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Old 09-03-2013, 13:04   #1
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Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

In the wake of the loss of "Uncontrollable Urge" in the surf off remote San Clemente Island during the Newport/LA harbor to San Diego (California, USA) "Islands Race" and loss of a crew member, what would or could you do if you lost a rudder in breezy conditions with confused seas and a rocky, surfbound coast to leeward?

The skipper of the Columbia Carbon 32 contacted the Coast Guard early on and put an anchor over the side as the boat with its six crew drifted toward the island, which was a rounding mark for the race.

Condolences and sympathy to the skipper, surviving crew, families, fellow racers, and friends. I do fear that this latest in a string of sailboat tragedies in the area is not good news for local sailors and for the public perception of safety in sailing and worry about whether the public will think racing sailors have learned from these tragedies.

1 Killed as Sailboat Smashed on Rocks in Race | NBC 7 San Diego
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Old 09-03-2013, 14:04   #2
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

Saddened by the loss of life! He died while doing a sport that he enjoyed. Mauritz
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Old 09-03-2013, 14:13   #3
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

Most race boats that I have sailed on carried only a small lightweight anchor. Usually a small Fortress. The only way to keep from piling up on a lee shore without a rudder is an anchor that grabs and holds.
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Old 09-03-2013, 14:27   #4
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

I was on the bus today here near Puerto Vallarta and heard a couple on a mid 80's Hunter say that their rudder snapped off in ~20 knot breezes. Big bang, boat went sideways, they looked back and their rudder was floating behind them.
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Old 09-03-2013, 15:20   #5
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

I am not judging ... just curious ...

Why the skipper refused the help from other boaters and CG after initial MAYDAY call?
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Old 09-03-2013, 15:47   #6
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

If one rudder broke, I'd continue, using the other rudder. As an experiment, I've tried sailing with one rudder. It's OK, but there's much more weather helm, neccessitating either reducing or dropping the mainsail.

If BOTH rudders broke, or the steering failed some other way, I'd use differential drive from the motors to steer. I've done this before, when I've been in very shallow water with both the rudders raised, and while it's not easy, its doable. I generally set one engine at a mid-range RPM and steer by varying the other one.

If losing both rudders happened near a lee shore, having just the mainsail up would actually make the boat point away from it, so then motoring clear would be easier.
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Old 09-03-2013, 16:46   #7
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pirate Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

We're sure hearing a lot about broken rudders lately. Better reporting? This just can't be an indictment vs. spade rudders. IMHO. What's the deal?
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Old 09-03-2013, 16:50   #8
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Crab View Post
We're sure hearing a lot about broken rudders lately. Better reporting? This just can't be an indictment vs. spade rudders. IMHO. What's the deal?
partially submerged japan Tsunami debris finally ending up on the west coast?
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Old 09-03-2013, 18:21   #9
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

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We're sure hearing a lot about broken rudders lately. Better reporting? This just can't be an indictment vs. spade rudders. IMHO. What's the deal?
This specific rudder was a brand new carbon racing rudder. These are VERY sensitive to fabrication errors. This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect there was a lamination problem.

I think an interesting question is "when to call mayday". I, for one, give these guys credit for trying to save the situation and not abandoning immediately. You don't want to abandon too early, because many situations can/are in fact saved by persistent owners/crew. However, you also don't want to abandon too late (as the Bounty also did). Its a difficult decision where that line is.

I personally need to give this a bit more thought. I was always trained in the 'don't unless you have to step up into the life raft' school. But it's become obvious that's too simple and not a thoughtful enough rule.
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Old 09-03-2013, 18:26   #10
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

In other cases the fleet is aging and the spade rudders especially take a lot of bending stress.
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Old 09-03-2013, 19:38   #11
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

Anchoring is definitely a good option if possible but it is not always possible due to wave heights, depth, bottom type, etc.

I have been on one boat that had a steering cable snap but the boat sailed well enough that we could sail away from the shore simply by adjusting sail trim until we had enough sea room to heave to and fix the problem. I think that all sailors should spend time in a small boat sailing it with the helm lashed.

Another option might be using the engine. Obviously if you have twin screws, that can be helpful. However, even on a single screw a lot of boats will back straight into the wind. On my current boat, I use the ability to back up into the wind all the time when maneuvering in tight quarters.
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Old 09-03-2013, 20:09   #12
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

I don't disagree but am guessing that's how they spent that hour of delay time. The point about lamination problems make sense with high tech carbon fiber. And maybe they did hit something ... like a rock.
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Old 09-03-2013, 20:29   #13
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

So very sad, and this is the time to mourn a sailor who is reported to have left behind an expectant wife and young child. In the conditions of the race, San Clemente would have been a very long and exposed lee shore.

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Old 09-03-2013, 21:19   #14
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

Yeah, I give them credit also for trying to salvage the situation. So many people have died getting into life rafts or while in them that it's certainly not an obvious call.

I had several friends in the race this year, although we did not do it this year. They said the sea state was very big and confused - strong NW storm waves mixing with a big SW swell. An FT10 lost it's rudder as well, although all are reported safe and that boat is being towed in. When I went to bed last night the Santa Barbara weather station was reporting 44 knots gusting to 53, although San Clemente Island was reporting in the 20's.

Anchoring was IMO hopeless no matter what they were carrying. Most of that island is nearly sheer walls under water - bow in the rocks and transom in 100 feet type bottom. You'd have a hard time even reaching the bottom until you were practically in the rocks, holding would be terrible (basically rock reefs), and of course you'd be trying this in 10+ feet breaking seas on a completely exposed shore. It would be an absolute last resort. Having sailed around that island a few times I can tell you it's a spooky place, especially at night, with rocks and cliffs right to the water around a lot of it.

Jim and his crew are very experienced, having done many offshore races including Pacific Cup. He spent a huge amount of time working with Columbia on this boat to make it what he wanted for offshore racing. Vince Valdes, President of Columbia, was one of the crew who survived, so I'm sure he'll be taking a close look at what happened.

Just terrible all around. My condolences to the entire crew, and especially Craig's wife and kids.
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Old 09-03-2013, 21:50   #15
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Re: Rudder fails near a rocky island: What do you do?

Jim Sullivan, a friend of the deceased crew member, set up this page in case anyone wants to donate to Craig's family.

Craig Williams memorial
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