One of the most difficult gear failures for a voyaging boat is rudder/steering problems. Losing the ability to steer makes getting to the next available port a priority. Jury-rigged steering approaches can work, but call for having the proper materials on board and result in greatly reduced performance and crew fatigue working an often unwieldy emergency steering system. These drawbacks of emergency steering make the case for rigorous maintenance and troubleshooting of your rudder/steering setup prior to departure on a passage.
A recent incident off Hawaii brings home the importance of this issue. On April 14, 2022, the 154-foot Sentinel-class USCG cutter Joseph Gerczak responded to distress calls from the 38-foot sloop Shyska 180 nautical miles off the big island of Hawaii. The four person crew on Shyska reported that their rudder was damaged during a prior period of heavy weather and that the vessel’s auxiliary engine was inoperable. While the sloop’s rig and sails were undamaged, without steering, the crew faced a challenging passage. After a HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point located the vessel, Joseph Gerczak arrived on the scene. The cutter began towing Shyska back to Honolulu. During the transit Jospeh Gerczak’s crew passed tools and fuel over to Shyska’s crew who were able to effect repairs on the vessel and continue under their own power.