Losing steerage is stressful at the best of times. Losing it when hand-steering gnarly seas that threaten to broach the inattentive sailor, on day one of a four-day sail between countries where the sea state is likely to be worse before it’s better? Hectic! Here’s what happened when steering failed on our recent passage from Colombia to Panama.
Motoring out of the protection in Santa Marta bay (with a small deviation from course to rubberneck the 185’ yacht, M5, pictured above), we quickly entered more boisterous conditions outside the protection of the bay. Steep waves were better managed with hand steering; Jamie worked the helm. Just a few hours out of Santa Marta, Colombia, Totem lurched after a loud bang from the guts of the boat. “We have no steerage!” Jamie called out from the cockpit, instantly in motion.
He dove for the autopilot controls at the companionway: guessing, correctly, that the autopilot would still drive the rudder. Sure enough, it worked and Totem was under control again.
Braced in the nav station, I called to Utopia II over the VHF to let them know our situation. They were just a few miles away—we expected to remain in proximity to them for the duration, and knowing they would be nearby to render aid if necessary was comforting.