Still being effectively banned from mainland Europe by the Schengen Agreement, we decided to turn left at the river mouth and head for Scotland. In the North Sea, my hasty installation of the rudder bushings came back to haunt us–as I should have known it would. The bushing internal diameter measurement was a fraction of a millimeter too small, which caused enough binding to disable the trim-tab self-steering.
Handsteering would have been bad enough, except baby Dean was seasick and wanted full time care. The traffic was dense; the fish pots were dense, the wind farms were dense.
The tidal currents rushed around in some incomprehensible pattern, following some enigmatic schedule that had me lost in tables and graphs; the local sailors seem to understand it intuitively. The few times I’d asked local sailing wizard James Tomlinson when the current might be fair, it had all seemed so easy. His eyes would roll up for a moment as he scanned some internal tide table. He’d tap on the barometer, frown for a moment to apply an offset for atmospheric pressure, and then turn with a squint to the masthead. There’d be a slight pause to account for wind direction and speed, then a wistful, relaxed sigh as his mind lovingly ran along the memorized contours of each swatchway, gatway, spit, swale, ness, ooze, salting, and sandbar to determine the tide’s route along the coast. He’d finally say something like: “It’s springs, so if you can scrape down the Medusa by 3:04, you’ll catch the ebb past the Gunfleet through the Wallet, cut across the Rays’n, find that eddy down by the Mouse–you know the one–and hit slack past the overfalls, you’ll ride the flood up the Medway no problem!”
But now we were on our own, and I was chained to the helm and Kara was chained to Dean. The nights were cold, 4℃ / 38℉ and the watches very long. Wind and tide were fickle, and we were not in physical sailing shape. I wore my Swedish fisherman’s suit for days on end, grasping the tiller nervously between wind farms and the fierce North Sea traffic. Anchorages were scarce and the few marinas extravagantly, prohibitively expensive.
And then, after four days of difficult sailing, something wonderful happened. The land rose up in green cliffs and sent out tendrils of rocky land–points, bays, islands…anchorages. The ship traffic tailed off; freighters with names like Global Conquest XII and Strategic Takeover IIII were replaced by small steel fishing boats called Safe Harbor and Annie Marie. Scotland.
We tucked up in the coziest anchorage available and had a long think about the rudder bushings. One of the big advantages of a transom-hung rudder is the ability–at least in theory–to easily unship the rudder even while afloat.
To Kara, it seemed more likely that it would come off just fine but aligning and re-hanging the rudder could be a different matter: we’d be stuck in the Scottish highlands with no steering and a dwindling supply of haggis, which was, at the time, about the only thing Dean would eat.
Reckless and regardless, I removed the retaining pintle, looped a halyard through the rudderhead and winched the rudder up on deck. I spent some hours with fine sandpaper to enlarge the bushings by a few tenths of a millimeter. Then we lowered the rudder roughly into place, with a halyard taking the weight and lines to several winches pulling the rudder roughly into position. I checked the alignment with a chilly dive to the bottom of the keel, and then Kara cast off the halyard.
The sweet, sweet thunk of the rudder falling onto its pins rippled through Sentijn. I touched the tiller with a finger and it slid from my touch, the rudder swinging easy and free. No longer were we slaves to steering.