A thousand miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, with more than two thousand miles before we saw land again, my crew ‘The Rowgirls’ were sat aboard our rowing boat, and we were worried. The weather had taken a turn for the worst and word of capsizing boats was coming thick and fast. With every passing day another was going over, catapulting terrified crews into the ocean. It was becoming extremely dangerous and our own situation was getting worse.
The rudder was performing badly and we were broaching the waves. Walls of water were tumbling towards us and our fear was rising with every mounting wave. Despite the scary conditions we had to fix rudder; if it broke now we’d be in serious trouble. It would only be a matter of time before we went over.
We stopped rowing. My crewmates Claire and Sue fished out the toolkit and Jo and I disappeared into the cabin. I popped my head out of the little hatch at the back of the boat.
I could see the metal plate that lay on top of the main body of the rudder had come loose and shifted askew whenever we adjusted its direction. The lack of alignment of rudder and plate meant steering was completely useless. The only way to save it now would be to glue in the securing bolts, effectively sticking the plates together. We set to work.
Blindly, I shoved my finger inside a tubular section on the plate, feeling for the nuts that would have to come off so I could cover the stem of the bolts with Sikaflex – a waterproof adhesive. During my investigation I discovered an unused hole, which presumably should have been used for a third bolt – one that probably would have stopped the plates from moving in the first place!
‘Right then girls, we’re going to have to drill through the top, get a bolt through, glue it, glue the others and, ta da, it should be fixed! We have a hand drill, right?’
I measured the placement of the hole in the tube using a pencil, marking its approximate position by scoring the wood with my fingernail. If the measurement was wrong, any drilled hole through the top plate would be a complete waste of time. Unfortunately I wouldn’t know if I’d got it right until we made it through the five-millimeter steel. With the hand drill precariously balanced on the wet slippery metal I slowly began to pierce the metal plate, ducking into the cabin when the waves hit. The drill bit jammed in the metal, came out of the drill and disappeared into the water.
‘Sh*t! The bit’s gone!’
‘That was the only eight millimeter bit we had!’ Claire called from the deck, the toolkit stretched out before her.
‘We’ve only got a six-millimeter left.’
‘That isn’t going to be big enough for the bolt. Damn it. Right, I’ll get the hole done and I’ll think about making it bigger later.’
It took Jo and me three hours to drill the hole, taking it in turns until our knees and bellies became too sore from trying to stay upright, our stomachs banging against the hatch frame, our knees scuffing and slipping about on the cabin floor.
When we finally broke through the metal we screamed with joy. I couldn’t believe it: the hole was right underneath; my rudimentary measuring system had worked! With an axe and a bradawl I hammered round the edges of the hole to widen it until it was just big enough to poke a bolt through.
‘I’ve just dropped the bolt!’
‘For God’s sake! We’ve only got three left!’
Holding each gluey bolt between my teeth, I’d take them, all fingers and thumbs, and carefully push them through the plate, drawing on the forgotten skills gained from playing Operation as a kid. Sikaflex was getting everywhere; as gloopy as children’s snot and as sticky as Superglue it found its way into my hair and all over the cabin.
With the tiny nuts stuck to my fingertips, I reached in to attach them to the base of each bolt, then squirted a meringue-shaped blob of Sikaflex on the top. An hour or two later and the glue would harden and the rudder would be shipshape again. Hey presto!
Although we shouldn’t have bothered, because a day later a monstrous wave hit us and the whole bloody thing fell off the back of the boat!