27: A Directional Challenge
23 December 2011 | Atlantic Ocean
At the start of the "Magellan Net" the controller calls for priority traffic. They don't usually expect a reply, so Janie of Tsolo was taken aback when I piped up with the problem of our lost rudder. The response from other crews was encouraging, and the consensus was that we should deploy a drogue astern to steer the boat. Fatty of Wild Card even came up with detailed instructions on ways to improvise one. We were asked to radio in every two hours with an update, in case we needed further help.
Adapting their ideas to suit Egret, we made a drogue incorporating a bridle from the stern mooring cleats, a long warp, a kedge anchor, four fenders and some chain. Also attached to the anchor were two long lines lead to port and starboard through snatch blocks at the mid- ships mooring cleats, then back to cockpit winches. These lines could be adjusted to maintain a straight course, and also, by pulling hard on one or the other, to tack or gybe. The next problem was to get Egret to sail downwind, as sailing boats have a natural tendency to round up into wind. The best she would do with a small headsail set was to sail on a beam reach, but eventually we got her to bear away to about 120 degrees off the wind by setting a staysail to leeward and a small area of genoa hauled out to windward.
The wind and sea state had been building all day making working on deck quite demanding, but we had everything under control by the time we reported in to the evening net. John, of Mary Anne II, announced that they were sailing towards us to assist if required. Exhaustion helped us to sleep tolerably well during our off watches that night, and it was a huge relief to see a sail appear over the horizon early next morning. Mary Anne II stayed in close proximity for the next 48 hours as winds continued unabated at 24 to 30 knots with confused 4m high waves. We had been heading WNW, but the grib files suggested that the weather would be kinder further south, so on the second morning we succeeded, at the third attempt, in gybing and heading off to the SSW. Sweden Yachts are good sea boats and ride well to the seas, our cockpit was almost dry and the motion down below tolerable, so we were content to sit it out and rest until conditions improved. We were more concerned about conditions on Mary Anne II, especially as John had told us that green seas were regularly sweeping her decks and they had to keep changing between sailing and heaving to, to keep down to our speed. Eventually we persuaded him that, as other boats were nearby, it would be safe for them to leave us and continue on their way. We are very grateful to John and Julia for their sacrifice in standing by for so long.
During the morning net, Peter, of Norna, told us that he had sought the advice of "Herb" - the legendary Atlantic weather forecaster - on our behalf, and received the advice that we should head south, a huge relief and confirmation of our tactics. Several boats astern had asked if we needed anything, so we had asked for more diesel, just in case we had to do a lot of motoring later. Firstly Awaroa kindly diverted to pass close by us, then Tsolo, but in both cases we had to abort a transfer due to the conditions. One bit of good news though was that on further examining the steering system we had detected a small amount of "feel" through the wheel. This could only mean that there was still a piece of the rudder intact, which would greatly assist steering once the weather calmed down. By the 6th morning, wind and sea conditions had eased sufficiently for us to set up two small headsails poled out, and, at long last, we were able to point the bows directly at the Caribbean, 1,200 miles away.