Category Archives: Repairs

An Utter Rudder Disaster

We thoroughly enjoed our solitude at Minerva Reef but it was time to make a move for Tonga.  Our weather forecaster told us that a rather large weather system was coming and that we should leave for a more sheltered anchorage.  Why do you ask?  Well we were currently anchored at Minerva Reef which is not sheltered at all, there is no protection from the receeding reef that disappears twice a day at high tide.  We had a somewhat “decent” weather window to make the 2-2.5 day passage.  It is during this passage that we had an utter rudder disaster.

Weather Window

When we look at weather to make a passage we take into account several factors using 4 different weather models and a professional weather router.  We look at wind speed, wind direction, cape, rain, swell size, and swell direction.

During this particular weather window we had good winds, no cape, and no rain.  However, we did have big 3m seas coming from the rear quarter panel.  This sucks as seas can make your trip very uncomfortable.  But, we needed to leave for a protected anchorage so we took this window.

I should note here that the passage from New Zealand to Minerva had pretty rough seas as well.  During that 6 day passage we had 2.5-3.5m seas the entire time.  That is a lot of bashing on the boat for a long period.  But we made it to Minerva and all was ‘”fine.”

Passage: Minerva to Tonga

You probably read about this passage while we were actually underway as Matt was writing “live blogs.”  But to summarize, we had decent weather for the first 1.5 days.  The seas were big, 3m, but they came in long increments and were not too choppy.

However, after that we encountered messy, choppy seas that made it feel like we were inside a washer machine.  The boat was banging all over the place and it was very uncomfortable.

Auto is Failing

Around 9:30pm, Matt woke me to help him steer the boat.  What?  We have auto for that.  Auto Pilot is our automatic steering system which we rely on a lot during passages.  Consider it like “cruise control” in your car.

In big seas auto has a hard time steering the boat because the boat comes out of the water. With the big seas and strong winds the boat was wanting to head into the wind so Auto was having to constantly overcorrect by turning to port.  But at this time, Auto was going every which was and not holding course at all.  In fact, at one point, we were going backwards. This is when I took over hand steering as Matt adjusted the sails.

Matt and I worked on sail congifuration for 1.5 hours trying to figure out what was wrong with Auto.  We finally settled on no main, a small double reefed jib and the engine.  This was the only way to control steering and we still had 88nm (12hrs) to get to the channel in Tonga.

Keep in mind that it was pitch black outside, no moon, big seas, and the boat is moving  6-7kts.  Matt checked the engine rooms to see if everything was ok with the rudders, but you can only see the top portion, and that looked good.  You can’t see under the boat in these conditions.

We are missing what?

At dawn, we approached the Tonga channel.  The winds had calmed down to a respectable 17-18kts and the seas were down to 1.5m.  Matt went to the starboard sugar scoop and looked across to the port side and realized we were missing a rudder!  Are you freakin kidding me?

Nothing we can do until we drop the hook so we continued on to the anchorage where we needed to clear into the country.  Lucky for us, the officials allowed us to anchor outside the basin because we could not manuever around the small basin with only one rudder and limited steerage.  We picked the officials up in our dinghy, did the paperwork on the boat, and then returned them to shore.

While in Raitea, French Polynesia we removed both rudders.  This is what the rudder should look like:

Assessing the Damage

Once we cleared into the country we were allowed to jump in the water to evaluate the damage.  There are multiple parts to a rudder….

  • The shaft is about 6′ in length and goes up into the engine compartment and down below the boat.
  • Tines or Fingers:  There are 3 tines or fingers on the shaft below the boat.  They are supposed to be long where they are perpindicular to the shaft jetting out in front and behind the shaft.  They help support and enforce the blade.
  • Rudder blade made of fiberglass

This is what was left of our rudder:

As you can see from the above photo, we are missing the rudder blade completely and each of the 3 tines are damaged.  But the good news is that shaft is intact!

Humanity Restored

As we are motoring into the anchorage I am emailing people for help.  We met the owner of the one and only yard in Tonga (Vava’u The Boatyard) and we met the yard manager for Vuda Marina in Fiji during a conference in Auckland.  It pays to network.

We also posted our problem on our blog and the emails, texts, and calls came flooding in.  I cannot tell you how much love we felt during this difficult time.  We had cruisers from NZ, Fiji, Tonga, French Polynesia, and Cook Islands, asking us how they can help.  It was inspiring and amazing – thank you everyone.

Repair Options

We have a few options…

  1. Tonga: Vava’u The Boatyard is a 1-2 day sail from our current location.  We met the owner/manager at the conference and he has been of great assistance.  They can rebuild our rudder using our good working rudder as a mold.  The problem is that the yard is stretched thin and could not start work for 3 weeks and the entire project could take 6-8 weeks for a total of up to 11 weeks on the hard.  We only have a 4 week tourist visa.
  2. Fiji: Vuda Marina and South Pacific Fiberglass.  We met the manager of Vuda Marina at the same conference and he had some great advice.  He recommended two contractors to rebuild the rudder: South Pacific Fiberglass and Prasaads Marine.  Both companies provided feedback, but South Pacific Fiberglass was more specific about cost and turn around.  They can build the rudder in 10-14 days.  But they are in Fiji and we are a 4-5 day sail from there. (1-2 days to North Tonga, then 2-3 days from N. Tonga to Fiji).

6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon

3. New Zealand:  Try to follow along with this networking connection.  A fellow cruiser, Jef in NZ heard about our rudder loss and reached out to us.  Jef informed us that he replaced both of his rudders using Peter Palmer at Norsand and RH Precision in Whangarei.  

We met Peter, who is another cruiser, last season in Fiji.  Peter works part-time at Norsand in NZ which is the yard that will be hauling us out in Nov.2023.  He used to manage the yard before he decided he wanted to cruise with his family 6-months of the year.  We reached out to Peter and he said that there might be a spare rudder from Sel Citron, a Catana 52 in the yard.  So, Peter told us to contat Norsand and ask them to track down this rudder.

We met Sel Citron last season in Whangarei.  We reached out to him to ask about this rudder as well.  The rudder was replaced on Sel Citron before the new owner, Dan took over Sel Citron, but he gave us permission to take and use the old rudder.

And to our great joy, the yard found it.  Unfortunately it is not in great condition, but it is better than what we have which is nothing.  They sent the measurements of the shaft, tines, and rudder and we compared it to our rudder.

Unfortunately it is not an exact match and it is a different shape but it is completely workable.

The Plan

We measured our one good rudder and compared it to the measurements of Sel Citron’s rudder and it can work.  We asked Norsand Yard in NZ to look into shipping costs to get the rudder from NZ to Fiji.  Shipping items to Tonga is rumored to be extremely difficult, expensive, and time consuming.  We decided to have it shipped to Fiji where the resources are more plentiful.

We will use Sel Citron’s rudder to get us back to NZ and then we will either have two new rudders made in NZ or we will ship in two new rudders from Europe.

The yard miraculously found a cruiser (Andreas on Seven Seas) who was leaving Norsand bound for Fiji within a few days.  They loaded up our temporary rudder and delivered it to Fiji for us.  Andreas was headed to Musket Cove (and we were still in Vanua Balavu).  So we asked Andreas to give the rudder to our friend Chris on Sea Glub.

This is a huge favor, but know that curisers do this all the time for other cruisers.  In fact we are caring a generator, outboard, and spare parts for 4 other boats right now. So, it’s nice to know that we all pay it foward.

The Spare Rudder

We arrive to Musket Cove and pick up our “spare rudder” from our friend Chris.  As luck would have it, Peter (from Norsand) is here on his boat Camara.  Peter is a master fiberglass professional.  He came over and both he and Matt determined the shaft on the rudder is not long enough.  What we had hoped would be a plug and play situation now became surgery.

The top shaft (big aluminium post) is our current rudder shaft and it is about 4″ longer than the spare rudder post (making it so the holes don’t align).

We have to put the spare rudder in place to determine how much of the blade has to be removed in order to get the shaft in place.  Peter jumps in the water while Matt goes in the engine room.  Once the rudder is in place, Peter scores the blade to mark where he has to cut.  This will help in two ways. One it will allow us to push the shaft higher into the engine room (allowing us to use 3 of the 4 holes) and we can cut the top of the shaft to fit the curve of our boat.

Another blessing is that the rudder blade is shorter than our current blade, but it is wider.  So even when we cut the blade (making it smaller) it will still have the same surface space as our existing rudder.

Fun Fact:

Our rudder floats.  In order for us to get the rudder into place we have to put 40lbs wieghts onto it to sink it.

Altering The Spare to Fit

Another blessing: we are at Musket Cove where Peter knows the owner (we know Will, the owner, too, but not nearly as well as Peter does).  We are able to utilize his workshop to alter our spare rudder.

Peter marks the rudder indicating where he is going to cut the blade.  The top part of the blade (near the shaft) was nearly touching the bottom of our hull (which is not good).  So, he is cutting more off that end than the back end.

After the blade is cut he has to sand down the fiberglass on the sides so he can apply new fiberglass across the cut top.

The next day, the fiberglass has dried and he applies a fairing and barrier coat.  Then we have to hunt for anitfoul paint to seal it all up.  The cruising community is so generous to us as we are able to find it for free.  It doesn’t match anything but it works.  The right photo shows the newly completed and fitted rudder.

Peter brings the rudder back to Sugar Shack.  Matt adds the weights to sink it, added shims/spacers, and easily installed the rudder in less than 30 minutes.

We are officially a two rudder boat again.

How Does Sugar Shack Sail with one Rudder?

Because we are a catamaran, we have almost two of everything.  On the one hand it is good as it acts as a spare, but on the other hand it is bad as we have to buy and maintain two of everything.

But in the case of our missing rudder, the one working rudder got a true work out.  We sailed over 1,000nm on one rudder – how did we do it?  We had to learn.  A catamaran has to be evenly balanced and having one rudder caused the boat to constantly head up wind. 

Our auto pilot had to work very hard to keep the boat heading in the right direction.  We had to constantly depower the sails and deploy the dagger boards to help the boat hold a course.  And even then there was a 20-40 degree margin.  If our course was 220, we could head anywhere from 180-260 depending on the seas and the wind.  So, it took us awhile to figure out how to sail with one rudder and we hope we never have to use this newly learned skill again.

What’s Our Plan?

Thanks to Peter’s help we will be able to safely navigate from Fiji back to New Zealand.  This is already a challenging passage and one we did not want to make with one rudder.  So, now we can head back to NZ with confidence.

Once we are there, we had already planned to haul out at Norsand (where Peter works).  We have engaged RH Precision to remake our shafts and Peter will build us new blades.  We will replace both rudders.

It is sad that it takes a disaster to remind you just how amazing humans can be.  We are truly blessed and grateful for all of the help in the cruising community.  Especially Peter!

Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind actual live events.  This blog post occured mid-July on the passage from Minerva to Tonga.  Did you read about our adventures in Minerva Reef – click here.

We have a Ghost onboard

Do you believe in ghosts?  Yes we all know and love Casper the friendly ghost but I mean real ghosts?  Typically, I would say I am a non-believer, but recently we have had some very unusual things happen on Sugar Shack.

As you know, we have been in Whangarei, New Zealand working on renovating the boat.  We have been upside down and backwards for so long that some times it is hard to remember what the boat looks like under normal circumstances.  But, as we are coming to end of all the construction and begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel we start having totally bizarre things happen.

 Let’s Go…

Our boat requires two keys to start (one for each engine).  Do you remember when you had to actually inset a key into the ignition of your car and turn it to start the engine?  Same thing on our boat.  You have to insert the key and turn it to start the engine.

Now imagine Matt and I sitting on our settee (couch) inside the salon, nestled in our blankets, watching a movie around 8:30pm. We are just minding our own business and enjoying a quiet evening. It is pitch black outside and we did not hear anyone board our boat.   When all of the sudden our starboard engine turns on and starts running!

We look at each other, spring up, turn on the lights and see nothing, nobody.  So, Matt turns the engine off and we go back to watching our movie.  Early the next morning (2am), it happens a 2nd time.  What the heck?  This time Matt takes the key out of the ignition.  Teach you!

But, a few hours later it tries to turn on again. This time it does not catch or actually start the engine.  Ok then.  But, we counted our chickens before they hatched.   The engine started a few hours later without the key in the ignition.  This is super weird.  Each time we were able to shut the engine off within seconds of it starting so we didn’t think much of it.  The day went on with no other incidences, no false starts, and no ghost starts.

And then…

At around 6p we decided to run out to get a bite to eat.  We were gone for 45 minutes and when we came back the engine was running.  Oh $hity $hit $hit.  We jump on board, turn the engine off and Matt crawls in the engine compartment with a torch.  This time we were not so lucky.  The power / electricity from the engine had no where to go and it burned up 2 of the 3 relays and a huge piece of wire. The relay is not supposed to fall apart in your had and the copper wire is not supposed to be exposed.

At this point, we do not know if the starter is still working and if our now bloated starter battery is recoverable.  Seriously?  Is it that the boat wants to leave so bad that she is starting her engine to go or is it she doesn’t want to leave and is creating problems that make us stay?  Or is it just a ghost?

I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for all of this!  Matt thinks it could be the relays so we order the parts and wait for them to arrive.

Starter Down

Once we install the relays we are able to test the starter.  The engine does not turn over at all.  We took the starter in to be tested and she is dead dead!  The good news is that Auto Tech was able to order us a replacement for half the cost of a Volvo starter.  We paid $705NZD and they got it here the next day.  If this works we will buy a second one to keep onboard as a spare!

New and Old Starter

New and Old Starter

We had to install the relays to test the starter.  Once we replaced the starter we could test the starting battery.  As it turned out the relays and the starter were all dead. What a bad ghost!

But it turns out the starter battery bounced back to life.  Unfortunately, we still have a problem with the engine self starting even after we replaced everything that burned up.  Bummer

The Ghost Is Back

Fast forward a few days and Matt and I are asleep snuggly in our bed when our main electric winch starts to operate.  You’ve got to be kidding.  We only have one electric winch and we use it to raise/lower the main, raise the dinghy and hoist Matt up/down the mast.  The ghost is back at work and now making the winch start automatically.  This could be extremely dangerous as it operates our lines for our sails and the lines to raise and lower Matt when he goes up the mast.  Thank goodness we did not (or typically do not) keep lines wrapped on the winch.

Again, a perfectly logical explanation for this, but I like to just call it my ghost.

Matt took the remote control apart and to his surprise it was full of water.  Well that would short an electrical component out for sure!  One mystery solved.

The timing is just really weird to have both the engine and the electric winch start on their own within a few days of each other!

Ghost or no Ghost?

As it turned out our old relays caused the mysterious starting of our starboard engine.  When it started once while we were off the boat it caused a lot of damage causing us to replace 3 relays, and the starter.

The mysterious running of our main electric winch was the cause of trapped water in the remote control which was easily fixed once it dried out.

So, although we did not technically have a ghost onboard, I like to think we did.  He was a mischievous little bugger!

Events from this blog post occurred toward the end of May.  Our blog posts run 8-10 weeks behind live events.  In our last blog post I share with you some of New Zealand’s quirks and oddities – did I make you giggle?

Fancy New North Sails

Sugar Shack has been propelled by the same double layer dacron sails for the last 22 years!  Yep, you read that right, our sails are over two decades old and still propelling us forward.  Granted, the sail shape is not ideal and they look a well “used” but they still worked.  After all, they got us from Fiji to New Zealand in 6 days which is pretty darn impressive.

But it certainly was time to replace them.  We interviewed several sail lofts in New Zealand before landing on North Sails.  Roger, came prepared to talk to us about different fabrics, techniques, and sails.  He was the only one to bring us material samples and was very honest about being the most expensive sailmaker. He was right, he was the most expensive one.  

But, that is not why we selected him and North sails to make our new sails.  Roger has been manufacturing sails for 40 years.  He used to work for Doyle sails but moved to North Sails because of their 3Di technology.

The Technology of Tour Ultra X Sails

Our new custom designed main sail will be one giant sail with no seams, edges, or joints.  The corners and high pressure points will be built up to sustain heavier loads.   These sails are meant for reefing and designed to handle reefing.

The sails have a life expectancy of 8-12 years if treated well and a 5 year warranty.  We are also given a free annual check up at any North Sails location.  A repair kit is provided for us to do small minor repairs while at sea which is a simple patch and glue (no sewing).

We paid a little extra to have a mildew spray on both the main and genoa since we plan to spend a lot of time in the tropics.  The material itself has UV protection as well, but we plan to have her tucked nicely into her new sail bag when she is not in use.

Roger came by a few times to measure our sails, note the placement of reefs, attachments, battens, and mast cars.  He then heads off to place our special order.

The Sails Arrive

It took a few months to manufacture our new Tour Ultra X sails but it was worth the wait.  Roger came with our new main, battens, and genoa.

The genoa goes up first as it is the easiest.  She is a slate gray with a gray protective UV cover.  There is a small patch on the sail to protect it from our spreaders (bottom left photo).  The top right photo is our new main flaked out.

We have no problems getting the genoa on.  However, we have a few issues with the main sail.  The cars that attach the main to the mast have the wrong size screw hole.  So, Roger has to return them and get new ones.  A week later he comes back and Matt and Roger put up the new main!

Matt and Roger work diligently in the early morning to get the sail up before the wind picks up.

The full main sail up and proud – just needs some wind…

New Sail Bag

Matt had a very specific idea in mind of what he wanted in a sail bag / stack pack.  He wanted it to be low profile to keep the shadow off the solar panels.  He also wanted it to either wrap in front of or behind the mast to prevent the sail bag from billowing in high winds.  This is in addition to specifications for size, shape, style, fabric, zippers, clips, and velcro attachments.

Our old sail bag had a very high profile and a lot of extra room inside the bag (waster space).  But she was beautiful and lasted 13 years!

The new sail bag has a much lower profile, does not have a lot of extra space inside and is really kick a$$!  It took us awhile to get to where we wanted, but Roger came through in the end!  We are thrilled with the new bag.

Matt made new lazy jacks out of 4mm dynema which make it look even better.  

A few Snags

Roger from North Sails in Opua is fantastic to work with.  He is extremely professional, friendly, responsive, honest, and true to his word.  We did have a few snafus, but overall we are very pleased with our new sails.  What happened?

I mentioned above that our mast cars had to be remade because the manufacture made the screw holes a size 8 when they should have been a 10.  Also, we had two batten cars that had to be replaced because they did not fit properly.  The sail bag was supposed to be made within a week of delivering the main sail, but it did not arrive for almost 6 weeks.  Partially due to the the various holidays and bad weather, but it is what its.

However, Roger was up front with us along the way, kept us informed, and made sure we were happy in the end – and we are!

Events from this blog post occurred in early November (bidding) and in late March (initial install) thru May (sea trial).  Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind actual events.  Did you see our new canvas work throughout the boat in our last blog?