Rudder McBrokersons

April 3rd, 2007 by: cheyenne

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.

searunner 31 broken kick-up rudder

[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.

8 Comments on “Rudder McBrokersons”

  1. TUCKER says:


  2. jeff says:

    Wow just went to kinkos to check out the sight. The rudder shure looks bad, we are still in Lake Charles LA.
    Will depart 10 days to the carib and Honduras maybe will see you. Your experiences are sooooo book worthy.
    Love Dad

  3. Peg Bowden says:

    Hey kiddos,
    Yes—-there is a fascinating book residing in your head, Cheyenne, and you must put it together when you hit the mainland. My friend, Jan, has volunteered to edit it. She knows the publishing biz inside-out. I am always on the edge of my seat reading your adventures at sea. I may just fly down to Texas and hang with you guys for a bit when you hit terra firma.
    I LOVE the t-shirts and the US Coast Guard chapter of your journey. I want one—love, Mom/Peg

  4. joshua says:

    We have a guy welding on it right now. I cut off the bottom part and he’s going to try to reinforce it. We’ll bolt it into place and forget the kickup feature for now. It didn’t work anyway.

  5. the observer says:

    Over years I’ve heard/seen/read of alot of multi’s having rudder issues (to be fair, monos aren’t exempt). Usually it’s catamarans, ’cause they have two rudders that have to lead to one steering system. Tri’s generally do better because they have only one rudder and a main hull to mount it on.
    Things seem to go south however whenever someone gets the bright idea to gain more shallow draft with a kick up rudder. During open ocean sailing though, the sea seems to find a way to compromise anything except the most robust of steering systems.

    Searunners in their normal (jim brown designed) configuration are well built rudder-wise. A skeg mounted,transom hung rudder. Two separate strengths brought together. Too bad the designer of time machine thought to improve on it ( and I apolige for my backseat analysis, however I’ve sailed offshore in the trades too, so I’m aware of the stresses put on rudders). Surely this isn’t the venue to get creative to save alittle draft) Sorry to be saying this, as you two seem earnest and probably don’t deserve to be having to deal with this. Such is life.

  6. cheyenne says:

    I heartily agree. We wanted to rebuilt it to be a skeg, transom mounted thing in El Salvador (like the standard design) but couldn’t ever seem to get anywhere where we could haul out. And then we were on the move and blah blah blah, etc. This design is probably great for racing on a lake but sailing downsea in a big swell is not good. We got something hacked together out of parts of the old rudder and I sincerely hope it holds to Mexico where perhaps we can have something more suitable fabricated.

  7. joshua says:

    Jim Brown provided 3 rudder design options with the plans. The Skeg Rudder, A Break-away Rudder, and the Kick-up Rudder. The Skeg Rudder is recommended. However, both the break-away and kick-up designs will give better racing performance (because they are deeper, larger, and balanced). Joe (the builder of TimeMachine) intended to use it day sailing and racing on Lake Tahoe. The kickup rudder makes sense in this context. I don’t think very many were made with the kick-up design. As we’ve discovered it is totally inadaquate for offshore use. It’s simply not strong enough to handle the forces involved surfing down sea. In addition to being not strong enough the design is poor because you cannot steer when it is kicked up. Worse, the forces on the rudder box when the rudder is in the up position tend to tear the thing apart (as we experienced).

    Changing to the skeg rudder is big job because we need to cut a rather large hole in the hull to mount the skeg.

  8. Woodwind says:

    Where will you be welding tonight ? Do not use S.S. underwater. Better off with rusty mild steel than mystery metal . Shiny one minute ,broken the next. Ever checked out Wharram sewn on rudder? No corrosion no noise no breakee We are in Antigua

    It’s me, Jan. We saw that crazy Frenchman and hung out for several nights with Geoffry and Nancy from Panache. What a ___ fruitcake. Glad he didn’t torch your wonderful boat.

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Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell