Join Date: May 2004
Location: Rhode Island
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PS31 Rudder shaft bolt
We had a bit of excitement this weekend sailing back home from Branford, CT to Rhode Island. We left Saturday morning with wind out of the west and taking advantage of the tide through The Race made great time. We decided to stop for the night at Block Island instead of sailing through the night, which turned out to be a fortunate decision. About 4nm from BI new harbor the steering started feeling "heavy". At first we attributed it to the following seas. This didn't seem likely, but we were close to the harbor and figured we could make it in to the harbor and then check it out.
About 1nm out, we found we could not turn to starboard for some reason. By this time it was dark out and we were facing entering the harbor potentially only turning to the left. This of course didn't make any sense so I got out the emergency tiller and screwed off the access plate on the cockpit sole. That's when I discovered that the bolt that runs through the rudder shaft and used as leverage for the emergency tiller was missing.
Looking under the quadrant in the lazarette, I saw the bolt nearly all the way out and removed it. This of course took away all the steerage and the boat started turning into the wind. So, we doused all sails and I tried to see if I could fit the bolt back in, figuring the nut had loosened on the opposite side. However, I was not able to get the holes lined up between the inner and outer shafts. By now we were about .5nm from shore and decided to call for help and at least have someone close by in case we needed it. We were put in touch with Safe Sea. Their nearest boat was finishing another tow across the sound into Pt. Judith and wouldn't be able to head out again for about 10 to 15 minutes. I asked them to call me back when they were ready and in the meantime I would keep trying to fix our steering.
Back in the lazarette again, I played with the quadrant, eventually lifting it up a notch and with Barb slowly turning the wheel was able to line up the holes and put the bolt back in, giving us control again. Going slowly we made it in to the harbor and anchored up for the night. After we were buttoned up I looked for the nut in the bottom of the lazarette and found that it was still attached to the back of the shaft. So I removed the bolt again to examine it more closely, and found it was shorn, probably at the point between the inner and outer shafts at the back end. Thus when inserted it had enough length to reach the back side of the inner shaft and this was enough to provide leverage to turn the rudder post. Wanting to get home on Sunday, we taped the bolt securely in place, and monitored it regularly to ensure it wasn't coming out again. There was very little wind and we essentially motored all the way home and there was very little pressure on the wheel / rudder.
A few things have crossed my mind about this experience.
1) It makes sense now, but I did not realize previously that this bolt was such a key element in the steering system.
2) It's a bit disconcerting that the bolt is also a single point of failure for both the main steering and also for the emergency tiller. I wish the inner post had a different fitting for the emergency tiller that would allow turning the post independent of this bolt.
3) Having a third backup for steering that is ready at the need is now going to be an even higher priority addition. (I've been interested in the Hydrovane and will probably take another look at this as it would provide an emergency tiller along with a good self steering mechanism)
4) We'll also be carrying spare bolts for this part from now on. If the bolt had shorn off at the short end, we would not have been as fortunate. Perhaps a screwdriver of adequate size could be stuck through those holes in a pinch, but that's not a satisfying solution.
PSC 31 #49 "Raven"
ps. Do any of you happen to know what size bolt this is? I left it in the post for now, and if I can get a replacement before going back to the boat that'd be helpful.
Last edited by tkringstad; 10-07-2008 at 01:32 PM.
Reason: Added 'PS31' to title of thread for easier searching