View Full Version : Rudder failure

06-17-2013, 01:56 PM
Solar Wind has dropped out of the LongPac. We lost the rudder during the return leg of the OYRA Farallones race Saturday. Beetle Rob suggested that I recount the experience and any lessons learned here on the forum.

How did it happen? Well, we didn’t hit anything. Wind and sea were moderate by Farallones standards. We were reaching under spinnaker with the apparent wind on the beam to slightly aft. So the rudder was loaded up, but not to any extreme. At one point my crew Donald, who was driving, announced that he was having a lot of trouble pulling the tiller up enough to prevent a roundup. I helped him pull on the next one, and we could feel a “soft stop” at about 15 degrees of tiller that could be overcome with considerable effort. At this point the boat would respond to input; it was just very difficult to provide the input. But soon there was almost no response no matter what we did, and it was clear the spinnaker had to come down. The only way to douse was to let the boat round up and haul in from the tack. We made plenty of big rips as we fisted it in. This was Lazarus, my old black-and-white kite that I blew out on the SHTP but which Synthia was able to resurrect. This time we killed him off for good!

We took a shot at steering under main only, but the boat was still almost unresponsive. I snuck a peek over the stern quarter, and I believe I saw the two halves of the blade separating and bent off to the port side. Luckily, the emergency rudder was on board for the LongPac start in four days, and it was clearly time to install it. I’d only done this at the dock, and without the solar panels to get in the way, but it was surprisingly easy while bobbing around at sea and working around the panels. The boat sat patiently in a stable position. I pushed the cassette out through the stern pulpit and, leaning out after it, got it aligned with the gudgeons and pushed the pintles in. Then we brought up the blade (which is quite big, over six feet tall), extended it out over the pulpit and tipped it down until the foil end entered the cassette. Once it was vertical it slid down fairly easily with a couple of hangups. In fact, we never got it down all the way. The upper end stopped about a foot and a half above the cassette, and it was too far outboard to put any weight onto.

Next we hoisted the jib and dropped the main to keep the center of effort forward, and got underway in good control. We did call the Coast Guard to advise them of our situation, but we made it clear we didn’t want assistance. Soon this got a little boring, and we hoisted the main to the second reef, whereupon we were making 5-6 knots comfortably. But approaching the Gate the wind picked up to over 20, and we started rounding up and needing both of us to steer. Not surprising, with only about two feet of rudder in the water. So in another broach and with Pt. Diablo getting close, it was down with the main again. More or less back in control, we crossed under the bridge and finished the race. I found that the tiller was moving freely (by now, the fiberglass and foam had completely fallen away), and so I tied the rudder ropes onto the tiller and we were able to steer almost normally – although there was still a lot of drag in the system.

Lessons learned:

Tether the cassette and blade before moving them outboard of the boat! (I did think of this ahead of time.) And if you don’t have extra pintles, tether them too. Heck, tether yourself.

I was very, very lucky that this race was only four days ahead of the LongPac. If I hadn’t been prepping for that race, the emergency rudder wouldn’t have been on board. I may rethink my normal complement of spares for ocean sailing.

I was also very, very lucky that the rudder broke when it did, rather than surviving another 100 miles. It would have very hard work to bring the boat home from mid-LongPac with the E-rudder in its current state of service.

My E-rudder needs some redesign and rework. There was a lot of drag on the steering ropes, and it was tiring to steer.

I design robots and laboratory devices for a living. I know I need to loosen up the tolerances when building boat parts, but clearly I didn’t make enough of a mental adjustment. Keep that blade loosy-goosy in the cassette, or maybe rig a small tackle to pull it down.

Finally, my rudder was 33 years old, so I shouldn’t be too surprised that it let go. Just recently I was musing “How long is this rudder going to last?” Many of us sail old boats. We should all be thinking about what’s likely to let go, whether we should replace it prophylactically, and/or what we’ll do if it does fail.

To everyone who’s still in the LongPac, sail fast, sail safe, have fun!

06-17-2013, 03:48 PM
Great story, nice recovery! Are there any pictures around of your emergency rudder setup?

06-17-2013, 04:36 PM
Here are a couple. It's pretty crude and could be made a lot lighter, but I worked with materials I know: wood and sheet metal.

06-17-2013, 06:58 PM
Thanks, Max for sharing so we can learn from this experience. Where were you when it happened? Had you already rounded the Farallones? It sounds like you were on the way back in. Moderate conditions for the Farallones meant - what? 18-20 knots when it happened? How remarkable that you had the E rudder aboard. The photo was very helpful. That was a lot of leaning way out over the stern of Solar Wind! What bad luck to miss the Long Pac, what good luck to be safe and sound at home. Another adventure with a friend, and a good story for us. Regards, Jackie

06-17-2013, 07:22 PM
Hi Max,

Sorry to hear about the rudder and therefor missing the Longpac! Thanks for sharing your experience and it shows your seamanship!
To your point, it's good that it happened now and not during the LongPac.

We will miss you...

Dirk - Xpression

06-18-2013, 08:27 AM
Max, Good job! I carry my emergency rudder on all the ocean races and just leave it on board most of the time since it's a pain to haul it back and forth to Santa Rosa. I've tested it per PacCup rules inside the Bay, but that's with the regular rudder in place. I've always wondered how it would work in the real world, but I haven't had the guts to pop out the regular rudder and see. I can't mount the outboard and the emergency rudder at the same time, so getting in and out of the marina would be an issue. Pat

06-18-2013, 09:53 AM
Jackie, we were about halfway back when it happened, maybe 2 miles northwest of the Lightbucket. I would guess it was blowing between 15 and 20.

Pat, I think I'll rebuild the blade, making it shorter and with less chord so that it's more practical to keep it on board full time. (It's about 4x as big as a Monitor EmRud. Better to have a few roundups than rip the transom off the boat!) As it is, it lives on the cabin sole and we walk over it to fetch sails or use the head.

Jonathan Gutoff
06-18-2013, 11:09 AM
What did the rudder look like when you last hauled out? Was it waterlogged? Any weeping from it? Did it feel OK in the days before it failed? (It sounds like there was little warning before failure) I'm a little worried about my 25 year old rudder although it was checked out 2 years ago when I had it out of the water.

06-18-2013, 12:59 PM
I also leave the e-rudder aboard for the OYRA races. Greg built a carbon fiber blade for RAGS about eight years ago so weight isn't too big a deal. It has its own CF tiller and is even set up to attach the AP.

When we busted the tiller during the recent Duxship race, Skip and I talked about installing the e-rudder if the tiller broke off entirely. The problem was the primary rudder would still be flopping around down there so we still might not have been able to steer. I carry a long wooden dowel (a bit smaller in diam. than the rudder tube) to ram out the old rudder and shaft, but I wouldn't want to jettison my permanent rudder just because the tiller broke. I plan to start carrying my spare tiller aboard as well - I was surprised how easy it was to break a tiller and the spare tiller doesn't weigh much.

Great job to self-rescue and finish the race Max - you make us SSS'ers proud.

06-18-2013, 01:22 PM
Jonathan: The last few haulouts I've opened up a hole in the bottom of the blade, and quite a lot of water would drain out. I would plug the hole with epoxy or caulk before launching. Last time, I dropped the rudder, cut a chamfer in the fiberglass around the post, and packed the groove with Sikaflex. There was no sign of a crack between the foil halves; I think water was only getting in around the post.

It felt fine the last time I was driving, which was maybe an hour before it broke.

06-18-2013, 04:12 PM
Excellent example of seamanship. I keep thinking of the BAMA Farallones Skipper meeting and recent Safety at Sea Seminars emphasizing seamanship being a failure point in the last three fatal ocean sailing incidents (one of which involved rudder failure) and your experience demonstrates just what I think those panels would have desired. So glad you are the success story. Nicely done Max, and thanks for sharing.

06-22-2013, 05:31 PM
Nice job Max. I once lost a rudder about 400 miles from Hawaii. I also had a cassette set up. Installation was really trivial and we were up and running after recovery of the kite and pouring a bottle of rum into the sea. The rudder failure in my case was a failure in a weld inside the rudder. The stainless rudder post had a stainless rod inserted and welded. The rod had "paddles" that fanned out into the foam core to capture the rudder load. This weld failed leaving just a few inches in the water. When it came time to order the build of the new rudder I engaged Advanced Composites in Santa Cruz. They took me to the dead rudder dept. where they had on display a fine collection of rudders bent and broken with precisely the same failure as mine. The team at Advanced indicated that the 70's and 80's boats were prone to this type of failure if the rudder was built in the fashion I described. Good luck on a replacement. I had Carl S. design mine and I would highly recommend getting a new modern shape. It made a huge difference in boat handling.