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.
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.
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.
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
Maybe get a tow back to Nova Scotia
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.
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
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.
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.