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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 12-24-2006
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Making Passage w/o a Rudder

This is something I haven't been able to find any information about. I have read a number of accounts of people losing not just their wheel or tiller but their entire rudder while making passages and having to call for assistance. Is there a collection of ideas somewhere for how to get out of this jam on your own, somehow sailing without a rudder, making a new one out of (?), or .. (?).

What would you do if lost your rudder ?
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Old 12-24-2006
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There have been a couple of articles in Sail and Cruising World over the past year about just such a scenerio. Don't have the months they appeared offhand, but you might check their websites for them.

The solutions I have seen most often is either using a whisker pole with something lashed to it, or using the sails themselves to steer with in combination with a drogue of some sort.
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Old 12-24-2006
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We once satisfied a race safety committee for an overnight off-season race with an "Emergency rudder" that consisted of a pre-drilled bunkboard, a couple of Ubolts and the Spinn pole. It was never put to the test (thankfully) and to be honest I doubt it would have lasted long. The forces on the rudders of many boats are considerable (who hasn't leaned into the wheel or tiller as the weather helm loads up in a puff) and to expect some cobbled-together contraption to work long term is a bit naive.

Compounding the problem is that the rudder isn't likely to fail in benign conditions - putting extra strain on the "spare" and making rigging it in the first place problematic as well.

It has been done, people can be quite inventive and ingenious when necessary but for a genuine, usable backup rudder I think it needs to be a dedicated backup, engineered and tested prior to the emergency.
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Thank you all for the responses.

I've been reading a lot about this today and think I may have found my solution. Since I will have windvane self-steering anyway, there appears to be an emergency rudder attachment that you can get with the windvane gear, so that will probably be my first backup/spare. I'm struck by the incredibly fat/piggish bloat of a price for the thing though and will have to close my eyes when I place that order for sure. In fact I'll pay for the windvane self-steering, but I might figure out how the emergency rudder works and have something fabricated instead of buying that part of it. There is such a thing as too expensive.
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Old 12-24-2006
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Before there were rudders there were steering boards, usually attached to the right side of the boat which is why we still call it the "star board" side. And because you could smash the steering board against a jetty, they tied the other side of the port to the jetty when they were in port. So the left side became the port side of the boat.

Steering boards still work, anything that spoils the hydrodynamics of the boat and makes it turn one way or the other can steer it. On a nicely balanced boat, you can also steer by trimming the sails and the rudder should be dead center, pretty much. So...aside from the new designs that have next to no stability without a rudder? Losing it should fall into the category of "damned inconvenience" not "emergency".

Having a full keel, so the boat tracks in straight line, will of course help if you are trying to make do without a rudder. That's one reason traditional cruisers may favor a full keel, too.
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Old 12-24-2006
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Wind_Magic... Not all wind vanes have the ability to double as emergency steering so check the details before installation. One of the reasons I recommend full skegs to full time cruisers is because they are much less likely to lose a rudder AND much less likely to get rudder damage from submerged objects.
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Old 12-24-2006
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Many years ago, we were sailing thru Windward Passage (Cuba & Haite) on a Piver trimaran. A rogue wave ( at nite of course) pushed us sideways and the wheel spun around all by itself becomeing useless. I went down below, made some hot chocalote, came up with two mattress and long anchor ropes and put them over the side on each of the hulls. Worked great, of course on a 35 footer it must have had a 20 ft beam. with the gennie up we sailed right into Port Royal, Jamacia. the coast guard had to come out an bring us into the dock and it took a month to get parts out of the states but it made for a hellava story.
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Old 12-24-2006
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In the early 80s, the shaft sheared off the rudder on my Mariner 40 ketch while crossing Georgia Strait. I lashed the wooden spinnaker pole to the teak taffrail and with some paddling it served as a tiller to take me back into False Creek under power.

Knowing things can happen, I have ordered the spare rudder system option for my new Hunter 49.
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Old 12-28-2006
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There was an article in (I think Sail) a few months ago about a boat that lost its rudder in a race. They had a large diameter rope anchor rode that they double and then daisy chained. They then attached a small anchor and drug the whole thing behind the boat with the ends coming forward to the genoa lead cars and back to the primary winchs. (I think I got most of the details correct) The rode created enough drag to steer the boat, the anchor kept it submerged, and they winched it to one side or the other like a rudder to steer.

I don't know that I would call that set-up ideal, but good to know about.
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Old 12-28-2006
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Thank you all for the terrific responses. I hadn't seen in my mind how you could steer a boat without some kind of a rudder until reading your responses, and I really like the "drag something" solution. I just hadn't thought of that. That solution of dragging an anchor and using winches to move the temporary "rudder" to steer, that's fantastic! I guess the key would be getting the amount of drag right for the speed of the boat, that you would have to adjust it from time to time while you were moving.

Thanks again! It gives me some hope that I might be able to come up with a solution if I got into trouble, so long as I had enough line, mattresses, etc, on board! But of course that would be like ... not even a backup plan, but rather the desperation fallback. I'll try to get some kind of a spare type solution with the windvane gear.
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