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Sawzall and sledge solve steering failure

Jan 1, 2003

When a piece of equipment that is supposed to move becomes stuck in place, one way to attack the problem is to get a bigger hammerbash the daylights out of whatever is stuck. This theory proved successful for New Hampshire sailor Cleave Horton who, when attempting to remove a frozen rudder from his 40-foot Norseman sloop, applied to the problem a bit of Yankee ingenuity, some unabashed slashing of the hull with a reciprocating saw, and 25 blows with a long-handled sledge.

The yacht's steering system had begun to stiffen, and Horton initially figured the bearings needed lubrication. He squeezed in a generous supply of waterproof grease. This helped at first, but the problem soon became extreme, and the rudder eventually froze.

The yacht was hauled at the end of the 1999 season and placed on stands at his home in Barrington, N.H. He then began the disassembly process. There was one bright moment: discovering that a mystery tool he had grudgingly kept for 12 years in his toolbox was intended to remove the rudder stock's collar. The tool had come with the boat, which Horton bought in 1988 and has since sailed numerous times to and from Bermuda and the Caribbean.

"The tool is a funny-shaped handle with a pin sticking out. It fits a collar that is threaded on the rudder stock. It is vital because the collar is recessed into the helm seat. Only on contemplating disassembly did I remember its shape and what it would fit!" Horton said. While the collar came off easily, the same cannot be said of the rudder itself.

First, a deep hole needed to be dug under the yacht's stern, and then the rudder stock's bearing system was examined. Horton found that the upper, inner race, which was made of aluminum, had essentially welded itself to the rudder's steel stock, preventing the rudder from being dropped for service.

"The manufacturer told me that the piece was not supposed to come in contact with water, which, of course, it did, since it's almost impossible to keep this area completely dry," he said. "So, we took the cover and collar off the top of the rudder head, put an aluminum plate over the top to protect it, and then gave it 25 blows with a sledge. (Using a short-handled hammer didn't even budge the thing.) But it eventually came out of the boat."

Horton also demolished sections of the hull's framing around the outer race, which had been built into the hull, a trend apparently common on yachts of this vintage. "I won't be surprised if a lot of people who try to replace their rudder bearings discover that the races are built into the boat," Horton said.

He has since ordered stainless-steel replacement races from Edson in New Bedford, Mass., and will fabricate a tube of fiberglass, to be bonded to theframes, to accommodate the new system.

Edson's rudder roller-bearing system is a new design of John Huggett, president of Edson Europe, and is intended to be a long-lastingbut replaceablepiece of equipment, according to Will Keene, president of Edson International. "We think that a boat's rudder roller bearing should be something that can be replaced simply, without someone having to take a Sawzall to the boat, like Cleave had to." The new system has been installed on several new lines of yachts, including the Starlight 46, produced by the British yard Rival Bowman.