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Birdface 07-14-2008 11:25 AM

complete rudder failure
Added a picture:

Well adventure never fails. And I've learned to NOT mention neptune's name on the water.

As some of you know I took my second overnight sail this weekend with my little sister (17) and her boyfriend, both hadn't sailed but were very excited to.

The first leg of the journey from Salem to Scituate went fine, but winds were a little light at 5-10mph... so we motored 1/2 the way to keep good time.

Scituate is a nice little town and we enjoyed a night on the hard at a B&B.

The next day (yesterday) we had 15-20mph winds with 25mph gusts. Seas were about 2 feet... I was smiling.

The weather didn't let us down and we were skipping along at 5knots with just the main and felt confident so we brought up the Jib and hit a steady 6-6.4 knots... really really fun sailing. (*this is where I said, "Neptune is happy with us!")

At that speed we were going to make Provincetown on Cape Cod 3 hours ahead of schedule and everyone on the boat was all smiles.

At about 10 nautical miles out in the middle of the Cape Cod Bay I heard a small crack coming from what I thought was my tiller. I checked my tiller, tiller mounts, and visible rudder and everything looked ok, but I was aware something wasn't right. 4 minutes later the rudder let out a death moan and then loudly ripped itself completely in two, dropping it's useful half to the bottom of the ocean.

The boat immediately spun in violent 360's as we struggled with sails and lines... and a tiller attached to 1 foot of rudder... which of course doesn't do much. I grabbed the radio and called in a PAN PAN PAN, and then put my wife on the CB as I attempted to use the sails to steer the boat. But in this wind the boat just continued to violently jibe repeatedly.

At this point I realized we had new sailors on board and I was rather panicked so I stopped, took five deep breaths and told everyone we had to think and work together. I sent the younger guys below to fetch an oar and lash it to the remaining rudder, but there wasn't enough left to fully secure it.

Of course, 7 minutes into the event one of my young crew geniuses asked about the outboard and I stopped trying to be a sailing champion and threw the motor in.

By then the coast guard had arrived (they are my new heroes) we dropped the jib and motored, steering by outboard alone (pain in the rear) all 10 nautical miles and the coast guard stayed with us the whole way. Good thing to because my outboard started failing as we entered the harbor and the coast guard had to keep us from drifting into the jetties.

We finally got the boat on a mooring and I collapsed exhausted.

Now the bad news.

1976 25' O'day - only one source for a new rudder, the terrific DR Marine. Rudy filled me in on the O'day rudder history. O'day made 5,000 of these rudders... 1000 have failed in exactly the same way. The rudder is a foam core filled fiberglass, but the thickness of the fiberglass was a measly 1/16th inches thick.

Rudy is building me a 1/4 inch thick skinned new rudder that I have confidence will never fail. (for a third of what I paid for the entire boat)

But my boat is disabled in Scituate until the fiberglass guy can build it and can get it to scituate... BUMMER. (Transient mooring fees every day and it's 2 hours drive from my house.

I'm still pretty shaken today... a little nervous about hopping back on-board my little cruiser... just worried that I witnessed a major part of my boat litterally snap in half like a twig and sink 100 feet to the bottom.

Anyway, this long long drawn out story is mainly a warning to O'day owners to just pull your rudder, if you haven't, and put in a replacement - you don't want to experience what I did yesterday. It's also a "this can happen" post that hopefully makes all of you consider failures like this and prepare for it.

Shaken and stirred,

primerate84 07-14-2008 11:50 AM

I think I read another thread on a rudder failure. There was also a story in Sail magazine a few issues back about a rudder failure on Lake Erie where the boat sank when the rudder and post fell off and they couldn't get it towed back to shore in time. Full inspection of the rudder and related parts are now part of my checklist before putting the boat in the water in the Spring.

Rockter 07-14-2008 12:32 PM


Besides fire at sea, this is probably the most frightening of all things that can happen to a sailboat.
I hope that I can keep the show together if things go wrong like that.
You did well.
Good work.

And good work from the Coastguard.

Build a new rudder from someone you trust and sail another day.

CalebD 07-14-2008 02:25 PM

I know you were planning this trip for some time and I'm glad you survived in one piece if a bit shaken. Learning to steer with the sails is not something you want to try when your rudder breaks that far from port with novice passengers. This is one reason that a dependable outboard on your boat is a life saver. You might want to have that puppy tuned up while your sailing plans are on hold.
OTOH, now you have a perfect opportunity to try to get the feel for steering the boat with just the sails. I believe that in the conditions you were in you would have needed to shorten sail in order to get the boat to balance. Of course, your new improved rudder will never fail, right?
Never assume that Poseidon (eg., Neptune) is smiling on you. That could have been your first mistake.

speciald 07-14-2008 02:57 PM

Two years ago 3 Hylas 54s lost their rudder between the U.S. and the Caribbean. I was told that Hylas claimed is was a designed failure in case of grounding - even though the keel extended way below the rudder tip. I spoke to one owner ( his boat was new) who said the replacement rudder was of the same design; there was nothing but foam and fibreglass in the bottom third. He had the rudder refabricated with steel webbing in St. Maarten before reinstalling it.

sailingdog 07-14-2008 02:58 PM

Ouch... glad you and the others are okay. This is another reason I advocate getting unlimited Towing Insurance. :)

Birdface 07-14-2008 02:59 PM

Foam and Fiberglass
Yup, this one is also foam and fiberglass I'm afraid.

But the replacement will have 4x's the fiberglass thickness....

Birdface 07-15-2008 06:35 PM

Thanks SD,

I just upgraded from $150.00 of tow coverage to Unlimited with BoatUS.

They tow you to your port of choice within 25 nm!! What a deal.

It was a $60.00 difference, that's nothing, I'll stay unlimited from now on.

sailingdog 07-15-2008 08:40 PM

Yup... A single tow pays for several years of membership rather easily.

Originally Posted by Birdface (Post 341802)
Thanks SD,

I just upgraded from $150.00 of tow coverage to Unlimited with BoatUS.

They tow you to your port of choice within 25 nm!! What a deal.

It was a $60.00 difference, that's nothing, I'll stay unlimited from now on.

JohnRPollard 07-15-2008 10:38 PM


Very glad to hear you made it back to Scituate alright. You did just fine under the circumstances, and should be proud that you got your boat and crew safely back to harbour.:)

This was the sort of difficulty I was concerned about when I (and others) cautioned you to follow the more coastal route to P-Town (see: I'm very happy that you took that advice!!:) :) This situation might have been much trickier if it had happened out on the east side of Stellwagen Bank in unsettled conditions.

On the bright side, there are infinitely worse places to be shipwrecked than Scituate! All the best of luck with the repair, and get yourself a nice ice cream at Dribbles!

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