Joe's 1993 Singlehanded Farallones Race Telstar Trimaran Rudder Loss

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The following is the article I wrote for the Telstar Trimaran Owners Association and the San Francisco Bay Area Singlehanded Sailing Society right after the event in the Spring of 1993.

Lose a Rudder at the Farallones?
No Problem!
(So What WAS The Problem?)
by Joe Siudzinski

What you're about to read is a succession of No Problems culminating in one event which became THE Problem during my rudder loss escapade in this year's SingleHanded Farallones race.

When my stock fiberglass rudder housing disintegrated five miles from the Farallones on my way back with my Telstar 8-meter trimaran in LAST YEAR'S Doublehanded Farallones Race, I vowed that my next housing would be bulletproof (this business of using an oar as a sweep got us back, but left a lot to be desired!).

After getting home last year I slapped together a quick and dirty rudder replacement by scarfing the remains of an old broken catamaran daggerboard into a 2x6 and adding some pintles and a 2x4 for a tiller so I could continue sailing that summer. I subsequently built what I considered to be a bulletproof housing - after all, it had a couple of layers of Kevlar, in addition to a few layers of cloth, wrapped around the epoxied rectangular plywood box - the rudder blade slides up and down in this box and the whole thing had a rigidly attached beautiful tiller. No problem...

So proud was I of this housing that for this year's Singlehanded Farallones Race I decided to experiment and took a beautiful C-Class catamaran daggerboard (one of the legacies of the late Jim Hansen) and stuck it into the housing - the fact that it protruded down into the water over four feet below the housing was no problem, since I figured the blade would be strong enough (it had been through plenty of heavy-duty campaigns), and my new housing was "bulletproof". No problem, right?

Now, on to this year's race...as I bounced along marveling at the negligible wake and light helm of this new improved rudder, I must admit to being a little concerned by trivial things such as how much salt residue there would be from the waves drenching the reefed main...but not to worry, I still saw three hulls under me occasionally and my wet suit was giving me a comforting squeeze. No problem...

When the cheek of my new rudder housing tore out and the beautiful blade parted company with the boat (I didn't even have a retrieval line attached to it, something I had always done in the past!), I didn't even utter the traditional "oh, sh..." (I had already done that last year). To say that my reaction was that of total disbelief is an understatement. Ah, what an inconvenience, caused by my own stupidity of having the blade so far down in the water. So here I was, about five miles from the Farallones, hadn't even rounded them yet, and was rudderless again! No problem...

For those of you who weren't there, the situation was that of VERY confused seas and a 25-knot southerly - I had my working jib and reefed main up at the time of the, uh, incident, and I had just talked myself out of going up on deck to change down to my smaller jib. Anyway, I now quickly dropped the jib, pulled the main's traveler out a little, and started the process of first retrieving the housing by dangling over the transom and removing the pintle nut and hitch pin (no sweat - the waves kept washing the sweat off the forehead) and then dragging the darn thing into the cockpit and then down below. No problem...

I had tossed last year's makeshift rudder into my starboard hull (the leeward hull) because Murphy's Law dictated that if you did this you would never again need it - so much for Murphy. Now, the boat was sort of sitting there on a port tack playing hopscotch with the waves and I occasionally saw that starboard hatch on that leeward hull in which the rudder resided. The next scene I could have sold to Hollywood if I'd had a camcorder: there I was lying on the deck opening the hatch in between waves, reaching down to try to grab the rudder, and then having to slam down the hatchcover as the wave sloshed over and gave the boat and me a bath. Not to worry, I've got a good harness and jacklines, and all that was missing was the soap for the bath. The darn rudder got stuck down there, so it took a little time and coaxing and a few choice words to free it and pull it up and out in between having to slam the hatch cover down (glub). No problem...

So now I had the spare rudder and tiller in the cockpit, and it was again time for the over-the-transom dangling and face-washing routine to coordinate the mating ritual of the rudder's two pintles with the transom's gudgeons (yes, I did rig a safety line to the rudder in case it slipped out of my hands). I have the pintles offset slightly so once the lower one engages, the upper one can usually have sex with its upper gudgeon without withdrawal by the lower pintle. Uh..., these weren't usual conditions, so the foreplay took a long time. No problem...

Unfortunately, with all this time on my hands I had been thinking about the adequacy of that spare rudder and concluded that it would be a miracle if it lasted more than a minute once I got back to sailing in those conditions. The realization also sank in that I had obtained this spare rudder's original daggerboard blade because it had broken off on a daysailing catamaran (so it came with a built-in structural flaw?). About this time I figured I'd better get this puppy home instead of going around that island, so I dragged out my small jib, double-reefed the main, turned the boat around, and headed for the Gate. The rudder didn't disintegrate and a nice rain was falling - something about washing the salt out of one's eyes. No problem...

Now, that southerly breeze generated enough of a northward current so after a few hours I had to tack and head for the Lightbucket - it was during this time that the wind piped up to a fairly steady 27-29 knots and the boat was punching into the mess and I was shivering like crazy while nursing the rudder in the rain. No problem...

After getting close to the Lightbucket and tacking onto starboard, everything was settling down and I now had enough confidence in the spare rudder to entrust it to my Autohelm 800. Yes, I had the spare rudder rigged for steering with the autopilot, and yes, this particular Autohelm does work flawlessly (knock on wood), and besides, I have a spare Autohelm on board (remember Murphy). No problem...

I figured I'd better get rid of the shakes with some hot tea (I had forgotten my thermos). As an aside, I was wearing polypropylene long underwear under the 1/8" farmer john wetsuit with separate 1/8" wetsuit jacket, but I became darn cold with this combination - something I would not have expected even with all the drenching I took.

Well, so far, no real problems ... so what was The Problem? Well, here goes: I've got a simple camping propane stove with no fiddle and the seas were still interesting enough that I had to hold onto that teakettle as the water came to a boil...the tea I had comes in sealed heavy-duty foil pouches and herein lay The Problem: the pouches don't have a slit in them to open and so here I am, shivering to beat all hell inside a very bouncy boat, holding down the boiling water teakettle in one hand while desperately trying to open that damn foil pouch with the other hand - the scene was another one made for Hollywood, enough to rival a Laurel & Hardy episode. For the life of me, I don't remember what I finally did to open that pouch (ripping at it with my chattering teeth didn't work)...but I do vaguely recall a knife coming into play. Anyway, there was no blood and no scalding water burns, the boat didn't try flying a hull or two while I was below, and the hot ginger tea stopped the shakes, so it was back to No Problem.

My hat goes off to those souls who sat around the Bridge for five hours that night waiting for the tide to turn so they could finish the race - as for myself, I hadn't gone around the island and was a DNF'r anyway, so I cranked up the outboard when the wind died, abandoned my original plans of docking at SF Marina, and instead took the boat down to Oyster Point where I promptly clumped into my car still with the two inches of water in my seaboots, drove home, and then slowly peeled away the boots, the wetsuit, and the soggy longjohns in a lovely hot shower! Yeah, NO PROBLEM!

P.S. After washing and drying off the rudder housing, I epoxied and screwed and through-bolted the darn thing with a U-channel aluminum rail on each side. It worked perfectly during yesterday's DoubleHanded Farallones Race, with my ultra-slow trimaran hitting its new personal best of 15.21 knots surfing on the rollers coming back into the Gate. No problem.

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