The sailing weather forecast from Predictwind gave me an enticing heads up that led to a memorable day on the water. One glance had my heart racing. Here is a link to PredictWind that gives me a small commission. It is free to try and very good as a free app, but as a paid app it is outstanding. https://www.predictwind.com/?ref=christophersly
I went out with my wife, son and pet Cavoodle Milly in a strong blow on the Maroochy River. I broke my rudder, but continued sailing with half the blade missing, gybed unexpectedly, broached a couple of times and nearly capsized. I bumped into some things while careening out of control. We packed up, sailed downwind to make it home safely where I made some repairs and reflected on an interesting and enjoyable day sailing.
Over a lifetime, the wind has deliberately composed a whimsical tune in my soul. As a child, I built a square-rigger from repurposing a shipping pallet, some fence palings and a sheet stolen from mum’s linen cupboard. The Derwent Valley in Tasmania forms a perfect wind tunnel for the roaring forties. These blasts would hit the front of our house. As they squeezed through the slim gap between the side of our home and the 6-foot paling fence they were intensified, even though a few of the palings were missing!
The Roaring Forties are powerful westerly winds encountered in the Southern Hemisphere, between 40 and 50 degrees South. The westerly airflows are created by air pushed from the Equator towards the South Pole, squeezed and intensified by the Earth’s rotation, and unimpeded by the lack of landmasses in the Great Southern Ocean to serve as windbreaks.
The Roaring Forties were important to ships sailing the Route from Europe to the East Indies or Australasia during the sailing age. In recent times, yachtsmen favour these winds for around-the-world voyages and record-breaking global circumnavigation.
These days, I live in South East Queensland, where the trade winds prevail. The trade winds blow mainly from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere. Trade winds have been used by Masters of sailing ships to traverse the world’s oceans for eons and enabled colonial development into Australasia, allowing trade routes to become entrenched across the Pacific oceans.
While they are generally not as potent as the roaring 40’s that I tried to tame as a young man in Tasmania, the trade winds often deliver a favourable sailing breeze of 15 – 20 knots, that lacks the bitter cold edge of their southern counterparts. At times they can gust up to 30 knots or more, but they rarely if ever go beyond that.
There is a yearning to re-encounter the sting of the salty spray ripped from cresting waves that I experienced windsurfing the Bass Strait in Northern Tasmania. Then there are the moments of eerie silence whilst briefly relaxing in the trough of a wave, awaiting the next swell that would elevate me back into the Westerly blast and propel me back towards the shore.
When my PredictWind forecasting app starts to edge into the orange and red zones, my pulse increases slightly, and I find myself contemplating heading out onto the river in Moonlight, with her sails heavily reefed and flogging in protest.
Within the shelter of the low lying Cottontree headland on the South East, flat water takes on a slick appearance, lying about the wind’s strength. I have onboard my son Peter and wife Denise and my pet Cavoodle Milly as we make our way from the Nojour road boat ramp towards the Maroochy River’s heads. The plan was to settle Denise and Milly up the beach, in the shelter of a dune while Pete would capture some action shots on the GoPro.
Because this was the first time out since rebuilding the propeller shaft, I am keen to get some close passes filmed whilst under power, chugging along smoothly minus the bearing growl and wildly whipping shaft that was an issue before restoration work. A moments lapse in concentration resulted in the boat backing up into the sandbank, catching the trailing edge of the rudder and to a sickening crack rending off 1/3rd of the rudder blade. Initially, I thought this would put a premature end to the days sailing, but having come this far, I decided to test it out with reduced steerage to see what would happen.
If you keep your boat in the shed, nothing will ever break, and you will have experienced little, and learned nothing. I have always been one to push boundaries at every level, and occasionally something has to yield.
On the first attempt at sailing with a broken rudder, Moonlight was careening downwind wildly out of control, gybing recklessly resulting in a near capsize, nosing into the sandbank. A second attempt had me carefully trimming the sails, on a broad reach, to find that the boat ended up perfectly balanced at the helm, even allowing me to release the tiller and go forward to make some adjustments to the reefing lines.
After several passes of the shoreline, it was clear that going about could be achieved easily with plenty of boat speed. Still, uncontrollable gybing and a broach would result from a brief lapse in concentration. I almost capsized, taking in huge slurps of water over the gunwales, then limping back to the shore to pump her dry. I was thankful for my experience in my teens taking small sailboats out in extreme conditions and tipping them over just to see what would happen and to learn how to recover from being bottom-up.
There is a lot to think about when you are trying to navigate with a broken rudder. Enough to make you forget something basic like raising the centreboard in time. I was thankful for the bolt my mentor advised me to put through the keel horizontally to cope with this type of error without splitting it asunder.
So with enough excitement, thrills and spills for the day we put into practice the old maxim that gentlemen don’t sail upwind, pointing the bow back upriver to the boat ramp.
Back home in the workshop, it is time to assess the damage and find some remedies. Even though this is a fresh break, the Huon Pine has lost much of its distinctive odour from the unique oils it contains. The timber has sheered in a way that has created an ideal surface for regluing. There are scars from previous damage to the rudder, which I glued and dowelled, but this time I feel just regluing with strong, flexible epoxy will provide a permanent fix that will be stronger than the original wood. I measured up the blade for a complete replacement, and Pete will locate a suitable piece of Huon once he gets back to Tassie and mail it up to me.
While he is at it, I have asked him to see if he can find a suitable grown knee to replace the plywood breasthook in the bow. I have never been happy with the plywood one.
I notice the centreboard needs a grind back and recoating with metal shield paint. I am learning to trust the new technology, which says it does not require a primer. Time will tell, and I am willing to experiment. This old and deeply pitted piece of metal is an essential part of the boat’s character and history. This was the original centreboard in the boat built by John Philp and is now probably 100 years old or more.
The day’s work is not complete until the salt is washed off everything before putting it back undercover. In the garage’s heat, approaching 50 degrees at times, salt and moisture cause a catastrophic breakdown of galvanising.
The newly refurbished propeller shaft has been adequately tested and passed with flying colours. My curiosity about sailing the boat in heavy winds with the freshly tweaked gunter rig reefing system has been satisfied. PredictWind got it right. My desire for pushing the boundaries is quenched for the time being creating lasting pictures in my mind, until the next time, when the wind map compels me to respond because it’s in my DNA.
They said it would blow, and it did! Hard enough to break my rudder.
Watch the full video here.
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