My 1st ocean passage was just over 7 years ago. It was just 940 miles between Hawaii and Palmyra and for the most part was an easy downwind sail with no surprises. On my next long passage I experienced a storm a few days out of American Samoa where I took on a lot of water when my deck seam split. Over the next 2 years I had countless equipment failures on my nearly 50 yr old vessel that had to be sorted at sea alone with one hand. During these two years I became a competent sailor and mechanic trying to get Rudis around the world. I arrived in Thailand taking on water with a barely functioning motor/transmission. There were cracks in my rigging and mast. It was obvious Rudis was in no condition for the Indian ocean, Cape of good hope, and onward. With a lot of convincing I turned to crowdfunding, sold Rudis and bought Tiama. Pretty much all of my drama at sea since was weather related and not equipment failure until this trip.
Ocean passages have become fairly routine over the last 5 years. There are always challenges and weather and sea state are usually frustrating. But, I have been constantly chewing up miles without any big surprises with equipment failures. Leaving Galapagos I was 3,000 miles from Polynesia and 4,000 miles from home. There is the usual emergency gear and dry goods on board in case of a catastrophic failure but it was starting to feel like I could just coast the rest of the way home. For 2,200 miles I was doing just that.
The first few days on passage are quite fatiguing. It is tough and dangerous to sleep much because of shipping and fishing traffic. The few days leading up to a passage are also quite busy stocking up on food, water, and fuel. This trip was no different and the massive fishing fleet just outside of the Galapagos park line extended over 500 miles. I caught a nice yellowfin tuna amidst the fleet of commercial boats and continued west.
After passing the fishing traffic I fell into the usual routine that I really enjoy about ocean passages. Wake up, coffee, breakfast, movies, books, music, exercise, lunch, dinner, wind, waves, stars, bioluminescence, and repeat. The wind was lighter than I would have preferred but it made for a really comfortable trip. As I was running low on fish I put the lure back out and later that day caught a nice Aku and the fridge was full once again.
Twelve days in I started to get stir crazy. I had read all the books I really wanted to and the ones left were not peaking my interest. There were no more shows or movies I wanted to watch, podcasts to listen to, and my spotify playlists were overplayed. Wind picked up to 25-30 knots for a few days which was a welcome change of pace. Just before sunset I made some tea and heard the autopilot controls beeping. Shortly after the boat rounded up into the wind and waves were crashing into Tiamas hull.
Grabbing the wheel I immediately noticed I had no steering. My heart sank thinking I lost my rudder and I opened up the compartment to have a look. Thankfully the rudder was still there but the steering radial and autopilot control was completely destroyed. My usual process for big equipment failures at sea are as such. 1st swear at the problem, 2nd make and drink a baileys and coffee while making a plan for the problem, and 3rd implement the plan. The sun was going down though and I didn’t want to have to deal with it in the dark. So, I went straight from swearing to jury rigging.
I’ve spent enough time at sea to foresee this could happen and think about solutions so pretty much already had a plan in my head. I attached the emergency tiller and tied it to the wind vane. Sadly the wind vane is way too lively for the short emergency tiller. After a bit more swearing, several attempts and tweaks I found that it sort of worked sheeted backwards. I was sailing again towards Polynesia.
There were 800 miles to go and for the 1st time in a long time I was concerned about how fit my boat was to finish the trip. I was not able to steer a very straight course without being on the tiller but I could keep the boat from gybing long enough to make food, coffee, or get a bit of sleep. Suddenly I was not bored with my entertainment choices. I was frustrated with how much effort it took to keep the boat sailing. I went from averaging 145 miles a day towards Polynesia to 80 partially because of wind speed but mostly because of course.
Arriving in Polynesia after 22 days at sea came with a sense of accomplishment that I haven’t felt in a long time. I watched the sunset while on anchor and enjoyed my ceremonial single malt scotch thinking that I earned this one. It turns out that I might not be able to get my replacement parts here before I want to head home to Hawaii. I found a local welder that seems confident he weld the pieces back together and make it work. I’ll still fix everything properly when I can but looks like my trip home will be on a repaired steering system.