delivering a Kiwi Boats built 40 footer from Acapulco to San Diego. We ended up in a brief but intense storm, (80 knots + as I learned latter). We were surfing down waves with the storm jib only when just before sunset, suddenly the rudder shaft snapped half way between hull and deck. The immediate problem was that the rudder did not drop out of the boat completely so now we had this big lever trying to tear a hole in the bottom of the boat. We finally managed to drop the rudder out of the boat and everything went calm, (except for the storm). We drifted with it that night and by morning the sea was dead calm. In addition, the storm having well shaken the fuel tank and all the sludge on the bottom we no longer had a functioning engine.

We built a rudder with spinnaker pole and floor board, multiple staying lines off of each side going forward and to a winch. Most important was to fashion a topping lift on the aft end of the pole to the top of the mast. Lots of tension on all the lines so steering only takes minute adjustments on either the Port or Starboard winch.

By the time we sailed into Manzanillo harbor three days later in the middle of the night, we could maneuver as if with the boat's original rudder was still in the boat.


From Peter Johnstone, Gunboat:
On a TransAtlantic passage in 2005 from Cape Town, South Africa to St Maarten, we had a high speed impact with some flotsam. The rudder sheered away, and we continued on making 240-300 miles a day as if nothing happened. Our Gunboat's other rudder was enough to steer safely in all conditions. Some Gunboats carry a spare rudder. In minutes a replacement can be in use. The redundancy and the safety of a proper offshore cat is simple good seamanship in itself.


The Publisher
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Jul 6, 2012, 7:43 AM

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From John Rumsey:
Regarding the lost rudder problem, I think it was in the 1974 Mazatlan race when I was sailing with Herb Johnson aboard Vector, a New Zealand built Spencer, fin keel, spade rudder, 44' sloop which was a very fast light displacement boat.

We were doing well in the race as we rounded Cabo San Lucas and came out from the lee, into what is known as the jet stream, on the East side of Baja. The wind was North about 25 knots and we were rail down on a Genoa reach toward the finish.

About two in the morning (why do these things always happen at night?) we rounded up into the wind and the helmsman said he had it hard over. We dropped the sails and discovered the rudder was gone. It was later discovered that the stainless shaft had crystallized where it came through the hull and broke off cleanly there.

We had an emergency steering arrangement but it was clumsy so we tried a various assortment of sail plans. We finally found that with a double reefed main, a storm jib set on the fore stay and a #3 winged out on the pole, we could steer by adjusting the pole back or forward. To head down ease the pole which made the sail pull the bow down; to head up pull back on the pole.

It took a while to get the trim right but we sailed the last 140 miles or so to the finish with a reasonable speed. Probably works on a reaching course best. Might be a good idea to practice some sail combos for such an occasion.


Don Tracey
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Jul 6, 2012, 1:40 PM

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It appears from the names in the lost rudder thread, that the comments came from quite a few people, who were sailing when long distance ocean racing was the norm, and the boats were delivered on their on their own bottoms to the next series or race, as in the days of Windward Passage, K3-4, Ondine, Condor of Bermuda, and Ballyhoo, plus many others. I had the pleasure of sailing against, and onboard many of these great yachts, with a wild bunch of guys and dolls. What a ride!!!!!
Don Tracey


Andrew Troup
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Jul 25, 2012, 1:30 AM

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In Reply To
From Donald Street:

.... if a boat has a spade rudder, an emergency rudder should be made, with fittings on the stern so it can be easily mounted when the rudder is lost.

The rudder should be made up of plywood bolted together and tested.

If it works, then the parts should be carefully marked the bolts knocked out, the rudder disassembled, stowed in the lazarette ready to go when needed. .....

----------------------
The only time I've been on board when a rudder broke was at the entry to a relatively sheltered harbour. The skipper/owner/builder had shown the foresight to build a spare rudder into the joinerwork. The timber plank running around the curve of the hull, outboard of but in the same plane with the under-bunk locker lids in the saloon settee, was a purpose-built rudder, predrilled for emergency gudgeons, which were stowed in the spares locker. (Being a transom-hung rudder, this was an easy swap: the matching pintles on the hull were massively strong and well fastened, so he was assuming they'd survive almost anything intact.)

The rudder is dagger-style, with an outer aluminium carcase enclosing a swinging scabbard, so the blade can kick up when you hit something (shearing easily replaceable nylon bolts). The spare rudder was intended to substitute for the whole shooting box, carcase, liner and blade, with a simple flat plank, very adequate in area for emergency use, and strong and durable, but no match for the performance of the original. But this meant that if any of those three things failed, one item would fill the bill in their place.

In this case it was just the blade which broke, from excessive lateral loading in a broach. (At that time it was very high aspect, a timber core, rather lightly skinned with fibreglass: in hindsight, the core should been thinned in way of the bottom of the carcase for extra skin thickness locally)

The spare rudder was a countervailing instance of foresight, trumping the deficiency of the blade. However, (sadly, in a way) it was not needed on this occasion: The break was level with the bottom of the carcase, as you'd expect, and it was still held by the fibreglass on one side, forming an informal hinge. I volunteered to jump off the stern, with a harness to a tethered line, and see if it could be persuaded to line up well enough so that we could pull it partly up and turn the carcase effectively into a "splint". Owing to the very long blade, it was clear we'd still have plenty left to steer with, even if we withdrew it so the break was near the top of the carcase.

Short story: the attempt succeeded. (Just as well, as we had guests who were getting married the next day!)
I'm not Charles Atlas by a mile, but the boat is only 23'.

Nevertheless, the boat is intended, and very successfully used, for offshore sailing, and if a boat that size can carry a spare rudder, I think any cruising boat - and many racing boats - could (and arguably should)



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