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DON'S LOG: stories, experience and advice

Loss Of Steering Loss Of Rudder

Tiller too short

On boats that have wheel steering there should be an emergency tiller that works. All too many emergency tillers are useless. Go out in heavy weather, test your emergency tiller, not only going to windward, but also on a broad reach and dead down wind, two points of sailing that require a lot of steering. Alternately install the emergency tiller, go out of harbour well clear of other boats, run in reverse at 5 or more kts and try steering a zig zag course for one hour using your emergency tiller.


The inadequacy of emergency tillers was brought home to me early in my career as a delivery skipper. We were delivering 40' sloop, short keel but attached rudder, from Grenada to Ft Lauderdale via St. Thomas. About 50 miles west of San Juan, the hydraulic steering system packed up so it was emergency steering to San Salvador, the first island we figured we could find a harbour. We installed the emergency tiller but it was not well designed , not strong enough and collapsed after about five hours. The MBLU, master of the bastard lashup, a degree I learned on the submarine USS Sea Leopard SS 483, watching Tubes Theadford first class torpedo mate, came thru again. I discovered the biggest socket in the socket set would fit on the rudder head, a tackle on the wrench handle lead to a winch gave us enough control to sail her 400 miles to San Salvador. There we stopped and rebuilt the emergency tiller. See OSY 1 pg 606/7 for photo and story. Sam photo sent to you separately


Sam the below of interest to you, not for the article, that may be useful some time in the future OSY Ocean Sailing Yacht Vol 1 printed 1974, 140,000 copies sold. OSY 2. Printed 1979, only 40,000 copies sold. Sailors thought OSY 2 was a rehash of volumne 1 but it was not. OSY 2 is all new information. Times have changed, much new equipment has come on the market but there is still a ton of valuable timeless information in both books. They both are still available via the internet. Some are second hand copies, others are pirate printings done both in the states and in INDIA!!!! They are usually available at $30 each. Sailors regularly tell me that they have bought both copies via the internet, total cost $60. They tell me that so much information is timeless and still valid, that is makes the $60 a well worth while investment. Gavin Shaw who sailed on Iolaire's 85 T/A and made the video Transatlantic with Street, highly recommended by Tom Cunliffe, is still available and still selling go to reports the on which he did a two week cruise had both volumes of OSY in the ships library!!!!


In contrast on Pixie, a 54' Gardner designed ketch rigged motor sailor, that we were delivering St Croix to Ft. Lauderdale, the second day out, again the hydraulic steering failed. However it was no problem as Gardner had designed a proper emergency tiller. Pixie was a midship cocpit ketch, so there as a large after/poop deck. We undid a deck plate, lifted a cushion in the after cabin bunk, dropped the emergency tiller thru the deck plate onto the rudder head and we were all set as the tiller was a full 6' long giving us plenty of leverage.


On Atlantica, a 46'gaff rigged schooner, Stevens designed ,built in Canada on the floor of the Canadian Expo in Montreal, again had hydraulic steering. So I decided to check the emergency tiller before leaving . We discovered when tested, it was really useless.


The lever arm was only 3' long. Typical of gaff rigged schooners, on a reach because of the gaff falling off as sheets are eased, Atlantica had heavy weather helm. An hour on the helm and the helmsman's arms had been stretched so much he looked like an orangatang!!!! The emergency tiller was made out of pipe, so we made a wooden extension that fitted into the end of the pipe so that we had an 8' lever arm. Four hours after leaving Grenada, the hydraulic steering packed up so out came the emergency tiller with the extension. Weather helm was still a problem. But by the time we had reached Bermuda, we had learned to trim the gaff vangs which we had rigged, so that the twist was completely removed from the main and fore when sheets were eased. This removed the weather helm to the point that my daughter Dory age 11 could stand a one hour helm watch. Thus, we shortened the tiller in Bermuda from 8 ' to 6'. But gaff vangs are another story, contact streetiolaire@hotmail.com and I will send the article on Gaff Vangs that hopefulluy will appeared in Wooden Boat.


Almost all emergency tillers are designed to pass OVER the wheel steering stand see OSY 1 pg 606. Sam drawing coming separately


This arrangement looks good on paper but when you try to use it in heavy weather, especially going down wind, because of the short lever arm, and the height of the tiller because it goes OVER the compass and wheel, it does not work.


On some boats an emergency tiller, absolute minimum length 4' more if possible, may be able to be installed pointing aft from the wheel and helm. Eyes should be provided on the end of the tiller so lines can be run from the tiller thru snatch blocks to winches port and starboard.


Today, most boats are so wide that a better arrangement would be to make the emergency tiller in T going across the boat. This would be much easier to make and give a longer lever arm, plus being in a T two people could steer, one on port side the other on stb side. The arms of the T should be made removable to facilitate easy storage of the tiller.


On boats with twin wheels, there is an easy solution. Photo of the emergency tiller on Kinship, custom Baltic ?


The system works, but trying to do it on a long term basis would be strictly survival mode. As I pointer out to the skipper and also owner, there should be a hinge on the top of the vertical shaft, with a tiller 6' or more in length so that the forward end of the tiller can be adjusted to a convenient height.( Sam drawing will come) If there is a cocpit table that would foul the end of the tiller the cocpit table should be altered so that in emergencies the table could be removed. If the twin wheels foul the tiller they should be removed.


With the existing arrangement on Kinship, steering would be the survival mode. With the alterations above if steering is lost, with the emergency tiller Kinship would be able to continue racing at 90% efficiency.


On cable steering systems the most common failure is broken cables. Replacing steering cables at sea is difficult, but not impossible. Billy Porter, well known mega yacht skipper, started his career in the Royal Navy as a boy seaman at age14 and retired many years later as Chief Warrant officer. His


last few years in the RN were pretty much running the Royal Navy sail training establishment. He tells the story of Great Britain 11 in the Financial Times round the world race, UK to Freemantle, Freemantle to UK. Freemantle was the only stop. The crew were all Royal Navy from the sailing program. GB2 was run on military fashion, every one had a specific responsibility.


They figured on a race of this length, and the thousands of miles sailing down wind in the roaring 40's that they would have a steering cable break and loose steering. They figured when this happened, the boat would round up, spinnaker would be doused, staysail hoisted, staysail main and missen trimmed so GB 2 would lie hove too until the broken cable was replaced. One crew member was told to get all the gear and spare cables assembled so that when the time came he could replace the broken cable.

Between Freemantle and UK, half way to Cape Horn a steering cable broke, GB2 rounded up, all went according to plan, the designated crew member dove below to replace the broken cable. The crew felt it would take him two or three hours to do the job. But 20 minutes after heaving to, the crew member popped out of the hatch and said "new cable installed and tensioned, get under way".


This they did and asked the crew member how he did the job so fast. When GB2 was in UK getting ready for the race, and again in Freemantle, the crew lived ashore, but one crew member always stayed on board as watch man. The crew member that was in charge of the steering cables reported that every time he had the duty, he would set his alarm for 2400, the minute the alarm went off he would dive into the lazarette and change a cable. The first time it took him almost three hours but each time he changed a cable he reduced the time necessary. He assembled all the tools he needed, and stored them in the lazarette, he secured the spare cables in the lazarette such that they were easy to run once he pulled the broken cable.


For those that are doing long passages, that have cable steering, it is worthwhile to try replacing a steering cable in port before going to sea!!!



Now that the vast majority of boats built in the last ten years have spade rudders, loosing a rudder en toto by hitting something, or by having the rudder drop out, has become enough of an occurrence that in South Africa there is a company that makes emergency rudders specifically designed for your boat. The emergency rudders are designed such that they can be disassembled for storage until needed.


This is nothing new as I recommended doing this back in 1974 in OSY 1 pg 608/9 drawing re produced I recommended designing and building an emergency rudder out of plywood, all pieces bolted together, Then mount and test the rudder, then mark the parts carefully , disassemble the rudder, stow the bitts and pieces and hope you do not have to reassemble!!!!


But if you do not have an emergency rudder, do not waste time trying to rig a spinnaker pole with a door secured to it as a rudder. I have heard and read about dozens of sailors who have tried this rig and it does not work or with great difficulty has been made to work very inefficiently .


In the 53 Fastnet Race, shortly after rounding Fastnet rock, Oliver van Nort' a 55' cutter designed and built by de viers lentch, very similar to the Sparkman and Stephens Stormy Weather, lost her rudder. She rigged her spinnaker pole across the deck, ran lines thru blocks secured to the ends of the pole, lines rigged thru the blocks port and starboard. They were attached to a drogue streamed astern and lead to winches. They were able to sail Oliver all the way back to Plymouth where they picked up a tow to bring them into the harbour. They dried out on the tide at Mashford Bros at Crymell. Mashford made and installed a new rudder in 48 hours so Oliver could go in the La Rochelle race that starts soon after the Fastnet race.


Doug Petersen, the famous yacht designer reports that half way between California and Hawaii the One Tonner he designed , a very fat beamy one tonner, lost her rudder. They sailed all the way to Hawaii using the same rig as Oliver but the One Tonner was so fat, they just lead lines port and stb thru blocks secured to the rail cap at the beamiest part of the boat.


Mike Keyworth one of the four Keyworths, all excellent sailors, demonstrated to Mark Pillsbury editor of Cruising World, how he could sail Chasseur a swan 44,on all points of sail, even tacking and jibing. Chausseur was a Swan 44 which had received a good dose of steroids. She had a carbon mast, 6' longer than standard, keel had been deepened and a lead bulb attached , the rudder and skeg removed and replaced by a spade rudder.


He removed the spade rudder and then experimented steering Chausser , with no rudder on the boat, by towing a drogue. It was a Hathaway Rieser and Raymond "sea break" drogue,( Sam insert illustration here from landfall )now sold thru Landfall Navigation.


It took some time to get it right. He discovered as did the crew of Oliver van Nort, and Doug Petersen, rig lines to the drogue from port and starboard, from amidships, the pivot point of the boat. He, like Doug Petersen discovered he could steer without rigging the drogue lines thru the ends of a spinnaker pole rigged across the boat.


Like Doug Petersen, he lead the lines thru blocks secured to the genoa track then back to winches in the cocpit.


Trim the stb drogue line, boat turned to stb, trim port drogue line boat turned to port. Once the boat was settled down on course, if the sails were properly trimmed, he could secure one drogue line, then just trim and ease the other making sailing with no rudder a one man operation.


He was not able to sail down wind with the main up, but I believe he could have if he had permanently rigged Iolaire's main boom fore guy/preventer that can be easily and rapidly connected and disconnected without going forward of the mast(described on the back of every Imray iolaire A and B chart of eastern Caribbean, can be repeated here) and medium or small headsail wung out on a pole. See the rig Rob Donald used on Masicha to sail down wind with no self steering gear.


He could tack or jibe by judicious trimming of the drogue.

Mike discovered the drogue worked best if a length of chain was at least 6' to keep the sea brake from cavitating ie coming to the surface. Also to keep the bridle from twisting attach a swivel to each end of the chain.


He experimented with various sizes of Hathaway Reiser and Raymond gale rider/ "sea brakes". For Chausser, the 30" diameter worked well, the smaller ones were not effective, the bigger one 36" slowed the 44' Chausser down too much.

So smaller boats, smaller sea brake/gale rider, large boats the larger 36" sea brake/gale rider. They are light and easy to stow, 30" stows in a bag 9" in diameter, 5" thick and weighs 9 lbs. The 36" one stows in a bag 18" diameter 4" thick and weighs 13.2 lbs.


Any boat doing long off shore passages should carry a sea break drogue to slow the boat down in heavy weather. All cruising boats carry chain, carry a couple of swivels, spare shackles, a length of chain and you are set to slow the boat down in gale conditions or steer when the rudder drops or is knocked off.

When under power it was dead easy to steer. But when being towed, it was discovered that if the drogue was towed from the stern, the boat would swing 30 degrees either side of the course of the towing vessel.


But if the drogues were towed by two lines from amidship, there was no problem following the tow boat.


In storm conditions rather than towing a drogue from the stern to slow the boat down and keep the stern square to the wind, it would be better to tow the drogue on two lines lead thru blocks amidships then to winches.


Or if no drogue is available tow long anchor line or something similar in a bight astern, feed the line out thru a block amidships, pass the end of the line aft, outside everything, then forward thru a block amidships and back to a winch and secure. Then feed the line out, hopefully with an anchor secured to a snatch block snapped over the line. Make sure the snap shackle securing the anchor to the snatch block is taped closed with electrical tape and the snatch block on the mooring line is taped closed with electrical tape.


Before dropping the anchor overside, carefully coil the line in a big coil so it is sure to run out with no foul ups. Be sure the line has a few turns around the winch before veering the line and anchor as the load will be considerable. Also before dropping the anchor overside, secure the end of the line to a strong point in case you loose control of the line around the winch.


Here should be section starting with when under power Then following the end of that section loose control of the line around the winch the best story I am not sure of where it should be but pls do not edit it out.

With the wind abeam or forward of abeam on a boat with a long , or moderately long keel, good sailors can steer a boat using sails only. This is easy on a ketch or yawl, hard, but possible on sloop or cutter. The cutter with a staysail as well as jib is easier to steer under sail alone than a single headsail sloop. Once the wind goes aft of abeam, switch to the drogue routine.


Rob Donald, the well known mega yacht skipper, also owns the 38' cutter Machia. With her he has circled the world. With Machia he has won her class in the Antigua Classic Regatta. In his early days cruising with Machia, Rob could not afford self steering gear. On trade wind passages, he would set his main to leeward, vanged down hard, with a preventer rigged from boom end to stem head and line lead back to a cocpit winch(see the back of Imray iolaire A and B Imary Iolaire charts for the rig Iolaire has used since the middle 60's or Sailing Today ? month? Setting up for the trade wind passage), genoa on spinnaker pole to windward. The pole rigged with its own lift, fore guy and after guy( see Street's Guide to Cape Verdes, Ch 9,Setting up for the Trade Wind passage or pg 139 and OSY 2 pg 230.)


The staysail was hoisted and trimmed flat amidships using both sheets to set up tight. The helm was lashed amidships. The boat would sail down wind, wandering 10 to15 degrees either side of the direct downwind route, always pulled back to dead down wind from the wandering by the staysail sheeted flat. The course would average out as the dead down wind course.


But the most amazing story of all about loss of rudder is the story of Williwaw 48' sloop that lost her rudder on April 18, 1978 while racing the Middle Sea Race for the Sardinia cup..


The crew felt they should drop out and secure a tow but the skipper Lowell North, and the mate Peter Barrett, both Olympic gold medallist insisted that they could continue the race and finish steering by carefully trimming sails. This they did. To put icing on the cake, Lowell and Peter insisted on sailing into the marina, and tacking, all with no rudder on a short keeled racing machine. No wonder Lowell and Peter won gold medals!!!!!!!!! Read the full story in Scuttlebutt, it is rather unbelievable.


In the light of all this, loss of steering, or loss of rudder should not be regarded as a complete disaster but rather a major inconvenience!!!!!


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