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Old 18-07-2011, 08:19   #1
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A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

On June 14 this year, I headed off for my first solo cruise. The plan was to take a month sailing from Haverstraw on the Hudson River out to Cape Cod and the islands and then back. I set aside a month.

Though I could have wished for more wind, my first 11 destinations were a delight. I stopped at NYC, two places on Long Island, Block Island, Newport, two places on Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Hyannis, Woods Hole and Provincetown, MA. I have to mention that my sail from Nantucket to Hyannis was one of the best I've ever experienced. A beam reach of 10-14 kts most of the way, and then sailing from buoy to buoy by simply adjusting the sails. That sail alone was worth the whole trip!

My wife drove out to meet me in Provincetown, and we enjoyed the Fourth of July weekend there together. On the morning of July 6th, my wife headed back home, and I charted a course to Mattapoisset, MA, timing the current down through the Cape Cod Canal. The forecast was for a sunny day with south winds 10 to 15 kts, which would mean no sailing, just motoring.

By the time I approached the northeast end of the canal, the headwinds were at 24 kts, and a light fog seemed to be settling in. I checked the NOAA weather, and there were now alerts for "unexpected dense fog" and rough seas at the inlets. I pressed on, figuring that Mattapoisset was only 10 miles from the southern end of the canal, so I should be able to make it.

By the time I got to the south end of the canal, the wind was 24-28 kts on the bow, and the fog was so dense that I couldn't see more than 100 yards ahead. I was navigating mostly with my chartplotter and radar, and that's when I ran into the rough seas at the entrance to Buzzard's Bay. As the seas and the fog increased to the point where I began to feel uncomfortable as a solo sailor, I decided to turn around. This, of course, headed me against the current, so I could only make about 1 - 2 kts.

After about an hour of motoring against the current, my fuel supply began to run out, and the engine quit. I managed to get the engine restarted once, just in time to avoid crashing into a cement sea wall, but I was in a narrow canal, in a strong current, with dense fog. Sailing single-handed under those conditions, there was no way I could add fuel to my tank using my extra fuel containers. So when the engine died again, the current ran me aground on a shoal on the western bank of the canal, near Onset, MA.

Fortunately, when the engine started to sputter, I got on the phone to BoatUS. After being passed along twice and placed on hold for a longer time than I wanted to wait, I was finally put in touch with Bill, the local towboat operator. I was on the phone with him when my boat ran aground, so I asked for assistance.

Despite the thick fog, he was there within 20 minutes. Before he arrived, the Canal Patrol had attempted to pull me off the shoal, but they couldn't get in close enough due to the shallow water. Bill, however, tossed me a line, and despite a strong current and almost zero visibility, he managed to pull me off the shoal. But it wasn't easy. He couldn't pull me out into the canal, because we couldn't see out there. He also had to contend with his boat taking on water as he tried to unground me. But he never gave up. It took more than two hours, but he finally managed to get me off the shoal. I am very grateful for his skill, effort and perseverance.

In the process, though, my rudder post was bent and the bottom of the rudder got chewed up. I am currently awaiting repairs, and I look forward to continuing my cruise homeward with some serious lessons learned. Here are the miscalculations I made that contributed to my grounding:

1. Lack of full understanding of, and experience with, the limitations of solo cruising such as the inability to add fuel from containers single-handed under difficult conditions

2. Trusting in the indications of a fuel gauge

3. Not topping off the fuel tank before a cruise leg, when the opportunity presented itself

4. Expecting weather conditions to either improve or not worsen, because the original forecast was for better than the actual weather

5. Not thoroughly researching alternate harbors or anchoring spots for refuge.

6. Pressing on into worsening conditions

7. Not taking full heed of NOAA alerts on the radio and changing plans accordingly

I offer this tale in the hope that it will help others avoid the problems I encountered. That rudder is gonna cost me (and my insurance company) a pretty penny.
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Old 18-07-2011, 08:38   #2
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Hang in there, get your boat fixed and get back out!

Myron
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Old 18-07-2011, 09:02   #3
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Thanks, Myron. I fully intend to do just that. It will take about 8 days to sail back home, stopping each night, and I look forward to it.
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Old 18-07-2011, 09:15   #4
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Sorry to hear the news dennis. Hope you hang in there for repairs and things come out aok.

It confirms concerns I have about soloing the canal route rather than my own choice and history of going on the outside. But, that has different issues.

Keep us posted on your adventures!
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Old 18-07-2011, 09:23   #5
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Thanks, Salty. Will do.
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Old 18-07-2011, 09:46   #6
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Wow... Sorry to hear about that.

Could you have deployed the anchor to prevent running aground?
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Old 18-07-2011, 10:19   #7
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Single-handed, funjohnson, that would have been a real challenge, especially in those conditions. I thought about it, though, and even discussed it with the BoatUS operator over the phone. The grounding happened so fast, I really didn't have time to do much, and I'm not sure that being anchored in the middle of the canal channel in a strong current with almost zero visibility would have been a good move.
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Old 18-07-2011, 10:39   #8
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

1. Lack of full understanding of, and experience with, the limitations of solo cruising such as the inability to add fuel from containers single-handed under difficult conditions

2. Trusting in the indications of a fuel gauge

3. Not topping off the fuel tank before a cruise leg, when the opportunity presented itself

4. Expecting weather conditions to either improve or not worsen, because the original forecast was for better than the actual weather

5. Not thoroughly researching alternate harbors or anchoring spots for refuge.

6. Pressing on into worsening conditions

7. Not taking full heed of NOAA alerts on the radio and changing plans accordingly

I think your only true mistake was number 6. All the others we all do. I mean we all set out without full knowledge of our boat, instruments, weather and our abilities. But I think when I came to number 6 that is where a plan b,c and d should have kicked in.
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Old 18-07-2011, 10:43   #9
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

It's a good story, it shows how little things can add up and become a serious issue...

Thanks for sharing
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Old 18-07-2011, 10:49   #10
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Yes, number 6 seems to be the crucial mistake--and one all too easily made. I think most of us have pressed on into worsening conditions in the vague hope that it will change or that we will get past into better weather and visibility. It sometimes best to lock the ego away and play it safe. One just has to know when the appropriate time is.
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Old 18-07-2011, 11:02   #11
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Hey, no one got hurt and the boat is basically OK! It was a learning experience and hopefully not your last one. Make up a good sea story about the alien submarine attack.
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Old 18-07-2011, 11:05   #12
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Good posting, hate that you damaged your boat, but your post might keep a few other boats off a shoal.
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Old 18-07-2011, 11:58   #13
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Thanks, Surya, Pat, Astrid, Tingam and Khagan. I'm sure it won't be my last "learning experience," because it wasn't enough to keep me off the water. I have learned a great deal from it, however. And you're right about #6. It was tough to turn around, though, when I was only 10 miles from my destination.

One of the worst parts of the ordeal though was the terror experienced by my dog. He plastered himself to my leg and kept looking up at me as if to ask, "Are we going to be okay?" I kept assuring him out loud that we'd be fine, and kept trying to soothe him, as the VHF radio is blasting, the boat is heeled way over aground, the wind is ripping, boats come and go, tossing lines, the boat being pulled, and people yelling across the water. The poor boy was terrified for hours.
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Old 18-07-2011, 12:27   #14
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Quote:
Originally Posted by DennisM View Post
Single-handed, funjohnson, that would have been a real challenge, especially in those conditions. I thought about it, though, and even discussed it with the BoatUS operator over the phone. The grounding happened so fast, I really didn't have time to do much, and I'm not sure that being anchored in the middle of the canal channel in a strong current with almost zero visibility would have been a good move.
You're right. I seem to put too much faith in the anchor in those types of situations. It never seems to be as straight forward as just dropping the hook and waiting it out.
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Old 18-07-2011, 12:52   #15
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Re: A Bent Rudder and Lessons Learned

Look. I personally don't think its quite fair or healthy to second guess decisions or stagnate in too many "could of should ofs". Dennis, please don't come down on yourself too much here. It can happen to anyone. There are a lot of factors at play. Any ONE of them could result in your issue.

The canal choice is a sort of funnel or concentrator of possible things can go wrong while you are solo - mega traffic, close to shore, anchoring, currents and tides, weather etc etc. The other option is going outside and that also has a list of issues including tricky currents, weather, longer run, larger ship traffic etc etc.

I like going outside and am extra careful, but thats not to say I might not end up on a lee shore or fell asleep onto a rock, I'm sure there would be un-neccsary second guessing and "should haves".

To sum up. Everytime you go sailing there are possible things that can go wrong. You can prepare for them as much as you like, but things do happen. Maybe extra sleep might have allowed you to turn around. etc etc. Doesn't really service because each instance is unique.

You did the best you could. Thankfully, the boat can be repaired and you will sail again!!!
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