Jury-Rigged Rudder Steers Bailiwick for Last 100 Miles to Bermuda

A broken rudder left Bailiwick‘s crew out of the race and with an even bigger challenge, to steer the 40-foot sloop to safety in Bermuda. Photos & video included. By Chris Museler

No amount of inspections could have helped prevent what happened to the Blue Jacket 40 Bailiwick late Tuesday night during the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race. The team was finally released into the strong 20-knot reaching conditions they had hoped for, when Carol Tobian suddenly lost steerage.

With two reefs in the main and a 100 percent jib, Bailiwick continued reaching along at eight to nine knots but Tobian was free spinning the wheel. “I asked, ‘Are you sure?’” watch captain Steve Burton told us. “When I saw the wheel spin, that’s when I called ‘All hands.’” The carbon-fiber rudder post had broken where it exits the hull, and the rudder was gone.


The panel was lashed to the pole with Dyneema and prevented from twisting around the pole by drilling holes in the pole and inserting and lashing screwdrivers in place. Bailiwick photo

Sailors in the Bermuda Race study responses to breakages at sea, how to jury rig masts, improvise rudders, repair fittings, even address medical injuries and system fixes. But it usually never plays out the way the book says or the way the instructor showed you. By the time Bailiwick was safely shepherded to the Customs quay in St. George’s Harbour about 30 hours after the incident, the crew had discovered flaws in some previously proven responses to a rudder loss and created solutions that will be studied and shared in the future.

Here’s the chronology of events and lessons learned by the crew of five, as told by skipper Roger Echols and Steve Burton.

“Everybody heard this loud bang, like a shotgun,” recalled Echols, who purchased the Tim Jackett design from Island Packet in 2013. “It was sudden and instantaneous.” But the boat kept sailing in a straight line for more than 30 seconds.

Echols immediately checked the steering cables and quadrant compartment. All was connected and there was no water below.

Echols called the race committee on the satellite phone and Burton issued a “Securite” on the VHF but there was no response. Their AIS had been spotty and they had previously had been able to communicate with boats around them.

After some trial and error, Bailiwick‘s successful rig included a whisker pole, a bulkhead panel, screwdrivers and Dyneema lashing, and the emergency tiller serving as a pivot point. Rob Lambert photo

“The real life saver was the satphone,” said Burton, who had sailed in several races to Bermuda with three of the other crew. “The Rescue Coordination Center in Bermuda, the race committee and Jonathan Brewin [chairman of the Bermuda Race Organizing Committee] were fantastic.”

The race’s Emergency Management Plan, which is always tested in Newport before the race begins, kicked into gear. “That’s our bible,” said Brewin.

Tethers attached, the crew took sails down. Joyce Sellon was on the cabin top in the pitching seas, throwing a sail tie around the main when she slipped and fell until she hit the lifeline and was bounced back into the boat. Bruised badly, she was brought below and stabilized.

There were 100 miles to go in the race, but finishing was the last thing on Echols’ mind.

Drogue Steering

The crew deployed a Galerider drogue as they had practiced before the race, but the conditions were dramatically different. The boat held its broad reach course, slowly motoring, but the drogue’s swivel couldn’t prevent it from spinning. In the following seas, the bridle was twisting and the drogue came closer and closer until the transom was lifting and landing on the leeward bridle line.

After more than an hour of recovering and untangling, they deployed the drogue again, and again it spun up to the boat. Then, as the bridle line was being retrieved, with the engine in neutral, a series of large, quartering waves lifted and settled the transom over the line and it twisted around the propeller.

“We were so disappointed,” said Burton. “We had practiced it, but not long enough to see the pinwheeling. It didn’t work, and I don’t know why.”

Navigator Mark Gervais donned mask and snorkel at first light on Wednesday, put on a harness, and was eased into the rough water as the boat rolled. He saw the break, clean at the hull. After several deep breaths, he cut away the tangled line and the sailors regrouped.

Tiller for a Pole Rudder

The next solution was a whisker pole with a board attached to it to act as a rudder. Although the emergency tiller was no good for steering, with the rudder gone, Burton chose to use it as a pivot point and steering arm for the pole.

Dyneema lashing emergency tiller jury rig rudder

Close-up view of the Dyneema lashing and control lines at inboard end of tiller. Bailiwick photo

With an open transom, the crew saw the opportunity to use the emergency tiller in concert with the pole. A three-quarter-inch, one-foot by two-foot bulkhead panel was the rudder surface (dimensions approximate). There were three connections that needed to be executed under extreme load for this system to work: the board to the end of the pole; the pole to the vertical tiller post; and the pole to the horizontal tiller.

The emergency tiller provided a pivot point for the pole. The control lines in the foreground were led to outboard sheet winches. Bailiwick photo

Burton said they used two guy lines were rigged from the end of the pole to the quarters of the hull. “The torque was phenomenal,” he said. The guy lines took the pressure off the rig when a quartering sea would hit the rudder.

With an electric drill, the crew drilled through the panel and the pole. They happened to have a spool of thin Dyneema left over from a netting repair and Burton said that line and the drill were life savers.

The panel was first lashed to the pole. Then a screwdriver was fitted through the panel and pole, and lashed in place to prevent the panel from twisting around the pole.

Then the same process helped affix the pole to the vertical post of the tiller. Again lashed, then a screwdriver was set through the pole and tiller to prevent twisting. This left the panel slightly angled and it slewed around like a sculling oar. The boat steered straight but yawed a lot.

Riding emergency tiller jury-rigged rudder

To keep the buoyant pole from lifting the emergency tiller off the rudder post pivot point, the crew began to “ride the tiller”. Bailiwick photo

After a few hours and 15 to 20 miles, the crew stopped to make adjustments to the system, as described by Burton:

“We realigned the rudder and drilled new holes for the screw driver and added a second screw driver to provide additional stability for the rudder to remain properly aligned. For the screw driver on the emergency rudder-post extension, we needed to drill another hole to allow for the screwdriver to pass all the way through the whisker pole. This would prevent the whisker pole from rotating. Our drill bit was not long enough to go all the way through the rudder post extension and whisker pole so we had to drill a hole from the opposite side, which is (to say the least) difficult. Our drill bits were getting dull and with crew helping sight the drill bit alignment, we aligned as best as possible from the opposite side.”

“By the grace of God, we hit it right on,” said Echols.

“Once these modifications were made,” said Burton, “we were able to steer a much more consistent and direct course for Bermuda, adjusting steerage via the winches in quarter-inch and half-inch increments.”

Rudder version 2.0 held, but there was one more problem. The lifting of the buoyant pole with each wave was levering up the emergency tiller. Burton feared either the base of the tiller would sheer off, disabling the system, or worse, break the rudder bearing and start a leak. The solution: ride the tiller.

For the last 90 miles, the crew took turns sitting on the emergency tiller to keep it down. “Punch drunk,” with sore rumps and hands, they reached Kitchen Shoals around midnight, where Bermuda Yacht Services’ Captain Sloan Wakefield picked up their tow line and “deposited us with the most exquisite precision at the customs dock,” said Echols. “And Jonathan Brewin was there to meet us. It was amazing how he got Customs to meet us at 4 a.m.”

Lessons Learned

Bailiwick will be sitting in St. George’s for several weeks until Echols and Island Packet come up with a solution for a new rudder. They are considering a stainless steel rudder stock, as used in other boats built by Island Packet. For now, the crew are happy to have succeeded in what turned out to be their only goal, arriving in port safely.

“I was never concerned about the boat,” said Echols. “It was our platform. Within a minute or so, I knew we were fine and floating beautifully.”

Riding emergency tiller Bailiwick jury-rigged rudder

Removing one of Bailiwick‘s wheels provided more space to assemble the jury rig and “ride the tiller”. Bailiwick photo

Echols and Burton felt strongly about a few lessons learned. Here’s what they wanted to share:

-Have more than one backup steering system. In this case, a drogue was used and then a combination of whisker pole and emergency tiller.

-Large hose clamps and U bolts were missing from Bailiwick’s repair kit and would have sped up the manufacturing process.

-The steering system would not have worked without the ability to use an electric drill to prepare attachment points for lashings and screwdrivers.

-Carry plenty of screwdrivers. They were lucky to have so many and they were integral in keeping the steering system in line.

-Harnesses and tethers were crucial. From saving a falling crewmember to simply keeping everyone else aboard, Burton said harnesses were everything for their safety. As he said, “If someone fell overboard, we wouldn’t have been able to turn around. They’d be gone.” They were tired and had to be vigilant to make sure all crew were clipped in at all times.

-“Lash-It” Dyneema, and lots of it, also made this system work, keeping parts together under load. It was a happy accident that an entire spool was left on the boat before the start.

Echols also felt it was important to emphasize how precarious the whole system was when we had it in good working order. “The stresses on the system were tremendous,” he said, “as evidenced by the 25 degree bend in the auxiliary tiller post and the variance in the direction we were heading was often 60 degrees or more. It took two to three people to manage the steerage at all times.  Fortunately we had sufficient fuel to motor to Bermuda where we received the tow into St George’s Harbour.”

Echols had a final comment when asked if there was ever a moment where he was worried to the point of anxiety. “From the moment we called the race office, Jonathan Brewin checked in on us every two hours,” said Echols, a veteran of the Marblehead to Halifax Race. “We were confident we were being well watched. We never felt lost or abandoned.

Having seen Bailiwick safely at the dock, Race Chairman Brewin said: “I was clearly delighted to meet the crew at the dock, having observed their tremendous seamanship over the previous 24 hours. Particular thanks must go to the smooth professional support of Denis Rowe and his team at the Bermuda Rescue Communications Centre and to Chris McNally and the race’s Fleet Communications Office in Newport. I am extremely grateful, as well, to HM Customs for opening their office in St. George’s early to allow clearance of the vessel and enable a very tired crew to get to sleep.”

Editor’s note: In 2014, Wandrian broke a rudder bearing 300 miles out, made a temporary repair, and made their way slowly to Bermuda, escorted by another competitor, the yawl Black Watch.  

9 Responses to Jury-Rigged Rudder Steers Bailiwick for Last 100 Miles to Bermuda

  1. B D June 30, 2018 at 08:52 #

    Did you try steering with sails?

  2. Michael Keyworth July 2, 2018 at 08:35 #

    Michael Keyworth here, I did the testing on steering with a drogue and would like to have a discussion with you about your findings. I read in an earlier post about your concerns with the twisting of the bridal on the drogue and other comments.



    • ROGER ECHOLS July 2, 2018 at 10:22 #

      Our race-required secondary steering was a 30 inch Galerider drogue. We had practiced this steering capabilities on a calm day a month before the race. The galeride comes with a swivel snatch where the parachute shrouds come together to which a 10-15 foot section of chain was attached. We did not have a second swivel shackle at the distal end of the chair to which two fixed steering lines were attached and brought to mid-ship through blocks and back to the winches for steering adjustments.
      In our practice runs, we only deployed the drogue for 10 minutes. Although it appeared to work, we had not removed the rudder as has been done in the demonstration video.

      When we deployed the drogue after we lost our rudder, it worked well at first keepng us on a steady course towards Bermuda. However, after 15-20 minutes we noticed the control lines pinwheeling and the drogue ran up towards the transom. We redeployed it again with the same results. Due to the quartering seas the transom rode up over the leward control lines and tangeled in the prop even though the engine was in neutral. At this point we moved to plan B.

      Whether the second swivel shackle would have made the difference is certainly a consideration. It’s on my list to get for the next time I’m offshore.

    • Mark Gervais July 3, 2018 at 09:30 #

      Hi Michael,

      I was the navigator aboard the boat and we were very challenged with keeping the drogue astern of the boat with the beam to quartering seas and 20+ knots of wind. Even at 2,000 RPM, the drogue continued to rotate to the starboard side of the boat, which we needed slightly to maintain our heading of 164 degrees.

      We tried a number of different speeds with the engine, considered the sails, but clearly the sea state made it difficult to control the boat.

      Mark Gervais
      Dark Star

  3. Jim Lawless July 2, 2018 at 16:43 #

    I read this account with intense interest. I have done 5 Marion-Bermuda races with my Island Packet 35 “Spináche” and perked up when I saw that this was a Blue Jacket. Now, the Blue Jacket is a great hybrid design, but did not inherit its rudder design from Bob Johnson. No one should head into blue water in a Blue Jacket expecting comparable performance (low), or safety (high), that we have come to expect from an Island Packet. And for that reason, I personally would not risk my life crossing an ocean in anything less than a boat designed like the original Island Packet.

    Like the Newport-Bermuda Race, the Marion/Bermuda inspectors required us to have a worked out plan for emergency steering. I shared my design with an entry in this year’s Newport-Bermuda Race, “Orca”, an Island Packet 38, and believe they had it onboard. The Marion-Bermuda inspectors allowed my design, which used a 1/2″ piece of marine plywood cut to about 2’x4′ so as to fit under the port settee cushions at the nav station, held in place by a single screw and a sliding bolt to keep it from flying around in a capsize. When secured in place this board also acted as a cover for the two storage cubbies below these two cushions. I pre-drilled holes in the board to accept 4 U-bolts that would hold my whisker pole securely to the board, another hole aligned with a pre-existing hole in the end of my whisker pole (to prevent rotation) through which would pass a heavy lag bolt, and four other holes to accept looped ends of 2 control lines that would run port and starboard to the cockpit winches, while the other end of the whisker pole would be secured to the stern pulpit.

    The assembly instructions were illustrated right on the board for anyone to follow. Each hole was defined and I even drew the outline of the whisker pole on the board to show orientation. The hardware was in a zip-lock bag in the storage cubby just behind the settee backrest cushion at the nav station. It could be assembled with simple tools in a matter of minutes.

    This appears to be exactly what this crew designed after their drogue failed. I am elated to see that it worked so well for them, and theirs had a smaller panel. Luckily I never had to use mine and always wondered how it would do in a real-life emergency.

    I once steered a large sailboat effectively, when the wheel shaft key failed, using only the head sail and the main, and found it to work quite well when on a reach. I suspect balancing the sails may have been another choice for this situation.

    An alternative emergency steering method we had available is one built into the rudder design by Island Packet. There is a hole in the top of all Island Packet rudders through which you can pass a long line, knot it securely at the center of the line around that corner of the rudder, then run up each side to the same cockpit winches. This method assumes the rack & pinion is detached or the steering shaft lock is broken, but the rudder is not damaged. When ocean racing we always ran a messenger line through this hole in case we were faced with this scenario.

    For an Island Packet, this entire emergency tiller/steering exercise is all but mute of course, because supposedly the Edson rack & pinion steering system, like that on all traditional Island Packets, has never failed…supposedly. I still haven’t been able to find how the steering mechanism is designed on the Blue Jacket, I assume it is cable driven, thus the emergency tiller. Island Packets may be one of the few manufacturers that did not include an emergency tiller. I was always told it “wasn’t necessary”!

    Jim Lawless
    s/v Spináche IP35-016
    M-B 1993, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2007
    First Overall 2001!

    • ROGER ECHOLS July 3, 2018 at 10:28 #

      Hi Jim,
      I appreciate your confidence in Island Packet boats; in fact their reputation for construction and reliability was one of the reasons I purchased the Blue Jacket 40. But for someone who enjoys more performance, the Blue Jacket has delivered. I participated in the first sea trials of the BJ 40 in 2013 along with Tim Jacket and Bill Bolin from island Packet and I toured the manufacturing facility. My previous boat was a C&C 110, also designed by Tim Jacket. I recall Bill Bolin showing me the carbon fiber rudder which I could lift with one hand. The BJ40 had much of the performance of the C&C but was much more seaworthy. It performed very well in the open ocean. We were double reefed using the 100% jib making 8 knots in 20+ knots of wind. And while loosing a rudder certainly was a surprise, at no time did I feel our lives were at stake. There was no water intrusion and despite the 6-8 foot waves, we had a stable platform for making repairs. Island Packet is providing a replacement carbon fiber rudder which they stand behind. We’ll see. I’ll be bringing the boat back from Bermuda later in August. Want to join me??

      • Jim Lawless July 3, 2018 at 10:55 #

        I would kill to make that return trip with you!! Unfortunately I am 2 weeks out of back surgery and still weak in my left leg. It happened the day we were planning to start our sailing season (I’m retired now and that was going to be a non-stop “weekend” through October!) so, I will be lucky just to sit aboard Spináche by late July. She sits there waiting.

        Seeing the underside of the Blue Jacket 40, that spade rudder seems like a tempting lobster pot hook and certainly would be subject to massive leverage force if hit on the end by a submerged mass. I understand It’s all a trade off. You guys demonstrated exceptional seamanship and hopefully we’re recognized for that in the awards. I assume you will return with a generous stock of Preparation H!!! Have a safe voyage home…you have earned it.

        With great respect,

  4. Capt. Mitch July 3, 2018 at 11:45 #

    Excellent and important story. Publish in Ocean Navigator ! Glad the crew had the necessary tools and supplies to accomplish the job !

  5. jim hiller July 5, 2018 at 08:51 #

    Tim Jackett has a vast amount of experience with carbon as a division of Tartan is a carbon manufacturing company.. Other than adding an additional hundred lbs or so of weight in the tail of the boat going back to a metal post is probably a good idea if the current owners of Island Packet don’t work with carbon and you don’t want to spent the money on having a one-off post built by Jim Betts or someone else who is very skilled at the work.
    I’m interested in learning the cause. Was it poor wet-out or kinked fiber etc..It’s a superior material when done right. Just ask Boeing. Their new 787 is all carbon

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