by Bob Williams
Fedor Konyukhov, the Russian adventurer trailblazing the first circumnavigation around the Antarctica Cup Racetrack, has successfully repaired the damaged rudder on his Open 85 yacht Trading Network Alye Parusa that threatened to force a diversion to Cape Town.
Day 54 - Antarctica Cup Racetrack
The starboard rudder assembly began to disintegrate when Fedor was rounding Cape Horn a week ago. He fixed that, but then the replacement bolt holding the tiller assembly to the carbon fibre rudder stock, sheered again 2 days later. He has been waiting ever since for the right weather conditions to re-epoxy the badly chewed tube. After 10 hours of repair work yesterday, Fedor finally reported some good news:
'It has been fruitful day for me. Yesterday morning I received a weather forecast from Lee Bruce suggesting 20+ knots of steady winds for all day. The weather looked as if it might co-operate for once, and I decided it is now or never.
The Problem: The tiller on each rudder has 2 locking bolts: one at the end tightens the tiller around the rudder stock; the other goes through the middle and centers the tiller to the rudder. Somehow this central bolt fractured while I was sailing around Cape Horn and the tiller was simply moving freely around the rudder stock. Each mile added more stress and the carbon dust that spread all around the transom, indicated that the tiller was chewing up the carbon stock. With two oceans still to cross before the finish line at Albany, Western Australia, I had to fix it.
The first task was to take it all apart – not a simple thing to do in the middle of the Southern Ocean. Something akin to checking parts in an airplane wing while flying at 30,000ft!
Trading Network Alye Parusa weighs 30 tons. Her twin rudders each weigh 70 kg and draw 1.7m. Once the tiller assembly is released, the rudder is free to fall out through the bottom unless secured. I tried working on starboard tack so that the boat would heel over and lift the damaged foil clear of the water. That didn’t work. The waves smacked into the blade and flipped it at 90°. So, I reconnect it, and gybed to put damaged rudder in the water and under pressure. Then I drilled an additional hole through the rudder stock and poked a screwdriver through to create a handle that I lashed to the nearest stanchion, mainsheet traveler and pushpit.
Once I had the assembly apart, I found why the central bolts had kept snapping. The metal sleeve acting as a support bearing that we put in before the start in Albany, was too long and it did not allow me to tighten the tiller around rudder stock. Basically I was compressing the sleeve but not tightening the tiller. I pulled the sleeve out and cut 5mm of it. Then I cut plastic bottle in half and used this to pack out the stock, before wrapping it all in epoxy resin.
Water was constantly splashing on deck but thank God it was not raining. The day passed very quickly with me running in and out of the cabin, charging the hand drill, mixing epoxy, and changing broken blades for metal hand saw. It is only 10 meters but I must have run good 5 kilometers.
Once the epoxy had cured, I reassembled the tiller and tightened the bolts. The job was done - just before the heavy rain arrived. It is not a perfect job but I don’t much care about the looks – I just hope it will last to Albany
With the rain came lightning, hitting the ocean all around the boat. The sky was dramatic and looked like The End of the World and was frightening. I kept looking up at my mast – my 110ft carbon pipe is a perfect conductor, and though the boat has ground wires, this is all theoretical. The wind was spinning like crazy and I was trying to follow the shift until I realized that we are going round in circles and damaging the mainsail, which has already two splits in it. So I hurriedly got the sail down and half furled the headsail and I waited another hour for N-W wind to fill in.
My foul weather gear is completely soaked, there is chaos in the cockpit, and the mainsail is on deck. I was still busy at sunrise getting everything back in order. Just another exciting day in the Southern Ocean, sailing the Antarctica Cup Race Track.'