We barely had time to delight in the first downwind sail we’ve had since Huatulco when the seas grew irritatingly large and the rudder broke.
I had been trying to take a morning nap after a night of no sleep (I never get more than two hours or so when underway) but was having trouble due to the uncomfortable way the boat was weaving back and forth down the waves. Just as I got up, something happened and Joshua lost control completely of the steering. The boat rounded up into the wind and just stood there, teetertottering over the oncoming waves. We pulled the centerboard down in hopes of having some control (we sometimes run with it up when running due downwind/downsea) and Joshua went back to inspect the problem area.
“The rudder is totally trashed,” came the report. “Like how trashed? TRASHED trashed? Or still sort of functional trashed?” I put my harness on and went back to see for myself.
[TRASHED trashed, but still sort of functional trashed.]
Sea and wind conditions were 6-8 feet and 25 knots, occasionally gusting to 30. I was pissed about the rudder and snuffled irritatedly in the cockpit while Joshua the fearless non-worrier made fried rice for breakfast. We were actually really lucky to be only 14 miles out from Guanaja. Unfortunately, it was all downwind sailing, which places more stress on the rudder than upwind sailing.
This boat does not have a typical skeg rudder but rather an extra-long kick-up rudder housed in a stainless box. The box is attached to the stern and the rudder is bolted at a pivot point above and held down in place with a rope. Because this type of rudder sticks down below the keel, it is particularly vulnerable so we made a fuse out of some fishing test so in case we ever hit something; then it would break and the rudder would float harmlessly to the surface to trail behind us. Hopefully we wouldn’t need to, say, steer if this ever happened. The rudder box has always been suspect in that it cracked shortly after we left San Francisco (we had it welded in Ensenada) and again around Huatulco (we had it welded again there). We are not sure what happened this time; possibly we hit a submerged log and the fuse broke or we hit nothing and the fuse broke anyway, then the following seas pushed the floating rudder across and ripped the rudder box wide open. Now the rudder is attached only at the pin (where it is in danger of twisting sideways and causing further damage) and the lower part just sloshes alarmingly free.
We went with the mainsail up only and I steered by suggestion. “Left.” “More left.” “Goddammit!” Each gust was causing the boat to head up and it was very difficult to get back to where we wanted to be without putting any pressure on the rudder. Joshua put up the storm jib and pulled it in tightly; now when the gust caused us to head up, the wind would push against the jib and have us back on course (mostly) shortly thereafter. We wobbled our way to Guanaja making around 5 to 6 knots and happily rounded the reefs to the anchorage after only a few nerve-fraying hours.
Again, we are lucky in that Guanaja has a large fleet of working fishing boats. A welder was recommended to us almost immediately and tomorrow we will take our broken rudder box to him and see what we can do. We will not be able to just weld the box back together at this point but we think we can cut the bottom part off and fabricate a new piece to bolt directly to the lower part of the rudder itself.
So now we’re Destination: Texas, where Joshua’s family lives and we can haul out and fix stuff. Among other things (an irritating leak in the centerboard trunk will require attention soon) we will see about building a new, more solid rudder and ditch this kick-up bullshit altogether.