Today’s Lesson: How to Remove a Trailing Rudder (and why there’s never time to do it right, always time to do it twice)

Well. Where to begin?

You may remember that we mentioned our rudder had a little play between the shaft and the rudder cap, and that we eventually discovered there was a key that was holding the two together, as well as a pin. This was a problem that was first noted on the previous owner’s 2005 survey (when he was buying the boat) — so it’s been an issue for a long time.

Last fall we decided that the key and pin were good enough. This January, when we were in the workyard in San Carlos, we decided again that we wouldn’t pull the rudder and investigate further — we’d just trust (hope??) that the key and pin were good enough.

The problem though, is that just like that key that was getting slowly worn down in the rudder shaft, our confidence in our rudder was also getting worn down. We were hitting 8+ knots surfing down waves in to Puerto Vallarta, and all either of us could think was “I wonder how much stress this is putting on that rudder”. No good.

We started looking in to options for hauling the boat down here — which I’m going to write more about later 🙂 — and then the clincher happened: despite our new engine mounts and careful alignment, we had some serious vibration going on. Having confirmed nothing was wrapped on the prop, a bent prop shaft was our next top suspect… so we decided to bite the (expensive) bullet, and haul the boat again.

You’d think we just like living in work yards or something 😉

Anyways, because I found woefully few resources on how to remove a full keel sailboat’s trailing rudder AND because I had a lot of concerns about how much work this would be (how heavy is a rudder? how will we move it? what if everything’s stuck? what if we break something? what if there’s a monster living in there?!?) I’m sharing how it went for us…

Starting with getting hauled; this was the first time we’d been hauled in a Travelift (although I imagine Brio has been hauled by one many times in the past — just not with us)

Hauling out at La Cruz Shipyard - our first time in a TraveliftOne of the things we weren’t 100% sure of was where the straps should go. We tried lifting with them at this point (just aft of the gate) but made the yard drop us back down when we realized the strap was sitting half on our rudder shoe / half on the keel. They moved it forward about a foot (to where the gate is) and then it was all good…

Getting the straps wrong -- at this point they were still on the leading edge of the keel

Always stressful to have your home plucked out of its habitat though… 🙂

Holding on while we're lifted out

We’d been on the boat the whole way up, but they stopped at this point, tipped the bow forward, and had us climb off!

Tipping the boat so we can climb off

This is the closest we’ve ever been to a palm tree 🙂 It’s quite the tropical work yard experience in the La Cruz Shipyard!

Brio in the palm trees

This is a terrible photo — but it confirmed that we were making the right decision. The pin had worked itself about a third out of the rudder, and then was getting smashed in to the side of the keel. The white that you see is the exposed fibreglass from the pin eating it away.

Very hard to see - rudder pin half out, gauging fibreglass

First order of business was cleaning up all the bronze pieces, propping up the rudder on some blocking (so it couldn’t just fall out) and getting out the big screwdriver. You can see we’ve got 2 of the 5 bolts out of the bottom rudder shoe at this point…

The rudder blocked up high so we could drop it

Since the bronze is fairly soft, and the heads were a little worn from years of sanding etc, we had to haul out our favourite little system for removing extra-stuck bolts (this is also the method we used for removing the super frozen stanchion bolts when we were re-bedding those): Jon holds the screwdriver and hits it with the hammer while I use a crescent wrench to slowly apply turning pressure. Despite the softness of the bolts, we managed to remove all of them this way (and my fears of having to drill out bronze bolts that we might not be able to replace were resolved!).

Our trick for removing really stuck bolts or bolts whose heads are messed up

My next fear? (I had a lot of worry about this project!) Would the rudder shoe come off? Would it have been super-glued on? Thankfully it popped right off with only a little help from a screwdriver…

The rudder shoe ready to come off

The inside of the rudder shoe and bottom of the rudder is exposed!

Inside of the rudder shoe with the bushing visible

This is the “awesome” access that we have to the rudder shaft (that’s the cost of a smaller boat!). It was getting so hot and humid in this little coffin that Jon and I were taking 30-minute “shifts” and switching off whose turn it was to work on removing the steering cables, quadrant, and stuffing box.

Access to the rudder post from the lazarette

At this point it was about 2:30, we’d only been hauled for 5 hours, and we had the prop, prop shaft, prop coupler, rudder shoe, steering cables, and quadrant all off and ready to go. Clearly something had to get hard!

For us it was this damn little key that goes between the rudder shaft and the quadrant:

There had to be something hard about removing a rudder! This key turned out to be it

Despite our best prying, lifting, and Dremel-ing efforts, this thing refused to budge. Who knew something so small could be such a hurdle??

The rudder shaft assembly with stuffing box and hoseIn the end, the top of the rudder shaft provided the solution. Excuse the mess — but this is our emergency tiller access, and we eventually realized that we could pop the bushing up and out…

Top of the rudder shaft (where emergency tiller would attach)

Which gave us enough room to pull the shaft up through the cockpit (rather than dropping it down) with that #*@&-ing key still in place!

Pulling the shaft up and out of the boat throWe were quite impressed with ourselves at this point 😉

Tada! Rudder shaft and packingBrio now looks a little naked…

Brio - without a rudder, rudder shaft, prop, or prop shaft! :(

But we had the rudder etc completely removed by 6:30 that night! 😀

Rudder and Shaft pieces

The next morning we hired a (rather small!) taxi to take us and our pieces to the machine shop. In answer to my worry of what the rudder would weigh: Jon and I can carry it around quite easily, and the rudder and I fit in the backseat of a compact Nissan sedan no problem 🙂

Riding with the rudder in the back of a cabSo now that all the pieces are at the machine shop (new keys, new pins, re-balancing the prop, machining the face of the prop shaft coupler, cleaning the prop shaft — since it’s not actually bent, and building us a stronger emergency tiller)…

At the machine shop with the rudderWe’re just hanging out in our little rented Casita ($16/night), drinking coffee on the porch and waiting for word that they’ve finished!

Coffee and a view

Here’s hoping that “how to reinstall a rudder” won’t even be post-worthy!!





Today’s Lesson: How to Remove a Trailing Rudder (and why there’s never time to do it right, always time to do it twice) — 5 Comments

  1. You make it look so easy! We (ok, fine, DAVE) had some bent prop shaft issues + vibration issues to deal with before we left SF and ended up hauling out the boat multiple times before we got it right. Still had vibration issues throughout Mexico, but eventually we just went with it and never pushed the engine very fast. I hope your problems are solved!

    • Haha well I think we got lucky, mostly! Chasing vibration is just about the bane of my existence… but I think (fingers crossed) we’ve got it for now! What did you guys end up changing / finding in the end??

  2. Hi all
    Good write-up and nice and instructive ‘photo’s’. I have a long keeler too (Super Soverign 35 sloop)and I am trying to get the rudder to “drop” as it has split. Everything is loose except it won’t come through the stuffing gland. Anyway a tip, next time you haul out put a line between the fore and aft slings, our bow sling slipped but, caught before the keel could hit the ground. Hair raising moment as it was for the buying survey examination.Regards, Colm G. Cornwall GB (26/2/’15)

    • Hi guys.
      Just realised that you took the rudder shaft ‘up’ and out-you mean it isn’t welded or such to the rudder- it just slips into a mount in the top of that little bit of rudder and you are going to do some serious sailing in this boat. I hope I have misunderstood your writing.
      Colm G.

  3. Hi Colm,

    Sorry I missed these comments earlier — thanks for stopping by! Yes, agree, the line between the slings is a super good safety — I can’t imagine how it must have felt to have one slip!

    Our rudder is indeed held at the top only. A rather disconcerting discovery that made us extra happy we pulled the whole setup and had it all tuned up. Knock-on-wood, 6000+ miles and two years of cruising later and the rudder has not had any play or movement since.

    How’s your rudder job going? Any luck getting it to drop?

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