UK to Ireland and the Bay of Biscay 2019

There had been only a little time to rest and clean up the boat before my friends arrived. It had been a happy reunion – as I had not seen them for long and they not jet seen my little boat. Leaving Milford Haven, I thought it might get a bit windy. While sailing out of the long sound the waves started to rise. My friends first managed but after some hours both of them lay flat feeling very seasick. Out of Milford Haven’s sound, the wave has been higher and shorter than I had ever seen before but the Windpilot self-steering managed the boat very well riding up the hill and down again. Just Around the island the cross waves and current made me worry a bit. But after that day I had gained much more confidence in my Jeanneau Fantasia 27 and the Windpilot. We arrived well around Skomer Island and into the bay but before picking up a mooring and our wonderful evening we had another little bit of action. As one of the lines tied to the side of the boat dropped off and got court in the prop. Another boat there gave us a little tow to the mooring. One of my crew volunteered to dive and managed to get the rope out easy, with no damage. The curious seals in the bay made us smile the morning before crossing over to Ireland.

We had a very long sail over to Ireland with little wind at times but we made it well and were welcomed warmly. The following days we hopped along the coast until we got to Crosshaven in the large natural harbor of Cork.

One of my friends decided to stay for my planned crossing of the Bay of Biscay as he was keen on some ocean sailing while his wife choose not to do the crossing as she had been pregnant and she traveled back home.

Many days passed with final preparations and worrying about the right weather window. I have been looking forward to fief days due south which has been our planned course. I had been worried not to say a bit scared of this first offshore ocean passage. I had tried with the best of precautions to have the boat ready. With a new Genoa from Plymouth and all the fixing up in Cuxhaven with new rigging and all the other work done. And also I had checked the rudder in Plymouth, which gave me a bit of a worry as the reviews said the rudder of the Jeanneau Fantasia 27 is one of here weaknesses. I did not like the design of the rudder as the bolts of the bottom joint were on the level of its structural weakness. But everyone in the marina in Plymouth thought I was overdoing it when checking the rudder, patching up the hull where the stainless steel joint was screwed on. It’s been strange to me that the rudder had steel tube inserts at the bottom joint for the screws to go through. I also had the joint bracket re-welded as it had some corrosion in it. I still had some worries about the rudder, as it has had twice been ground with in the time of me sailing the boat. But there had been no sign of what was to come. From the surface, everything looked good. Why drill into a good-looking rudder to check if it’s also good from the inside or to get a core sample?

On the day of departure came my friend insisted on their tradition to share some beer with the ocean and ask for a good sail. The beer has been an Irish Murphy’s and I had never done anything like this on my previous sailing and considered it unnecessary. To me, it’s about respect for nature and it will be good.

The plan had been to start with rather more wind into our sail as the weather would calm down and It would give us more certainty about good weather across. Sails up and off we sailed out of the large natural harbor of Cork, with the Windpilot doing its fantastic job. We had the wind on the nose and been beating into the seas and healing to port. We were just sailing out of the shipping line – harbor entrance when the boat did a sudden swing of 180°. I thought what, why – ah – it will be all right the Windpilot is on the helm. In the next second, I saw something red floating in the water. It had the color of my anti-fouling. This struck me and I became aware of what happened my rudder had just broken. I looked and saw the rocks not far and the wind blowing us straight onto them. In that instance, I tolled my crew how was very confused to drop all sails and I went straight for the VHF. This part of the story I find very embarrassing – as I did not know the appropriate call for emergencies. Why did I not write them next to the VHF? Just the standard PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN this is Sailing vessel Amarie, our Position XX YY, our rudder has just broken, we are unable to maneuver, we have tow crew on board, I require a tow. Over.  But soon help was on its way while we dropped the main, rolled the furler in with only 10% sticking out, and dropped something over the stern of the boat in the idea of a sea anchor. My crew was paralyzed and clueless on how to help. I went into full action trying all sorts of things to stabilize the boat and regain control. I did not keep my cool, the shore the rocks felt too close but were actually about a mile away, even with the wind blowing us on to them we still had the time to take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, or eat a piece of chocolate making up my mind and taking thought-full action. And managing myself. But my emergency call had been set off and I was in a rush to take action. Tow fishing vessels came to help us, nearly fighting about who is going to tow us and scaring me by getting so close that we might slam into them by the waves. They trough us a rope which I tied around the foot of the mast. I did not manage to secure the rope to at the front of the boat well and with the vessel swinging uncontrolled wildly from port to starboard tack the tow rope started to bend my rail at the bow. And slowly the rope started to wear off my signaling for taking it sower did not help, the tow rope snapped. We managed to retie it. Later the coastguard came with a powerful rubber boat towing us first and then with fewer waves tying us along and bringing us back to the same marina where we had been coming from just a few hours before.

We felt destroyed, we did not know what to do with ourselves and walked around the boatyard and looking at rudders, trying to accept the situation and search for our confidence. We also took off the rudder and checked where it had broken. Just right through where the bottom bolts and the hollow bushes were. The bolts, bushes and hinges, and everything else above the waterline had still been attached to the boat. Upon closer inspection one could see that the bushes had not been fully embedded in resin, the voids created a channel for moisture and smaller cracks had started off from the bolt holes. But mostly it became apparent that it’s been only a shaped piece of 50mm plywood without any glass fiber. The wood was not rotten nor soft but how humid it had been before the crack I will never know. I conclude the rudder had been weak by construction – all bolts underwater level were in one line, just after the width increased for balancing it, which also weakens that line, the bolt bushes and holes were not fully embedded in resin and moisture could get in, no glass reinforcement strengthened the area nor the rudder in general. Then I have to admit that the rudder at least twice has been hitting the ground with me as the poor skipper. I also think it was a bit of bad luck too, at the moment the boat had been healing much and been hoppy horsing badly into the waves – probably the boat lifted the ruder at least partly or fully out of the water while riding over and down the crest of another wave when tipping back while still healing much the rudder probably been slamming the water surface that forceful that it just snapped in one strike. Later checking our track, I saw that we had may be due to current or the 10% Genua drifted parallel to the coast and we were not been blown towards rocks. There would have been time to tie up my fender board to the remaining part of the rudder, which I did to motor to the traveler lift a few days later, this would have gotten us safe without assistance into the marina or maybe even across the Bay of Biscay. My friend was horrified at the thought that had the rudder broken on the middle of the Bay of Biscay maybe it would have taken the chance of him to not ever see his then-unborn child and care for his wife again. He quickly booked his return flight and flew back home to his wife.

For me, the process started to procure the material to build a new rudder. It just took me for weeks and weeks with the fear underlying if I finish this job I will need to go back out there and it turned to autumn. I was late in the season for crossing the bay. Well, now I would say it’s the strongest rudder or at least the strongest hinges on a 27fter. But while finishing it off I started to doubt my sailing – as it turned out to be more a fixing up journey, in a rush, often seasick, and always late in the season. I made up my mind to join some friends for sailing to achieve my goal to sail to Lisbon / Cascais. I packed up my boat and went to join my friend on Juniper the trimaran to sail with him from Plymouth to Lisbon and maybe to the Canaries, then meeting with the friends from Tore to sail across the Atlantic. Flying home for Christmas and after maybe to NZ. But before I close this chapter, I want to thank the nice people in Crosshaven. One of them told me in late summer that by Christmas we probably are good friends I liked him, his humor but did not want to spend another half a year or longer stuck at an un-chosen place. Also, I had much time with my friend who initially gave me the idea to sail to Cork as he was working there and I wanted to visit him.

AND just to remained myself how does it work with the VHF in an emergency? What do I say in which situation? Man, this is the most embracing of all my sailing failures!

PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN this is sailing vessel Amarie, Amarie, Amarie, (MMSI) our position – we are just outside the entrance to the harbor, our rudder has just broken, we are unable to maneuver, we have two crew onboard, I require a tow. Over.

This should have been ok for a broken rudder/engine/ rope around prop/ dismasted.

For more server cases like the yacht is sinking. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY this is sailing vessel Amarie, Amarie, Amarie. MAYDAY yacht Amarie. (MMSI) My position is XX YY, yacht holed by rock and in danger of sinking. We are two crew. I require immediate assistance. Over.

This is the very basic there is more and it’s relevant to know for anyone sailing not just the skipper. Think of it, your skipper might be as ignorant as me then or he might be insured or unconscious.