What a day. After yesterday’s recuperative opportunity, with shower, shave, and light winds, expected more through night. But no–the weather files were off by 100% again in wind velocity. Boat took a beating going upwind, with the staysail and three reefs in the mainsail.
Stayed up with boat much of night in cockpit cuddy, when all suddenly became quiet. The boat was bearing off on its own. I had lost the autopilot! So I grabbed the tiller, got organized downwind, rolled the staysail, tried the backup pilot, no backup pilot, now what? 25 knots of wind, open 60 boat, dark, no pilots.
I remembered that many sailors heave-to in order to stop a boat, but I have never done it; just read about it. When I tried it it worked, sort of, with the tiller lashed in middle, mainsail out, staysail sheeted wrong side partially opened, boat sails up into wind, staysail pushes back down, balance may be found, sort of found it.
Went to lazarette to see what was happening there with the pilots. Put on helmet plus life jacket to protect chest from crashing and banging of the boat. Pilot arm still attached to little tiller arm, and still attached to vertical tube which connects at deck to tiller mechanism and rudder linkages. So back to deck (requires olga korbut gymnastic ability to crawl through boat), linkages to tiller OK, except looked as though there was a bolt missing. Tube comes up from below and joins tiller underneath traveller track, so totally inaccessible. I couldn’t remember if there were three bolts there before. Two were present on either side of the tube as compression bolts to hold the two ends of tiller together, but–aha!–there was a third hole with no bolt.
Using the satellite phone, I called Hugues Riousse, who helped prepare the boat for the race in Les Sables d’Olonne. He remembered a third bolt. So, OK, that’s problem, but how to get another bolt in? To put in a replacement bolt I needed the rudders all the way over one way or the other. But but how to do that with no one steering? Since seas were running eight to twelve feet seas and there were 25 knots of wind, I was stumped–for a moment. Then I remembered–it’s total irony–that the key to heaving-to, is to have the rudder hard over to leeward, not centerline like I had it. We had already done one total circle with the boat out of control with the rudder at the centerline, so I tried it hard over, lashed the tiller in place, then adjusted the staysail to give more resistance when boat got pushed up into wind, and, amazingly, the boat stabilized and stopped in the water!
Found a bolt, wrenches, hammer, screwdrivers, still wasn’t completely sure on how to proceed, because I couldn’t see the hole in the tube inside tiller arms, so went back to lazarette, turned that mechanism to hard over, took off both rams, back to deck, and, amazingly again, there is the hole, almost perfectly lined up. Put in screwdriver to try to adjust, couldn’t do it, then just decided OK gonna move that hole in line, leaned hard on screwdriver, and it brought tube up one millimeter, tried putting bolt in, wouldn’t quite go, take hammer give it a tap, in it goes! Get nut on far side, and we’re linked again. Not quite the right bolt–have now found the right one–but will not make change until have really calm conditions.
That was a big one, a potential game-ender if some piece that couldn’t be replaced here was broken. But King Neptune frowned, then smiled on us, so off we go.
Next is that a new low pressure system has formed to the southwest. It will sweep over us in next 12 to 18 hours. I’ve already gone to the storm jib to wait this one out, then should get favorable wind shift on the other side.