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The wind picked up to a solid 20 knots as we left the Allen’s Cay anchorage in the late afternoon and headed farther south to Norman’s Cay following our friends aboard SV Rasmus. Rasmus sailed east out into the Sound in search of Mahi Mahi (which they hooked!), whereas Illusion along with SV Panacea decided to sail west onto the Banks.
We raced Panacea with the wind behind us, fighting hard against the building waves and subsequent weather helm. In such conditions, I usually vote to reduce the sails, because I’ve learned that Illusion does not like to sail downwind. In any sort of seas, it is difficult to maintain a straight course, and with less mainsail up, she is easier to manage. But being late in the day and with Panacea racing off to our port side, we didn’t even pause, and I quickly handed the wheel to Brian.
The waves crashed over the beam, soaking us with salty spray, as Illusion flew over the water, surfing to speeds of 8 knots. Brian had been at the wheel for all of ten minutes when, all of a sudden, we heard a distinct snap. Instantly, Illusion spun 180 degrees back around and into the wind. As Brian turned the wheel with no response, it became immediately obvious that our steering had given out.
Illusion did the best thing she could do given the situation, she hove-to (meaning the head sail blew across the bow, filling backwards with wind and counter-acting the forward wind action of the mainsail – holding us in one place). Meanwhile, Brian tore through our cockpit lockers in search of the emergency tiller. Orange life jackets, bags of extra lines, and boxes of tools, epoxy, and oil piled into the cockpit. Finally, Brian extracted a heavy-duty, L-shaped, stainless steel pole from the depths. Unscrewing a small metal circle in the cockpit floor, he tried to attach the piece to the now-exposed rudder post.
We were shocked to realize that our emergency tiller did not fit. The square end of the tiller was ever-so-slightly too small to fit snugly as it should. Like using a screwdriver on a stripped screw head, it barely gripped the post. With full sails and 20+ knots of wind Illusion would be too much for the tiller (in its present state) to handle. Because we knew we would be dodging a few coral heads on our approach to the anchorage, we fired up the engine, furled the head sail, and dropped the main. Panacea, who was in radio contact with us at the time, slowed down to assist us in the event that we had any additional issues. We motored to Norman’s Cay at a delicate 4 knots and managed to safely drop anchor just after the sun set.
The next day, Brian pulled out the steering chain and discovered a broken link. After radioing the nearest marina, and researching via the phone, we came to the conclusion that, due to our remote location, we would be unable to locate a replacement. So with much patience and determination, we set to filing down the inner edges of the emergency tiller until it finally fit over the rudder post. As our friends snorkeled a wrecked sea plane, the crew of Illusion worked on boat projects. At least at the end of the day, there was a nice big fillet of Mahi to eat in the company of good friends!
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