Little Things

A commercial lobster fisherman was required to have a marine survey on his boat by his insurance company. The boat was a 1960’s vintage, converted U.S. Navy Captain’s Gig.

The owner was an intelligent, experienced, hands-on fisherman. Much of the vessel had been rebuilt, it had a new engine, propulsion components, electronics etc… The vessel had been actively fished for several seasons.

Upon my arrival, the vessel was hauled, the owner was not present. Most components were in good condition however the rudder was loose. The vessel was launched to allow the owner to fish the following morning. The steering system was tested and functioned normally. There was excessive water leaking at the rudder’s packing gland. The packing gland was mostly inaccessible for inspection due to its installation.

The owner returned and we discussed the survey findings, including the loose rudder. The owner was aware of this condition and stated his intention to address it. The owner and boat departed at approximately 5:30 p.m. late on a Monday afternoon. On the following day, Tuesday, at 2:00 p.m., we returned to the same boat yard to haul another vessel for survey. We saw the lobster boat hauled and were surprised to see no rudder behind the propeller.

We found the owner who described losing the rudder while fishing five miles offshore that morning.

Inspecting the rudder revealed a heavily corroded break surface, with two perpendicular channels, apparently for fasteners or pins.
The rudder post had corroded and failed, leaving the vessel without steerage. Fortunately the stub of the post remained in the rudder port, preventing a sudden and catastrophic flooding.

The moral of the story: It is hard to know which of the findings will manifest as a significant problem. In this case the problem which could have been simply a maintenance issue was in fact a significant mechanical problem and nearly a catastrophic failure. In an attempt to make lemonade the captain said “now I will have replaced all of the important parts of the boat”.