"Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places," the oft repeated saying goes. For us it's certainly been true. We've sewn sails in honeymoon hot spots, fixed fibreglass in world class dive destinations and done electrical work in countries better known for their exquisite cuisine. Our travel knowledge runs more to hardware stores and boatyards than boutique shopping and museums.
Most places we've done repairs have the benefit of having some sort of infrastructure though. Even the smallest coastal village usually has a boatbuilding guy with access to basic supplies. But here on Ile Boddam we had one severely damaged rudder and only seven boats to draw from for assorted fibreglassing supplies, which, after a thorough accounting, turned out to be not quite enough.
But I've jumped ahead.
Before we could even think about repairing the rudder from P., the 48' monohull that went up on the reef, the next step was to see if the rudder could be dropped in deep water without accidently sinking the boat. Luckily we have cruising friends who are currently land-bound but who are happy to problem-solve from afar. Graham offered to contact the boat builder and got us not just rudder drawings, to help determine the fibreglass layup schedule for repairs, but information about where the lower rudder bearing comes through the hull.
This detail is critical—if the lower rudder bearing is too far below the waterline, removing the rudder would be like putting a hole in the boat. Happily the rudder bearing was only a little below the waterline and after a few calculations Evan worked out that if we shifted and added 800 kilos of stuff up to the bow, the stern would lift high enough that the rudder could be safely dropped.
Dropping a rudder isn't always straightforward—but luckily in this case it was. Several swimmers secured the rudder with ropes (rudders are often filled with foam and float—but this rudder was so damaged the guys assumed it would sink) and then began detaching it and working it free. An hour later they had towed it to the beach and set it up for drying out.
We tend to carry a lot of fibreglassing supplies but after building a new daggerboard our supplies are depleted. For this repair we'd need several types of fibreglass including mat and cloth as well as epoxy, fillers and a whole lot of boat building foam. Where we came up short was with the foam.
Knowing this isn't a permanent repair, the rudder only needs to steer the boat 1000 miles to the Seychelles, Jamie and Evan got creative. They decided to use the foam for the critical areas that needed shaping. But for the void areas that just needed a substance to provide a surface for the fibreglass skins to laminate to, they invented a new composite they called epoxy coir.
In other words, they came up with the 106th use for coconuts.
Using Totem's generator the guys were able to set up a powered workshop on shore where they took turns grinding out the damage and prepping the surface for repairs. The kids were given the job of shredding coconut husks to make coir while Jamie mixed it with epoxy and shaped it to fill the rudder's voids. It took three days of solid work to repair the rudder:
opening up the damage
filling the voids with foam, plywood, and coconut coir, and glassing
fairing (a bit) and repainting
The next step is to remount it on the boat. It's been decided that nothing can be done about the damaged propeller shaft. The boat will remain engineless until the Seychelles but simply being able to steer is a huge improvement.
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