Is there anything I can do if I lose my rudder?

Losing ones rudder is with, sinking, fire, and dismasting one of the major calamity’s that can happen to you out in the ocean. Many yachts have been abounded because of a broken rudder.

I have had rudder problems two times, first in 1962 and then in 1974. Luckily no harm was done either time.


The first time it was with Blekingsekan a not very seaworthy boat. I acquired her to be a shelter for me and my belongings. I only intended to move her along the coast in good weather.

I had left Halmstad in the morning and was sailing south into a strong breeze bound for Torekov on Bjärehalvön. It was about 20 miles distant. I had crossed Laholmsbukten. It had had a lee shore. The wind had been forward of the beam. I had had problems getting my boat to point high enough. Blekingsekan was not a very weatherly craft and progress had been slow.

It was late August with most of summer gone. The sun had set many hoers ago. Blekingsekan was not really intended for this kind of sailing but I had grown impatient with Halmstad and wanted to press on.

I had no navigation lights and no compass. I had a kerosene lamp but it was in the cabin and at the moment it was of no use to me, as I could not open its door. The door was blocked by the piece of plywood that I was sitting on.

I used the plywood to prevent the waves that were constantly breaking over the boat from swamping it. In that situation there was no way I could look at my small scale chart that covered a large part of the coast and was not detailed. I did not have a very clear idea of the lay of the port I was to enter. Darkness had come to soon or rather my progress had been much slower than I had anticipated due to a contrary wind change.

It was early in the morning and very dark before sunrise. I had been sailing for more than sixteen hoers, but finally I was so close that I could see the outline of the little fishing harbor. I headed in that direction and hit a rock.

In the turmoil, of the darkness and breaking waves the rudder got a knock and fell of its gudgeon’s. It did not float away as I had attached it with a string, made of hemp in those days before manmade fibers. I jumped in the water pushed my small, shallow draft, but now rudderless boat of the rock. It was a crucial moment.

But in a flash I had a solution.

My grandfather went to sea when he was 13 years old. He sailed the big square riggers for many years. Five years later he was back in Sweden. In his seabag there was a purse containing gold coins that paid for his navigation school where he got his Masters papers. I understood that he was very found of those years but never really spoke of them as he was a taciturn man. He had books of sailing ships and a scale model. During childhood I had looked at the model many a times. One thing that had struck me was that it had such a tiny rudder.

I once picked up courage and asked him about it.

“We steered with the sails. The rudder was only there for trimming.” He answered tersely, but it had been enough for me.

Now in that dark windy night I remembered his words.

I sheeted in the aft sail, and shore enough, now she headed up into the wind. By adjusting the sails of Blekingsekan, who was in fact a small schooner, I got her safely to the dock.

Next day in daylight and when the wind had eased it was no problem to hang the rudder on its fittings.

Many years later I found the book: The Way of a Ship (1953 Charles Scribner’s Sons) by Alan Villiers among the belongings that had been my late grandfathers. The book describes in deatail how a square rigger is handled. It is a very interesting book, well worth reading even if you are small boat sailor.

Modern times have seen the development of the windsurfer. Even that is a sail powered craft with no rudder. The sail and crew is moved to stear the craft. The steering of smallest and the biggest sailing craft are using a similar idea.


The secound time I lost stearing was less dramatic, even fun. The boat was my first Bris, the one I built in my mothers basement. I was approaching Martinique in the Carrabien coming up from Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. At that time I had sailed Bris many thousands of miles and knew her very well. She was a simple and uncomplicated boat without an engine or electricity.

She did not have a windvane selfsteering apparatus I made her selfsteer by balansing her sails and moving her center of gravity. Sheating in her mainsail made her sail closer to the wind. Walking forward on her deck made her sail closer to the wind. Mowing my weight to windward made her sail closer to the wind and so on.

I had an inside stearing wheel for adjusting the rudder. The wheel was connected to the rudder quadrant by wires.

Crossing the Douldrums there had been a lot of heavy squalls. It had frayed the wires. Now they were quite worn. As I was closing in on Martininique the wire broke. I went up on deck to steer her with my weight. By walking forward and aft, mowing to lee or to windward I had complete control.

Towards evening I reached bay of Fort du France. The anchorage was filled with boats but with ease I tacked between the closely anchored yachts and found myself a nice spot in relatively shallow water. There at leisure I dropped my anchor.

A few days later when I had settled down after the about the about 3800 miles long sail I changed the wire for a spare one I had carried for years.


An intenet search for “lost rudder” gets plenty of responses. The problem is well known and frequent despite the danger it puts yachts into.

The present Exlex is a three masted shooner. Her sail area is well spread out fore and aft. When I sheet in the aft sail she will sail closer to the wind.

The first and secound masts are all the way up in the bow. They are freestanding. That allows the sails to be let out more than 90°. If I sail wing on wing, having the two forward sails out one on each side and sheated out more than 90° it will create a very stable downwind configuration.

Exlex lateral area will also help, as instead of fixed keel, there is a daggerboard that can be raised thus giving her lee helm when desired. I can thuse be give Exlex weather helm or lee helm as desired.

Exlex have a spoonbow that does not grip the water running downwind. It reduces her tendency to broach too.


In conclusion. In the unlikely event of Exlex losing her overbuilt rudder I have some ideas to help me to figure out a way to steer her. A broken rudder will be inconvinient but hopefully no catastrophe.