Sailing the Atlantic, Cruising the Caribbean - Avalon of Arne

Preparing for the Voyage

By Phaon Reid

General/Safety Preparations and the Rudder Saga

Avalon  AlongsideMAI-LING I had bought Avalon about six years before we set off; Sarah had also bought a boat, a 22' Pandora called Mai Ling, at about the same time. I must get her to do some Web Pages about it, as she had some good adventures in that little boat. Paying for Avalon took me five years; buying the additional equipment we thought necessary, and fitting it, took another two. Fitting a boat out for long distance cruising involves a large number of choices. I don't plan to outline all the options here, just to tell you what we did and why.

In order to prepare Avalon for the voyage, Sarah and I decided to enter the Yachting Monthly Triangle Race in June 1994. This is a two-handed race from Torquay to Crosshaven (Ireland), then Tregiuer (France) and then back to Torquay. Our rationale was that to pass scrutineering, we'd have to get the boat up to accepted safety standards. The race would also give us a chance to do some longer passages to see how we coped, and how we liked it.

So, to prepare for the race we did the following (this list may not be complete)

There were a number of things we didn't do - GPS was still expensive, so we relied on Decca for navigation (plus DR and Plastic sextant), the domestic batteries were in need of replacement, the gearbox and cutless bearing were suspect. Funds were limited, but in the event none of these things caused us any serious problems, and the boat passed scrutineering with flying colours. During the inspection, the scrutineer asked us what we would do in the event of a total rudder failure. We gave him the usual stuff about using the spinnaker pole over the stern, and steering with a drogue. "How well do you think it would work?" He asked. "Not very well", we answered.

The Rudder Saga

Scrutineering complete, we set sail from Torquay in very light conditions. The trip to Crosshaven was uneventful but frustrating, as the winds were either non-existant or on the nose. We arrived somewhere in the middle of the fleet on handicap. After a few days of Irish hospitality we set off for Treguier and it was then, about 30 miles out in F6-7, that we had our problem. Sarah was steering, which was fairly hard work in those conditions, and I was down at the chart table, when the boat suddenly luffed up. Sarah shouted down that she had lost all steering. Thinking that it could be a linkage problem, I fetched the emergency tiller which fits to the top of the rudder stock. There was still no steering. The rudder had fallen off, all of it and all at once. To cut a long story short, we got the boat back to Crosshaven by balancing the sails and steering with a spinnaker pole over the stern, but it was slow and uncomfortable. Having in-mast reefing on the main, and roller genoa, helped enormously, as we could balance the sails exactly as we wanted. Anyway, that was the end of the race for us. The yacht club tender met us by the harbour entrance and towed us in to the marina, where they very kindly re-opened the bar so we could drown our sorrows in Murphy's.

What had happened? The Excalibur has an unsupported spade rudder (probably its Achilles heel) and the stock, unbelievably, had been made in two parts, an upper solid one and a lower tubular one, welded together at roughly the point wher the stock enters the hull - in other words the point of maximum stress. Needless to say, it had broken at the weld. Equally needless to say, I specified a solid stainless steel stock for the replacement.

We arranged with a local boatyard to have Avalon hauled out and another rudder made, then flew back to England. I got plans of the rudder from Van de Stadt in Holland and sent them to the yard. It took forever for them to make the rudder and it was VERY expensive, although fortunately the Insurance Company (Pantaenius, God bless them, who I wholeheartedly recommend) were paying. So it was October by the time we flew back out to pick Avalon up - not the best time of year to be sailing in the Western Approaches.

The boat was in the water when we arrived so we couldn't see the rudder. Once we set off it was obvious that something was wrong, as the boat was virtually uncontrollable, over-reacting to the helm and almost trying to pull the wheel out of your hands. We decided to press on, as otherwise we wouldn't get the boat back to England that year, wouldn't be able to work on her over the Winter, and so probably wouldn't be able to leave on schedule the next summer. Fortunately, the weather wasn't too bad so we could let the Autohelm steer most of the way - it seemed less bothered by the new rudder than we were.

When we finally got the boat back to Poole, we could at last see the new rudder with our own eyes. It was immediately obvious that the Irish yard had not followed the plans and had made the rudder with far too much of its area ahead of the stock. So, naturally, it oversteered. As a result, we had to have the rudder completely remade, using only the (modified) stock from the Irish one. The new rudder was made by Andrew Simpson in Davis's Yard in Poole, is perfect and cost a lot less. But because Andrew and his team are good at what they do, they are also usually very busy. As a result, it was only ready a few weeks before we set off on our trip, and we had no time for a "shakedown" sail. So that was our rudder saga (condensed version).

Hull and Rig

Avalon, being a GRP boat built back in 1967, is unusually solid. In the early days of fibreglass they weren't sure how thick to make things, so they made them THICK - probably the same thickness that they would have used if working in wood. So we had no real concerns about structural integrity. The rig was a different matter. We had all the standing rigging replaced, as it was ancient - possibly as old as the boat. We had a movable inner forestay fitted for the storm jib, which we have never used in anger, even in Force 9. In those conditions, you don't much fancy a stroll on the foredeck to put the thing up, anyway. The Rotostay roller reefing for the genoa was reconditioned at the factory, as its bearings were worn. We replaced the running rigging ourselves, keeping the old ropes as spare warps, which are always useful. It's surprising how many expensive yachts are let down by a lack of sufficient decent rope - we've had to lend ours on numerous occasions.

When the mast was unstepped, it became apparent that its base was badly corroded, so about six inches had to be sawn off and the base sleeved. This made the boom too low, but I didn't want to move the gooseneck (more holes, more delay, more expense) so I just had the main re-cut to raise the end of the boom. Some of the electrical cables in the mast were replaced at the same time, as was the B and G Wind Instrument Transducer.