In 2015, I sailed on a delivery from Fort Lauderdale to St Thomas for Blue Water Sailing School www.bwss.com The boat was a 41-foot sloop used for teaching would be sailors in both Florida and the Virgin Islands the skills necessary to venture out to sea, her name is S/V Weather Bird. The owner of the school, Dave had made sure that all necessary safety equipment, all provisions of food and water were onboard. The boat had a brand-new engine and sails, all crew members were experienced captains and this boat had done this same trip 11 other times so it all went perfect, right? Guess again!
The trip started out with kind of a bad omen as we were slammed with a thunderstorm coming out of the inlet at Port Everglades, nevertheless, we pushed on through and except for a little rain and heeling there were no incidents that day.
We knew we would be beating into the waves the whole time as most people that take this route but we wanted to save time as with any boat delivery. We headed East through the Bahamas and continued to tack continuously for 5 days making for hard gained miles. The seas were calm but started to build as time went on, we sang, talked, and were having fun catching lots of fish. We caught lots of Mahi and even a swordfish. We kept our eyes on the weather as a front was gaining on us from behind which could worsen sea conditions dramatically. Our main objective was getting to St Thomas as quickly as possible before the weather took a turn for the worse and the fecal matter hit the oscillating apparatus.
The autopilot began to fail after a couple of days at sea but we got it to work although our confidence in it diminished. It failed a few times and we got it to work repeatedly. The crew was in good spirits despite the few mishaps.
On the sixth day and halfway through the trip, several hundred miles North of the Dominican Republic, we lost control of the boat. The bolt that held the rudder to the steering arm failed and it left us bouncing around in 10 to 12-foot seas. The boat immediately turned abeam to the seas making us feel like we were inside of a washing machine, with no control of the steering we couldn’t effectively heave to so trying to fix the problem under those conditions seemed impossible but we had to try. Every time a wave hit us, the rudder would spin out of control and in one instance it almost tore my arm off as I was trying to hold it still so my friend, Capt. Al from svmalaya.blogspot.com/ could put another bolt through the hole to hopefully fix the problem.
We tried for a while to do this and failed time after time. The whole experience was made worse by the cramped, dark, and hot space behind the engine compartment and the unstoppable bouncing from side to side of the little sloop in the big waves. We were at least 400 miles from land and any help would surely take a long time to arrive.
Suddenly, we realized we had a sea anchor onboard and proceeded to deploy it. Once deployed, the boat settled into a more comfortable position in relation to the waves and the rudder stopped spinning so violently. It took a few more attempts but we finally got control of the rudder and pushed in a new bolt of similar size through the hole and got the rudder temporarily fixed to try and outrun the front and make it to St Thomas. By this time, several hours had gone by, we were exhausted but extremely glad the sea anchor was onboard. We quickly picked up the sea anchor and started on our journey again.
We succeeded in landing safely into St Thomas after 12 days at sea and it felt great to finally feel land under my feet and to taste that first beer, cheeseburger, and fries! In my humble opinion, the sea anchor is a must have item on any cruising boat going offshore. Fair Winds!
Article by Capt. Leo S/V Lady Gabriela
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