After leaving Opua , New Zealand 5.May, Lovinda too was bound for Noumea, New Caledonia. Headwinds and motorsailing eastwards to start with, and when the wind started turning into the east, we were gradually on track, picking up good sailing speed.
On 7.May, about 320 nautical miles north of Opua we celebrated my crewmate’s 55 year anniversary with cream cake(!) and present. The sailing conditions were excellent, reaching at about 7 kts in 13-15 kts relative winds and about 1 meter swell.
At about 01.40pm, we heard a tremendous crack, like a falling tree, and then the autopilot gave up steering the boat. Turning the steering wheel, but no action, we realized that the rudder was broken. A glimpse over the transom proved most of the rudder hanging under the hull in an awkward position. Before too long, after trying to free and capture the debris, the broken rudder drifted off.
We called Hovedredningssentralen/The Norwegian rescue operations, at Sola, Stavanger, to let them know about our situation. Our insurance company was also informed. Not before too long, RCCNL from New Zealand called back on our satelite telephone. We were out of reach from rescue helicopters or rescue vessels, but were offered redirecting merchant ships in case need of assistance.
We managed to turn the boat around with adding much motor and started returning in the direction of Opua. The boat was very hard to steer, weeming into the increasing contrary winds and breaking waves, and a few seconds later bearing off. We kept on until dark, but without being able to seeing the waves, we decided to heave to with a drogue during the 12 hours of darkness.
Bouncing up and down in the breaking waves the boat started leaking in the middle of the night.
Without knowing the development and source of the leaks, we decided to call for assistance. We found our situation too risky. This was also supported by our insurance company. The boat was made ready to be abandoned. The life raft and grab bags with passports, ships documents and log book were made ready. We called mayday on the VHF and activated the EPIRB. Shortly after we were contacted by LPG/C Bougainville, a Japanese gas tanker with ETA about 11 am in the morning.
In the meantime we managed to find the source of leaks, which was in the chainplate skin fitting of the backstay at the transom, above the waterline. Then we knew that the boat was not sinking. We took measures to seal her off for a later salvage, and marked her to prevent her from being a danger at sea to other, minor vessels. The automatic bilge pump was running and the sea cocks closed, the AIS and anchor lantern activated.
Boarding the “Bougainville” went without problems, and we were soon taken care of by her very friendly and skilful crew. “Bougainville” was heading for Fiji.
When arriving Suva, Fiji 5 days later, we were informed that the insurance company had arranged with a small fishing vessel to pick her up and towing her back to Opua.
My crew flew home from Fiji and I returned to Opua to assist the surveyor with the haulout.
The rudder was broken just below the waterline, revealing the internal metal framework broken in the weldings. What caused this incident, we will probably never know. The surveyor indicated hitting a whale, being attacked by a big fish, or even being hit by a submerged submarine …
For the moment the insurance company is working to prepare repairs and providing a new rudder.
The time factor is vulnerable. If not ready within reasonable time, we have to lay up the boat in NZ until next sailing season, due to the threat of the coming hurricane season. Under these circumstances, I prepared the boat for a long time storage on the hard and flew home, awaiting the development of repairs.