Broken! the Rudder Arm fails

Matt evaluates the damage to the rudder arm. The hole is where the rudder shaft is usually attached.

The rudder looked like a broken leg, flopped over to the side. “Oh no…” I thought. The last time I saw this we were in El Salvador and a bolt had come underdone. This time it was a lot more serious, and we were a lot more remote… 50 miles from the closest village in Tahanea, an uninhabited atoll in Tuamotos.

Satellite image of Tahanea’s west pass (ie. the gap of land in the upper part of the image) and middle pass (ie. in the lower part of the image). Just west of the middle pass is the so-called Middle Anchorage, which offers the best protection from the South-East trade winds, while still being near the passes (for diving, etc). However, it is exposed to the South winds.

Like El Salvador, we had just endured two rough nights at anchor. On the heels of a low pressure,  20-25kt South winds blew across Tahanea’s lagoon and caused 2 foot waves to crash onto our bow at anchor. Due to poor visibility from the rainstorm, we chose not to traverse the lagoon to find smooth water on the other side.  The lagoon is uncharted, and coral bommies can pop up from 50 foot depths to 3-5 feet deep. One of our sailor friends had hit a coral bommie when visibility had been reduced and was stuck on the rocks for 12hours, sustaining significant damage to the keel.

“Only traverse the lagoon when visibility is good,” was the word of warning. So we chose to stay in the exposed Middle Anchorage. Comfort-wise, we were fine on Aldebaran, but as the waves shuddered the boat backwards at anchor. Normally there is a rudder lock which keeps the rudder straight. However, the rudder lock failed and the waves overloaded the rudder.  This put an enormous amount of stress on the rudder arm, which is a stout but old cast bronze piece, and it cracked in half.

The coronel doing precision drilling on the piece we would use to “marry” the broken bronze rudder arm back together.

The failure of the rudder arm is catastrophic to the boat’s operation- it means we can’t steer the boat. The piece takes huge amounts of stress, and holds the stainless steel rudder shaft with a very specific “key-way”, so to fix it was a serious project. To avoid falling into desperation, we had to start a new company: Bad Ass Engineering. Company policy requires that we drink rum at regular intervals, speak with a southern accent, and git ‘er dune no matter what.

Laugh, so you don’t have to cry..

The Bad Ass  team  (aka B & A) crawled into Aldebaran’s wood locker and found some pieces of mahogany. We chopped them up and drilled lots of holes to connect them to the bronze rudder arm. This process took all day.

At least the surroundings were beautiful! Captain K taking the skill-saw to mahogany chunks while enjoying the backdrop.

The mahogany wood allowed us to “marry” the two pieces of bronze, using 11 bolts and 3 pieces of wood. We also added epoxy to bind the pieces and fill in the gaps.

The end result: ROBO RUDDER.

Robo-Rudder in all its glory. Note, the top right bolt had to be removed because it was catching on the bulkhead that supports the rudder. It was a very tight fitting space and we were lucky to find a solution that solidly put the arm back together.

4 thoughts on “Broken! the Rudder Arm fails

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