Well, I didn’t actually break it myself, but I was steering when it broke. It was an exciting afternoon.
The Jumbo Mark II class ferries run by the Washington State Ferry Service are 460 feet long, 90 feet wide, generate over 13,000 horsepower and have a service speed of 19 knots. They carry over 200 vehicles and 2500 people on scheduled voyages across Puget Sound. They are the largest double-ended vehicle/passenger vessels in the world. There is one propeller and one rudder on each end of the ship so that by switching the controls from one pilothouse to the other, the ship is always going forward (picture Dr. Doolittle’s “Pushme-Pullyou).
We were on our regularly scheduled afternoon run to Bainbridge Island. We had a pretty full load. There were gale warnings in effect and the wind was blowing over 30 knots. The ship was riding pretty well with the wind and seas on the port bow and everything seems to be going well. Then, as we made our turn to starboard to enter Eagle Harbor, we felt a WHAM!! followed by a heavy shuddering throughout the ship. It was immediately apparent that we had lost control of our bow rudder and that it had “flopped” over to starboard. This is not a good thing when you are moving along at a pretty good clip. It is tough on the equipment.
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We limped into port, discharged our passengers and the engineers tried to figure out what had caused the problem. It was unlikely that the Coast Guard was going to let us carry passengers again until we had gotten it fixed.
A short time later, the Captain and Chief Engineer decided to take us out for a little sea trial to see if we could re-create the problem in a controlled environment. We threw off the lines and headed back out into the Sound. We had just come back up to speed and were making a turn to the left when, WHAM!!, Shudder, Shudder, Shudder, we did it again… This time it was the rudder on the other end of the ship.
We definitely had some kind of electronic control problem, but unfortunately, when the rudder flopped over this time, it did some serious damage to one of the hydraulic rams that actuate that rudder. The engineer popped his head out of the hatch and said, “I think that we’re done for the day…” So we limped back into port again and tied her up for the night.
This was my first day working with this crew. “Way to go, Dan, you broke the boat!”