No one starts a voyage hoping to do repairs at sea. But the truth is that until you have had to, you haven’t really vanquished that fear that you won’t be able to. Finding you can repair even major systems is a rite-of-passage.
I woke up in the pitch dark with the sails flapping wildly and the boom throwing itself against the restraint of the preventers. Sticking my head out of the cabin I heard Jon engaged in a review of his vocabulary with the words ’broken rudder’ and ’no steering’ occurring frequently amongst the less polite words. I started loosening sheets (to quiet our motion – had it been really windy I would have considered dropping sails) as he went below to find the emergency tiller. Moments later he had installed the emergency tiller and we found the helm responded – so the rudder clearly wasn’t broken but the steering wheel was not working. It was too dark to do anything except see that the steering cables appeared to be fine. (Of course they were fine – we had spares for them!) Since it was now my watch I hand-steered and tied the tiller when I could for the rest of the night. We were nearly 1000 miles west of San Francisco and roughly the same distance from Hawaii.
Here Jon is drinking coffee the next morning and reading the Pardeys for inspiration. There is no appreciable wind. He has just decided that the problem cannot be fixed at sea – access is just too difficult. Two bolts had held the wheel shaft to the steering cable system. One of these bolts has sheared off, the other is backed out and nothing can be reached without climbing deep into the lazarette. Some repairs at sea cannot be fully addressed, but now the fun begins – the jury-rig. Jury rig is originally a nautical term for good reason – boats are a great place to find out you cannot do the real repairs at sea with what you have on hand, so you do a temporary jury rig.
Jury-Rig Repairs at Sea
Later that morning Jon re-rigged the self-steering wind vane to drive the tiller rather than the steering wheel. Here is his ingenious system for attaching the wind vane lines to the tiller.
- The two taut lines go to blocks on either side of the cockpit, then back to the wind vane. This allows the wind vane to move the tiller.
- The steering lines are clamped to the tiller in the jaws of a vise grip
- The lower handle of the vise grip is clamped to the side of the tiller with cable clamps. The electrical tape protects the wood on the tiller.
- The upper handle of the vise grip is free to move, allowing us to undo the lines or to reattach them at will.
- The two loose lines, called snaffle lines, are used to adjust the wind vane. A click on the left line (with the bar sinister stripes) turns the boat left 6 degrees, the right line turns the boat to the right. They are looped over the tiller just so that the person adjusting the steering lines can also adjust the snaffle lines.
This shows a more complete diagram of the system Jon came up with. The steering is done by the taut lines (diamond pattern) and steering changes are done by using the snaffle lines to adjust the wind vane itself. Notice that the snaffle lines are led through a lead on top of the binnacle and then looped around the head of the tiller. This is so that they don’t get tangled in anything else and are easy to find even in the dark. That’s also the reason we color-coded the left one with a black sharpie – so we could quickly distinguish it from the right snaffle line.
The one disadvantage of this system is that the entire cockpit is taken up by these moving lines, making it impossible to stretch out in the cockpit. The most we can do for the remaining 1400 miles of the trip to Hawaii is perch in the corners of the cockpit or sit on the winches (very uncomfortable) as I am doing in this picture. However Zeke (aka the Prophet Ezekiel, our wind vane) steers very competently with this system so we decide to continue on to Hawaii rather than aborting to California for repairs.
At least we didn’t have to steer by bridled buckets. That scenario has always haunted me, although I think Jon’s life will not be complete until we have done just that. In case you have any doubt that women and men are different…
And then finally, this is Jon scrunched in the lazarette fixing the steering once we got to Hilo. Notice the bright yellow flashlight in his mouth. Looks cozy – eh?
And his real triumph? He had the exact bolts needed for the repair.