Russian adventurer circumnavigating Antarctica has to repair rudder in mid-ocean

The Russian solo skipper, Fedor Konyukhov racing in the inaugural Antarctica Cup Yacht Race, has successfully repaired the damaged rudder that threatened to force a diversion to Cape Town.

The starboard tiller, which attaches the wheel-steering cables to the rudder post on the stern deck, began to disintegrate when Fedor was rounding Cape Horn a week ago. The replacement bolt holding the tiller assembly to the carbon fibre rudder stock, only lasted two days. He has been waiting ever since for the right weather conditions to re-epoxy the badly chewed tube. After 10 hours of repair work yesterday, Fedor finally reported some good news:

“It has been fruitful day for me. Yesterday morning I received a weather forecast for steady winds for all day. The tiller on each rudder has two locking bolts: one at the end tightens the tiller around the rudder stock; the other goes through the middle and centers the tiller to the rudder. Somehow this central bolt fractured while I was sailing around Cape Horn and the tiller was simply rotating freely while chewing up the carbon stock. With two oceans still to cross before the finish line at Albany, Western Australia, I had to fix it.

“Trading Network Alye Parusa weighs 30 tons. Her twin rudders each weigh 70kg and draw 1.7m. Once the tiller assembly is released, the rudder is free to fall out through the bottom unless secured. I gybed and put the damaged rudder in the water and under pressure, then drilled an additional hole through the rudder stock and poked a screwdriver through to create a handle that I lashed to the nearest stanchion, mainsheet traveler and pushpit.

Once I had the assembly apart, I found why the central bolts had kept snapping. The metal sleeve acting as a support bearing that we put in before the start in Albany, was too long and it did not allow me to tighten the tiller around rudder stock. Basically I was compressing the sleeve but not tightening the tiller. I pulled the sleeve out and cut 5mm of it. Then I cut plastic bottle in half and used this to pack out the stock, before wrapping it all in epoxy resin.

Water was constantly splashing on deck but thank God it was not raining. The day passed very quickly with me running in and out of the cabin, charging the hand drill, mixing epoxy, and changing broken blades for metal hand saw. It is only 10 meters but I must have run good 5 kilometers.

Once the epoxy had cured, I reassembled the tiller and tightened the bolts. The job was done – just before the heavy rain arrived. It is not a perfect job but I don’t much care about the looks – I just hope it will last to Albany

With the rain came lightning, hitting the ocean all around the boat. The sky was dramatic and looked like The End of the World and was frightening. I kept looking up at my mast – my 110ft carbon pipe is a perfect conductor, and though the boat has ground wires, this is all theoretical. The wind was spinning like crazy and I was trying to follow the shift until I realized that we are going round in circles and damaging the mainsail, which has already two splits in it. So I hurriedly got the sail down and half furled the headsail and I waited another hour for N-W wind to fill in.

My foul weather gear is completely soaked, there is chaos in the cockpit, and the mainsail is on deck. I was still busy at sunrise getting everything back in order. Just another exciting day in the Southern Ocean, sailing the Antarctica Cup Race Track.

Konyukhov left Albany Australia on 26 January sailing eastwards around Antarctica. Race organiser Bob Williams hopes to establish the Antarctica Cup Yacht Race as on ongoing event attracting worldwide participation.The 360° 900-mile wide racetrack has outer and inner boundaries between 45° and 60° South. The track will be ‘open from December to March every year and can be sailed by crewed or solo ocean racers, monohulls and multihulls.