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.

Departure from Ecuador and 1001 Projects


Our last days in Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador. Aldebaran is at the end of the rainbow (on the far right)!

The engine alarm on our sailboat Aldebaran went off as we went around the rivermouth of Bahia Caraquez, in just 7 feet of water: Brrrreeeehhhhh!!!!! One glance at the engine gauges showed me it was overheating. What?!?

I shut down the engine. It was a terrible spot to be adrift: downwind just 200 yards was the beach with little waves, and to boot, the tide would start dropping soon.

Continue reading

New Cockpit Roof!

img_6606Ahh the tropics. So wonderful with their crystal clear warm waters. But there’s also lots rain and terrible heat. And ironically, it is hard to fill your water tank when there are no docks to drive your boat to. Here’s how we are trying to solve all these problems on our sailboat Aldebaran, with one new item: the bimini hard top (aka our new roof).

And we’re departing today! Follow our 5 day passage to Galapagos on Facebook

(If you’re here later, see our sat messenger)

Continue reading

Mast off, Mast on


Seemed like the blink of an eye… Our 45ft mast was removed by a crane on Wednesday, and then it was re-installed the following Wednesday.

This was our last big project and I felt some anxiety and excitement seeing the wood spar lift into the air.

Our rigger Ian Weedman is a good friend who trained with some of best riggers in the world in the Pacific North West. Between working on sailboats in Portland and treehouses in Puget Sound, we finally carved out a few days for him to re-do our standing rigging.

Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 6.26.00 AM

Ian is a real joy to work with! Meticulous, down to earth, accommodating, and exceptional in all regards.  If you need any type of rigging work done (or treehouses, for that matter), message him at iweedman at yahoo dot com. Particularly if you’re in the Santa Barbara area, we’re trying to keep him more local 😉

It WAS hard to throw down $3000 on rigging (the wire that holds up the mast and turnbuckles/chainplates, the hardware that holds it to the boat). Awful expensive just for a regular maintenance item.  But this is essential work needed before a multi-year cruise, especially if the rigging is over 10 years old. Shiny new metal = serious confidence + reliability for 10 more years.

Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 6.38.08 AM

List of things we did to the mast & rig:

  • new standing rigging (wires)
  • new chainplates
  • new turnbuckles & terminals
  • new mast steps (the old ones kept getting snagged on the lines!)
  • new mount for anchor light on masthead
  • repaired a section of rot on the foot of the mast — the drain wasn’t working and water was building up.
  • fixed the wire conduits to the radar, flood lights, and anchor lights
  • re-connected and re-painted the radar mount
  • replaced a few old bolts in the rigging
  • varnished the base of mast and boom… looking lovely!

Check out the re-install of the mast here (15sec video) and browse through our Instagram pics.

“she looks like a sailboat again!”

new sail

… if only for an hour while we’re still attached to the dock!  Nice to see the sail flying again. This is our “reacher” — a big sail for lighter winds.  Getting ready for the tropics yeehaaa!!

Ian Weedman our awesome rigger and friend is checking out the sails, and is pulling the mast down to change all the standing rigging this weekend (the wires that hold the mast up).

The clock is ticking… and the boat is still in pieces!  It’s getting down to the wire (pun intended)

We’re trying to recruit all our friends to help this weekend to put the boat together… come to Ventura to lend a hand, whoever can!

The final month has arrived! along with our sweet Constellation graphic.


The constellation is on the boat – Orion on the left, Taurus on the right, with Aldebaran shining red.

Our mid-March departure date is just around the corner… we are doing a farewell party and boat visit on the 14th or 15th (assuming we can get a slip in the busy Santa Barbara harbor).

The boat may not be ready — but our awesome constellation graphic is, at the very least!  It perks up our morale and helps us with this last two week push to get Aldebaran ready.

Bret installing the graphics

Bret Campbell from Well Seen Signs is one of our Early Seabirds — he and partner Jessica will be participating in the Green Coconut Run.

“What does your boat name mean?”  People kept asking — so we designed these constellation graphics to put it into context.

Orion the archer is on the left, featuring three stars in a row which make “Orion’s Belt”, which you can easily spot in the sky between autumn and winter (in the spring and summer, Orion rises later in the dawn).

Taurus the bull is on the right, with Aldebaran shining orange/red, which are its distinctive colors in the sky. The head of Taurus stands out as a big “V” shape, with Aldebaran on the top left as the eye of the bull. Further to the right is a cluster of stars called the Pleiades, also known as the seven sisters or the “mini-dipper”, which happens to be Subaru’s logo.

One of the greek myths says that Orion was seducing the seven sisters, so Zeus put Taurus to protect the seven sisters from Orion’s advances..!  Another story says that Orion is saving the seven sisters from Taurus. Take your pick. Love is complex.

Also: when you’re looking up at the sky, also try to find Orion’s dog, which is to his left. It is the constellation known as Canis Major, featuring the brightest star in the sky, Sirius (not pictured in our constellation graphic).

So if you can spot Orion’s Belt in the starry night, follow it to Aldebaran on one side, the Pleides further to the right, or Sirius the dog on Orion’s left side.



Who made our awesome lettering and constellation graphic? Check out Bret Campbell’s sign-making business, based in SLO county: Well Seen Signs. He did it all remotely and mailed us the graphics, which were super easy to apply. Our lettering lasted years, and was significantly cheaper than yacht lettering.

Randomly, Bret and I first met at a friend’s BBQ in Santa Cruz; we decided to trade some lettering for sailing time in the Channel Islands, and now we’ve become good friends. His girlfriend Jessica also runs a green building company in SLO and is equally stellar.

They’ve done the 2hr drive to Ventura twice during the last few months to spend the weekend with us and do some serious work on the boat.  Huge props to them!  They plan to join us in the Green Coconut Run for 2 weeks in Costa Rica.

A productive Sunday – spirits are high!

This is the kind of day we need!

The great “Aldebaran fix-up campaign” celebrates when we manage to get 1 project done…. On Sunday we got 5!

This comes on the heels of a rainy Saturday when everything ground to a halt.. But the crew of Ed, Matt, and Conrad rallied for the early shift, and Dominic on the late shift.

The fellas helped install
— our NEW garmin chartplotter fishfinder, which looks AMAZING
— the battery compartment separators for our new electrician bank
— the bow pulpit
— the port jib track; and

Confucius say: If one harvests too much Stoke, must pay Consequences

“We had too much stoke!” Ryan declared. “All those amazing times — now we’re paying for it! In this never-ending boatyard purgatory”

We sat exhausted on the cockpit bench after 4 hours of grinding and cutting wood.  I just nodded, entering that numb phase of week 3 in the boatyard.  “Everything takes five times longer than you think — nothing is square. The only thing that goes down easy is C minus,” he mused as he took a swig.


Danielle and Sabrina put together some sweet floorboards for the pantry, aka “The Cavern”


Tom, the “Yard-Father”, doesn’t look all too pleased. “Why do you have so much weight on this boat? Why do you keep hitting stuff?” Tom frowns and shakes his head. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

South African Lloyd surveys a 45 year old piece of bronze. The shaft goes through this “log” the seal finally broke when we ran over and backed up into a lobster trap. 


During a rainy day we managed to paint.  Sabrina Littée, otherwise known during projects as “Qualitée control”


Ninja kick late bodysurfing session at the harbor beachbreak — the daily surf session has been keeping us sane. 


Our 238lbs shipment from Westmarine, with giant savings thanks to a handsome employee discount. New toilet, new porta-potty, 5 gallons of paint, 500 feet of anchor line, and a whole lot more!


Michael and Jack were troopers and helped sand the bottom paint — we all got the “blues”!  


Jason’s son Kai in the Cavern (aka the pantry). His little grommet size came in handy when installing the floorboards


Sean cleaning out all the bad wood in the bow, with precision !


Note the gigantic hole on the bow… 2 gallons of water were stuck in the collision bulkhead (due to bad caulking of deck hardware on the bow) and suddenly delaminated the side of the bow.  One of those surprises makes light of the typical boatyard “two steps forward, one step back”, in this case, many steps back!  We don wetsuits for the evening bodysurf to freshen up. 


 Sabrina got a scare at the end of this session — a huge thing came swimming and breaching right next to her when it was getting dark and everyone had gone in.  It was a little humpback whale!  It continued to breach without stop for several minutes. 

The universe has dealt too kind a hand with our island stoke and now we are paying the dues… working non-stop in the most unkindly of environments… but as you can see all is not lost… we are making the most of our time here in Ventura Harbor. Meanwhile, Aldebaran is loving all the attention.

Haul Out Ventura: the first big push


This may be Aldebaran’s fifth (!) haul out in five years, but it is the first when we have a big trip imminently possible — with a potential March departure, the stakes are high to get things done fast!

It is a Love-Hate relationship with the yard. It is fantastic to get so much done, but it is so much gruelling work, in such a rough environment. On top of it all, Sabrina and I are living at the yard, to compound the fun!

Termites be-gone!

Termites be-gone!

Our first task was to tent the boat to rid of termites. It’s super common for boats in Oxnard (where Aldebaran lived for many years) to have termites — it never was a terrible problem because most of the wood is too hard & treated for termites, but in areas they were doing damage and it had to be stopped..  We used Ventura Pest Control and it was $750, 3 days of tenting. The hardest part was packing all the “ingestibles” (food, medicine) into special double bags — our storage in Aldebaran is in deep corners and hard to reach!

The great shelf building frenzy!

The great shelf building frenzy!

Which brings us to our next items:

The problem of where to put stuff… ah.  We are building shelves at a furious pace to organize gear; increasing access to storage areas in the amas; and generally customizing everything to have its own special home.  Which takes awhile when you have no clue about carpentry!

Removing all the hardwear from the foredeck

Removing all the hardwear from the foredeck

Finally, one of the big jobs we have during this haul out: re-furbishing our whole foredeck area. The windlass needs to get re-machined and re-painted, the bow rollers need new support, and the forestay chainplate needs to get removed (god knows how that’ll happen).  One step at a time, we are making her like new again, and stronger than ever…