Rudders – Kind of a Big Deal

I had a fright this afternoon on Lake Harriet.  I am chronicling it hear so that I will never make this mistake again.

Xiaowen and I took out a Catalina Capri 16.5′ on Lake Harriet.  It was a very brisk day for small boats, winds gusting up over 15, steady at 10-13.  Our club boats are moored to buoys in a buoy field, and typically you row them with a tender (rowboat) to the dock to rig them up and take’em out.  Towing her through the field was mighty tricky as the waves were extremely choppy.

But we got the boat to the dock, rigged her up, and shoved off the dock on a port tack.  Or so we thought.  Then we started going backwards, drifting towards the boats in the buoy field and the shore.  I had no idea why the boat wasn’t responding.  At first I thought maybe I just was stuck in irons, the bow  pointing into the wind.  But it was obvious that this was not the case as no matter how I adjusted the sail trim, I couldn’t get any forward momentum.  Steering seemed really unresponsive.

We were just about to crash into a boat in the buoy field, and monetarily entangled a spar, but Xiaowen was able to grab an oar from our hold and push us a way.  We didn’t hurt the moored boat, thank god.  We did however assemble a crowd, as folks from the shore (non sailors, thankfully) watched our pathetic drift through a crowded buoy field towards the shore.

I was just about out of ideas when I finally realized that the issue must be the steering.  I looked at the rudder, and what do you know, it’s retractable!  Wow, don’t think I’d seen one of those before.  And of course the rudder was in the retracted position, not in the water.  That’s like trying to drive a car with a steering wheel hooked up to nothing.

I pressed the rudder down into the water, caught the wind, and instantly we were under way, a mere ten feet from getting stuck in the weeds by shore.

I managed to sail us through the buoy field and onto the open lake without any damage, except some shredded nerves and a maybe a wounded pride.  Still, it was definetly touch and go, and not a situation I’d like to find myself in again.

So next time during my pre-dock departure mental checklist, I am certainly checking out the rudder, and making sure it is IN the water before shoving off.

I’ll try and make my next sailing post a happy one!

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