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BAMA Conducts Emergency Steering Training

The Bay Area Multihull Association conducted an emergency-steering training event on Saturday, April 16, in the waters south of Yerba Buena Island. We had torrential rain the morning of the event, but as forecast, the rain passed, and we had wonderful weather for the event, with southwest winds of 10-18 knots, and eventually plenty of sunshine.

To prepare for the event, we had a Zoom webcast on emergency steering methods ahead of the actual on-the-water training (a recording is available here).

For the on-the-water training, we had two Chris White Explorer 44 trimarans, Round Midnight and Caliente. We were intent on trying a few different emergency steering methods. Round Midnight had a new, lighter carbon emergency rudder they were going to deploy. Caliente was looking to test steering with the emergency tiller, plus trying steering with an improvised drogue. Our intention was to try to sail a short course from just south of Yerba Buena Island to the NAS1 buoy [in the South Bay off the old Alameda Naval Air Station] and back again.

Carbon Emergency Rudder

Round Midnight was first to go. sailing away using the emergency rudder. That new emergency rudder is much lighter and was much easier to deploy off the back of the boat than the previous stainless steel emergency rudder.

Deploying carbon rudder on Round Midnight
Crew on Round Midnight deploy the recently built carbon emergency rudder.
© 2022 Truls Myklebust

Round Midnight appeared to make good progress south — that is until they provided too much steering input. The new emergency rudder also allowed for a greater steering angle. That turned out to be too much, and the rudder broke under the forces at play. That was unfortunate, but it’s much better finding out about that during a training event inside the Bay than discovering the problem far offshore in rough conditions after breaking the main rudder. This is precisely why it’s so important to actually do the real-life training!

Explorer 44 Round Midnight sailing
Round Midnight sails away using the emergency rudder
© 2022 Truls Myklebust

Emergency Tiller

On Caliente, we first tried deploying the emergency tiller.

Steering emergency tiller from inside
David Kuettel steering from inside the aft cabin on Caliente using the emergency tiller, with Jim Struble checking the heading on a handheld compass from down below.
© 2022 Truls Myklebust

Using the emergency tiller worked really well, and it was workable using that handheld compass to keep a compass heading. However, it was very disconcerting to steer the boat from down below deck without being able to see where the boat was heading. With this setup, we could keep a compass heading, but the helmsman was completely dependent on a crewmember in the cockpit to keep a lookout and provide signals on where to steer.

Drogue Steering

Next, we tried steering with an improvised drogue. We used an auxiliary anchor with about 15 feet of chain and a large fender, and deployed that with lines run through screacher blocks that we attached to midship cleats on the floats on each side of the boat. Those lines were run to winches in the cockpit.

Deploying improvised drogue
David Kuettel deploying the improvised drogue.
© 2022 Truls Myklebust

The rudder is not easily removable on Caliente, so we left the wheel free to turn during the event. That meant that no real steering input came from the main rudder — which mostly aligned itself with the direction that the boat was heading (or turning). The drogue gave us good steering stability. We had good sail balance with a jib and triple-reefed main. Because we had decent speed too, the NAS1 mark came up in no time.

Steering with lines to drogue
Jim Struble in the cockpit checking the compass heading while managing the drogue control lines.
© 2022 Truls Myklebust

We first tried jibing around the mark, but we found that while we could easily bear away, we were not able to complete a jibe. The boat would not turn through the wind downwind, even with the drogue completely hauled over to the port side. We then tried tacking with the drogue steering. That worked better, but yet again we were unable to complete the turn. The boat would stall out when headed into the wind, and would eventually fall back onto the same tack.

For the tack, it might have worked better if we’d had more mainsail deployed (e.g. just the second reef rather than the third reef), but it would be impractical to have to shake out a reef just to tack, and then put the reef back in again for sail balance afterward. Instead, we fired up the diesel engine and tried to motor our way through the tack, steering with the drogue, and that worked fine. After some struggles stabilizing our course on the opposite tack, we were again able to steer up into the wind and bear away using the drogue steering, and we were able to complete the course.

Overall, it was a very successful event; we learned a lot. This is all about preparing boat and crew to be ready in the event that steering is actually lost in a real-life situation at sea.

Live Crew Overboard Training

BAMA’s next opportunity for practical safety training is our Live Crew Overboard Training event that’s happening on Sunday, May 15, in the waters between the Berkeley Circle and the Richmond Breakwater.  The event is open to both monohulls and multihulls, and is an excellent opportunity to prepare crews for real-life crew overboard recovery, such as for boats preparing for Pacific Cup or other offshore races, or even for crews just sailing right here in the Bay.

It’s been a couple of years since the last time we ran this event — just before the pandemic. For this year’s event, we will allow boats to approach the crew-overboard area with any combination of headsails, including a spinnaker, to simulate what it could be like in real life during a race. More sail and more speed complicate the recovery process. Recovering an actual person from the water is nothing like practicing with a bucket and a fender!

Here’s the link to register your boat for the event: Note that in the interest of safety, there is a four-crew-per-boat minimum requirement (see the event documents posted on Jibeset for details).


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