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Ocean Cruising Club's Australian Trophy goes to Brisbane cruisers

by Lee Mylchreest on 16 Jan 2014
Chaotic Harmony crew .. .
This year's Australian Trophy of the Ocean Cruising Club has been awarded to Ian Johnstone & Jo Grace, with children Gill and Keely. The trophy is awarded for a meritorious voyage by an Australian member of the club, starting or finishing in Australia.

This award is presented in recognition of the Johnstone family for their 'totally unplanned circumnavigation' from Brisbane to Brisbane as a family aboard Chaotic Harmony.

Particularly notable is the account of a 2500 nm jury rigged passage after rudder loss mid-Pacific.

Chaotic Harmony, a 21 year old Catana 42 with a family of four onboard, were on a sailing adventure to discover the known world. Ian Johnstone and Jo Grace were accompanied by their two children Gill (14) and Keely (11).



Chaotic Harmony set sail from Cairns in March 2010 on an 'accidental circumnavigation' to show the kids that there is more to life than electronics, TV and the ubiquitous Xbox.

Over the years, they sailed across the Top End of Australia, throughout Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. They visited many countries and islands before heading through the Panama Canal in February 2013 to allow them to explore the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

They have just returned to Brisbane, completing their circumnavigation, and will be land-based for a while ‘filling the kitty’ for more sailing adventures.

Of the Award, Ian says: 'It is an unexpected, embarrassing but delightful honour and one that we can enjoy as a family team. We did not start the trip to accomplish anything (actually it was an Accidental Circumnavigation) except to broaden the kids minds and to show them that we share a planet with so many different cultures and countries and to start the journey into adulthood. It worked. We are a family that can accomplish anything as a team.'

The rudder loss:
Here is their account of the potentially catastrophic loss of their rudder in the Pacific:

...we finally made it into the Trade winds and life started to look great but then the wind backed to the east from the south east and we had to drop the main and continue on to the west under genoa alone with the wind dead astern. A difficult point of sail and the wind was too strong for the Code Zero at 20 plus knots apparent and an adverse current or so it seemed. At 2300 Jo calls out to me that we have jybed and can I help. Up on deck, lights on and the genoa jybed across to starboard when the wind picked up to 30 knots and we thought we should shorten it but the furling line was jammed. Up gets Gill and we undo the line forward and restack the furler when Jo points out the Spinnaker Halyard is wrapped on top of the genoa as well.

More night work in 30 knots on a wet deck with kamikazi flying fish and a crazy cat hell bent on getting them fresh to contend with. All done when we discover that the autopilot cannot hold the new course and that we should be doing 7 knots instead of 6. Engines on and sail furled but still no course for the autopilot nand to make matters worse the engine on the starboard side was working but the propellors did not seem to be working. What the bloody hell had gone wrong now??????

There was a strange banging sound coming from port aft and when we investigated we saw a catastrophic failure had occurred on the starboard rudder and it was swinging wildly and crashing onto the propellor on the saildrive in a crazy manner and potentially damaging the seals and allowing water inboard as well as destroying itself and its fittings allowing us to fill with water. Two ways to flood the boat as well as stress everything. Wow, 1400nm from anywhere and 'Houston we have a problem'.

The best course of action as we could no longer steer as we just went around in circles was to douse all sail and heave to by lying a hull to the waves and wind. As it was blowing 25 knots with a 2m sea and 3m swell from the East it was a bit bouncy but we decided to wait till morning to see what could be done. At first light we saw the damage that had been done. The rudder shaft had snapped completely, there was no paint on the rudder and the saildrive was coping a real hiding as was the rest of the boat with up to a 5m wave at times swinging us all over the place. We thought we should secure the rudder and tried several times to do this by getting into the water and trying to tie it up.

This turned out to be very dangerous and I was swept away a few times, banged against the hulls and caught under the boat when my life line was tangled on the saildrive. We decided to give ourselves 48 hours for a weather improvement and try again but 36 hours later it was still blowing 20 plus and the seas if anything were steeper so plan 2 was enacted after many emails to Gavin to discuss. By this time we were also very despondent and I had contacted the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) in Papeete, Tahiti to report that we were in a precarious situation and although we were safe and well with plenty of food and water if we could not affect repairs we would need assistance.

Plan 2 was to force the rudder and lower half of the snapped shaft out of the boat and just use one rudder as the broken one fell to the ocean floor. We pulled the top section off and realised the shaft had broken within the boat itself and not at the upper or lower seals/bearings. The lower shaft section was jammed but was also scouring the inside of the hull assembly it was seated in and would have worked its way through the watertight bulkhead within a few hours.

We realised that this was what had been happening but did not realise how bad it had gotten in such a short time. We needed to punch it out and used a small hammer and an old broom handle greased with several good swear words and to our absolute amazement it fell out and disappeared down into the Pacific Basin. There is a leak through the rubbing and grinding but it is manageable.

This was the first win we had had and it felt good so we continued in all haste to see if we could get away with steering the boat with one rudder. It worked and 50 minutes later we are underway again and monitoring the leak as well as adjusting our course and sail plan to stay under 6.5 knots which is about as much as one rudder seems to be able to handle. So why was all the paint missing from the rudder and why did we think we had an adverse current. We had picked up a heavy net and had trailed it without seeing it astern for a few days.

As the wind was so steady it was not a drag on the autopilot but when the wind backed and we jybed all hell broke loose in what should have been a solid stainless shaft but in actuality was a thick tube and sheared it completely. b The net had removed all the lovely antifouling. It was very nice and calming to have so many people email with offers of aid such as Gavin once again using his talents to help us through it and Wes on OneWorld keeping us all sane. The troops on the Pacific Magellan Net talked to us and offered assistance and the MRCC of Peru and of Papeete called on the sat phone several times ready to render a rescue.

We are now due in Hiva Oa Easter Sunday/Monday and look forward to having a break from catastrophes and disasters and to enjoying a cold beer and a good rest unless Murphy arrives again before we get there............ So was there a Plan 3? Yes, and it meant abandoning CH to the oceans as it was a very difficult situation with a family and young kids aboard. This plan would have been enacted immediately if we could not have removed the rudder as it is just a matter of time before were were filled with water.


For more information, go to their blog

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