Journeys of a Singlehander

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  • Post Abandonment Thoughts

    First, some background. Zimaz was purchased in February, selected in large part due to her hull design and materials, but also for her watertight bulkheads, emergency rudder arrangement, multiple pumps, and simple systems properly installed.  You can get a sense of her underwater hull form in the photo below. You can imagine what happens to her longitudinal stability with the rudder removed.


    Her rudder & stock was constructed of carbon fiber & epoxy, with stainless steel in way of the lower bearing. Photo was taken while being constructed. I believe the rudder post snapped just above the SS tube after the lower rudder bearing ripped off the hull. It’s also possible the rudder post failed, then the leverage caused the lower bearing housing to rip off the hull. I suspect the former as more likely, possible due to striking an object.




    Here is the emergency rudder design and some photos taken of the e-rudder in place. Note the design allowed the blades to be installed onto the gudgeons without them being in the water.

    Scan0001 DSCF2757 DSCF2755

    Finally, Zimaz was also built with 2 watertight bulkheads. One was forward of the rudder post, the other formed the aft end of the chain locker or foc’sle. In addition to the water tight bulkheads, there were 2 manual pumps aboard, along with 2 electric pumps and a valve to switch the engine intake from the seacock to a hose that could suck out water using the engine.

    What Happened?

    Main Rudder Failure

    Zimaz departed Chester, NS at 1230 on 10/4/2015. Once out of Mahone Bay, conditions as forecast: 20-30 knots from NE. Zimaz heading downwind (AWA about 165) under main & genoa at 7-10 knots. First day out, I was queasy & skipped dinner. During the night I slept 30 min to an hour at a time. The helm was light & balanced. At 0600, Zimaz rounded up & autopilot would not return her to course about 60 miles from Cape Sable.

    With the sails flogging, I rolled in genoa in completely and triple reefed the main. I pulled the tiller to get her back on course, but no response. Started engine & put in gear to confirm rudder loss and my fears. Not a huge issue, I thought. I have a water tight bulkhead and emergency rudders. I’ll be on my way before too long, albeit slowly.

    Emergency Rudder failure

    I began pulled out the emergency rudder blades and mounting hardware. The starboard side was mounted within 15 minutes, Despite the 8 foot seas, I was able to balance on the swim platform (yes, tethered) while getting regularly sloshed.  With needlenose pliers, screwdriver, and small hammer in hand, the starboard side was mounted within 20 minutes. After another 80 minutes, the Port side failed.

    The problem was partially without a rudder, Zimaz was unable to heave-to properly. She would zig zag, oscillating on port tack upwind, then down. Sometimes she would be hit by a wave and be knocked backwards. The rudder blades in the water would then be forced back against the hull. This put the support struts in tension instead of compression. With set screws and mounting hardware that was not through-bolted, the struts were not designed or built to take significant tension loads. The port side mounting screws ripped out of the hull.

    While I was mounting the rudders, I watched the main rudder float away, upright with the post stump and bearing housing visible.

    The starboard side stayed in place for maybe 30 minutes before also failing. I got as far as bringing control lines to winches and attempting to sail forward before this strut also failed. During this process, I got a sense that towing lines astern would not work to control Zimaz, and there were no drogues aboard.

    Now What?

    I checked the lazarette and 6” round hole where rudder used to be. the water appeared to be contained by the aft watertight bulkhead as intended.

    I stopped and sat back to considered my options, and came up with two

    1. Maybe get a tow back to Nova Scotia

    2. Wait out weather & rig up another rudder with the whisker pole & emergency rudder blade. Motor/sail back to NS, Maine or Massachusetts depending on weather.

    As option 1 seemed the simplest, I picked up the satphone and called my wife:

    “Good morning.” I said

    “Hi. How’s it going?”

    “Uh, could be better. I need a favor…Find the number for the Canadian Coast Guard in Halifax. Tell them I lost my rudder and give them the following position and drift…and have them call me back…”

    Halifax called back in 6 minutes:

    “Thanks for calling.”

    “Is there any immediate emergency?”

    “No, nothing like that. I lost my rudder & wondering if you can provide a tow.”

    “Yes. There is a CG Station 60 miles from your position. We can dispatch a 50′ Cutter and he can be there in 5 hours.”

    “OK, sounds good.”

    “Please confirm your position….we’ll call back in 2 hours to check on your condition.”

    I lay down in the cockpit to rest.


    An hour later I went below and noticed water sloshing into the at head & verified engine compartment flooded. I pumped the water out of head. I inspected the bulkhead for leaks, tightened access hatch to aft cabin. After a bit of thought, I attempted to start engine to use engine intake pump, but dead. I stuffed a towel into hole. Towel disappeared after 15 minutes. I was pumping the head area maybe 1 or 2 minutes every 20. When the Coast Guard called back, I notified them of the flooding & that I was keeping up with it.

    Meanwhile, my condition was deteriorating quickly. The first day at sea, I had been queasy since getting offshore and not eating. Now, unable to steady the motion by sailing, Zimaz was more of a cork and I became even sicker and needed to stay in the cockpit. It was difficult to stay hydrated despite drinking a lot of water. Every action from noon on required significant mental and physical effort.


    The Canadian CG cutter Clark’s Harbour arrived about 6 hours after initial contact, around 4pm. The crew threw a heaving line across bow with 2 lines attached, and I made the 2 lines fast to bow cleats and the cutter brought Zimaz under tow at 3 or 4 knots. Zimaz under tow without a rudder was a surprise to all of us. She fish tailed back and forth wildly. Captain suggested I lower double reefed main & I did so. The motion did not change.

    The captain asked if I had any drogues aboard to steady the motion. I considered tying anchors to lines. Had I more strength I would have tried. I become even sicker. Not having eaten since departure and likely due to dehydration, I became very weak.

    Compounding the increased motion, the water ingress became significantly worse.  I stuffed a pillow into the hull hole which also failed.

    With dusk coming on, the Captain asked how I felt about abandoning. This arose as he could tell I was getting weaker over the radio. I told him to call me back in an hour. He said he would call back in 45 minutes. While unstated, we both new that darkness would compound the problems and any actions we would need to take.

    In that 45 minutes, the water ingress accelerated. I was now pumping for 3-4 minutes every 10 minutes. Water was now migrating into the main cabin & forward cabin. I became sicker and weaker and knew I couldn’t keep pumping through the night.

    When the Captain called back, I agreed to abandon. It seemed like an easy decision.

    Abandon Ship

    Instructed to:

    • Put on immersion suit in case I needed to go in the water to transfer to the Cutter

    • Turn on the AIS so Zimaz could continue to transmit position & be less of a hazard (and to ease possible salvage)

    • Remove EPIRB devices so they wouldn’t go off & cause confusion

    Threw very few things into ditch bag – phone, passport, ipad (forgot wallet), shoes. Clark’s Harbour threw a sling to me to put on under my arms so I was effectively on a tether. Then the captain deftly maneuvered Clark’s Harbour close to Zimaz in the rough seas & I stepped aboard

    Started crying


    Four Cascading Failures:

    1. Main rudder

    It is unknown if the rudder hit something, either during the voyage or prior, or if it was wave action. After some thought, I offer possible explanations for rudder failure:

    There were 2 failure points: 1) rudder stock just above stainless steel sleeve. 2) Lower bearing housing ripped from hull. Unknown which failed first. If rudder stock failed first, then leverage would have ripped housing from hull. If housing attachment failed first, would have moved point loading up the stock to failure point.

    2. Watertight Bulkhead

    While I don’t know, I believe water was migrating through the rubber seal around the exhaust line which penetrated the aft bulkhead. Ideally, this should have been inspected & addressed, ideally with fitting at bulkhead. This lack of inspection was largely due to time pressures related with owning an out of town boat. I had inspected many other parts of Zimaz, such as the rig, engine, propeller, but I didn’t inspect this, or the lower bearing housing prior to departure.

    3. Emergency Rudders

    Much thought went into the E-Rudder design & construction, but they were not tested. Support struts should not have failed. Should have been tested in rough conditions – I found the forces on the blades and pintels higher than I would have guessed. With perfect hindsight, I  would have waited for benign conditions before deploying the e-rudders.

    4. Whitall’s Condition

    Despite being in good shape from working out 3-5 times/ week, with free weights and intervals, I couldn’t believe how fast I became so weak. One thought is I could have waited a few days for conditions to moderate a bit to allow acclimation. I couldn’t resist the forecast for 20 knots astern all the way to Hatteras, but it was 20-30 the first day.

    If any of the above had not failed, Zimaz would likely not have sunk.

    Additional Thoughts

    This is a story of the need for proper preparation and testing before going offshore. I would have done more had Zimaz been nearby, but with an out of town boat, time pressures prevented proper inspections and remediation. Assuming an accident caused the initial failure, the e-rudders and bulkhead should have functioned as intended. Neither was inspected and tested. I do not believe any survey would have caught these deficiencies, and yes, I did have one done.

    Another part of the story is the inability to think deeply while in an emergency. With the benefit of time and reflection, there are things I could have done to save Zimaz.

    • Rather than expend the last of my energy deploying e-rudders, I should have carefully inspected for water ingress prior to emergency rudder deployment. Even so, I doubt I would have noticed the water coming in due to poor visibility and access behind the engine. Had I noticed, I could have dealt with the water ingress problem before my strength dissipated and possibly saved the boat. With plenty of fuel, the water intake on the engine could have kept up with the flooding at least for the first few hours.
    • I should have let the hull flood more and run the electric bilge pump continuously through the night. Presumably it could have kept up with the ingress through the night had the battery held. Then perhaps we could have kept towing.

    When you call the CG, they are there to get YOU, not your boat. They won’t easily transfer people to your boat & increase their risk. There is gentle pressure to get you off the boat when they are there.

    Drogues aboard may have saved Zimaz by calming motion during towing & Whitall may have been able to stay aboard to keep pumping, or Captain may have felt more comfortable transferring one of his crew.

    Had Zimaz not been sinking, I could have and would have waited for the weather to moderate and made up another steering method using the whisker pole and e-rudder blade.

  • Zimaz Abandoned

    The trip to Florida has been interrupted, and Zimaz, along with my dreams of visiting the Chilean and New Zealand fjords, South Georgia Island, Alaska, and yes, fooling around in the tropics has been abandoned. I’m OK. Weak but recovering quickly. The experience has seemed surreal.

    Zimaz’ rudder post failed at dawn Monday morning sailing downwind in 25-30 knots, 8 foot seas, signaled by a round up. I know it was the post that snapped as I watched the rudder float away. Emergency rudders deployed and both failed within a few minutes. Zimaz has a watertight bulkhead forward of the rudder post, so the 6″ round hole in the hull didn’t concern me that much. Canadian Coast Guard contacted for a tow, 60 miles out from Clark’s Harbor near Cape Sable.

    An hour later I noticed the engine compartment was full of water, and sloshing into the cabin. Attempted to start the engine & use the alternate cooling intake to pump the water out. Engine dead. Started pumping manually. Very sick due to motion and being the first day at sea. Early on could easily keep up with ingress by pumping a minute or two every twenty. Rags and pillows were stuffed into the breach, but they would not stay in place.

    The Canadian Coast Guard arrived about 6 hours after initial contact and brought Zimaz under tow. Zimaz fish tailed wildly. I become very sick and the water ingress became worse. Not having eaten since departure and likely due to dehydration, I became very weak. With dusk coming on, the Captain asked how I felt about abandoning. I told him to call me back in an hour. He said he would call back in 45 minutes. While unstated, we both new that darkness would compound the problems.

    In that 45 minutes, I became sicker and weaker and knew I couldn’t keep pumping. I abandoned ship and returned to Clark’s Harbor on the Cutter. It seemed like an easy, straightforward decision.

  • Chester, Nova Scotia

    There’s been a chilly light rain for about 30 hours now as a front passed over. Zimaz sits in the calm cove, patiently waiting to pitch, roll, and yaw again. The last minute provisioning done, her skipper warmed by coffee, watches for a weather window. Joaquin is in the way, and the mists of her path is only now beginning to clear. Perhaps tomorrow Certainty will assert himself, allowing Zimaz to flee winter ice and dance with Joaquin.

    SPOT tracker page is here and confirmed working: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0hY5s0j5DfsTg7mN5feaLVIzMbCKrVfls

    Please do not worry or take any action if the tracker stops. There are many reasons why it stops, including needed to be manually reset every 24hours, batteries that last only a few days, water damage, satelite transmission blocked, etc.

    I hope to be posting trip updates here: http://www.zimaz.net

    The plan is to take an inside track just outboard of Georges Bank towards Norfolk to skirt Joaquin and the Gulfstream. Joaquin will throw off a large cross swell to mix with a 30 knot Northeasterly, so I expect very rough conditions. Forecast shows 20-30 knots astern, pretty much all the way to Hatteras.

  • Cape Breton

    A short story of our adventures at Cape Breton, here: From Lake to Sea

    Spent almost a week up at Cape Breton’s Bras d’or Lakes & another week tooling around Cape Breton Island. The family and I enjoyed the time and the environment immensely despite the cool weather. We all got to know Zimaz a bit better, and found her to be quite liveable and comfortable for the 5 of us. The dingy and the oars proved to be a big hit.

    Ran into some difficulty on the singlehanded return. Water pump drive failed, and I was unable to address at sea due to lack of sockets, so had to sail down the coast & onto the mooring. Not a huge deal, but took a day longer to get back to Chester. Starter solenoid has become sticky, so that will need to be replaced sometime soon.

    Returning in late August to do the repair work & prep for a journey down to Florida for the winter.

  • Prep Week

    Zimaz on her mooring at South Shore Marine

    A very hectic last week of May was had shepherding Zimaz back into the water, stepping the mast, and locating her on a mooring. Oh, and trying to figure out her systems somewhere in there. The mast is far more complex than I’m used to, so I managed to cross some shrouds and fumble through some other errors. In between yard work I managed to do some provisioning for the family vacation coming up at the end of June. All in all, not too bad a week, but it was stressful due to the deadline imposed by my return flight. It appears the two main halyards are crossed which could cause the main to not come down, so this must be addressed when I return. Really looking forward to the Bras d’or Lakes with the family.

  • Custom 42


    Very exciting to announce that I’ve purchased Zimaz, a Custom 42 designed and built by a naval architect for cruising with his family. She’s strong, handsome, and ready to log some offshore miles. While she didn’t meet all my criteria, she meets them better than just about anything I’ve considered.

    Problem: she’s in Nova Scotia.

    Solution: take advantage of her location to do some cruising in Nova Scotia this Summer. Then figure out how to sail her over to Kemah, TX & truck her over to Los Angeles. Hurricane season looks thorny. Can you really sail out of Halifax in November? We’ll see.

    She’s sitting on the hard after toughing out a brutal winter. I’ll be visiting next month to get her launched and a little prepared for some cruising over the Summer.

  • Boat Search

    So, I’ve been looking for Slacker’s replacement for a while now, since well before I put Slacker on the market, actually. I’ve received some advice along the way, some of which I actually took, some not.

    • “Get the smallest boat you can stand.”
    • “They’ve learned a lot about yacht design since the Cal 40.”
    • “If you can’t stand up in an Express 37, then pass”
    • “What do you want THAT boat for? You are only going to go a knot faster.”
    • “You’ll know her when you see her.”

    For my part, I put together a list of characteristics I wanted:

    • Strong hull for long distance, offshore cruising.
    • Bigger than Slacker, but something I can handle. Displacement 10-18,000 lbs (~34-40 ft)
    • Sailing joy. Tiller. Able to move in light air. D/L 100-150, SA/D 20+
    • Balanced rig and Directional stability so it’s easy on the autopilot; L/B >3.2
    • Ease of Shorthanding. Each sail <400 sq Ft; E>J Fractional rig for fewer headsail changes and reefs.
    • Comfortable for someone 6′-3″.  Headroom, long berths, good places to sit in & out. Limited pounding upwind.
    • Good tankage so I can stay out there with less worry and risk.
    • No loan or additional insurance. Price <$100,000
    • Aesthetics. Make my heart skip a beat when looking at her from dingy or shore.  A place I want to spend time.

    Go ahead. Find a boat with these criteria. I couldn’t. 98% of boats fall into a few categories:

    1. Undercanvassed cruiser
    2. Uncomfortable racers
    3. IOR hulls
    4. Neglected boats
    5. Aging fiberglass
    6. Lack of headrooom

    Here is a short list of boats that caught my attention & inquired about or visited:

    • Cal 40
    • Express 34, 37
    • Fairweather Mariner 39
    • Farr 38
    • Olson 40
    • Open 50
    • RM 1050
    • Santa Cruz 40
    • Santa Cruz 50
    • Thomas 35
    • T-Boats 42
    • X-Yachts 119
    • X-Yachts 362s

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