In the fall of 2103, I conducted a series of tests on a modified MK I Swan 44, Chasseur, off Newport, Rhode Island. The goal was to determine the best method and equipment for safely steering in the event of catastrophic rudder failure. After all, it’s not something you want to have to puzzle through once you’re in emergency mode.
Tyson Garvin and I knew the 780-mile race from New York City to Bermuda known as the Bermuda Challenge would be difficult, but we had no idea we would end up facing our toughest test while still within sight of the city skyline. Coming down hard after launching off a large swell departing the Big Apple, the engine hatch ram on our 37-foot Statement Marine center console failed and punctured the port engine’s starter cable. In an instant, we went from racing along at more than 50 mph to being dead in the water and on fire with 680 gallons of diesel.
How to stop a leak
Keeping the water on the outside of the boat is paramount. A small leak can be inconvenient, but a large leak will sink your boat. If you hit a submerged object, stop the boat and find where the water is coming in — this may or may not be obvious, and it could be inside a locker, the engine room or the lazarette. Use sails, bedding, cushions, clothes — anything you have — to stuff the hole and stem the flow of water. You may be able to heel a sailboat to bring the hole clear of the water by tacking or getting the crew to one side of the vessel.
I’d just unclamped the outboard from the dinghy and was passing it to my father when the wash from a passing boat loosened my grip and the engine started its swift descent to the bottom of the harbor. Luckily, the boat was on a drying mooring, and the outboard sat in the mud for four hours until the water was shallow enough for us to retrieve it. Pulling the engine from the mud, I initially thought we’d be throwing it into the nearest dumpster, but my dad and I figured there would be nothing lost in trying to see whether we could get it running again. Miraculously, after little more than an hour’s effort, the engine was back on the dinghy, purring away with barely a mark to show its earlier misfortune.
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