My Travel Blog

Disaster Has Struck The Rabelo!

Disaster has struck.  What will we do? The day started out crisp and clear.  Fall was in the air as the first frost covered our deck.  We had successfully transited the Tunnel de Mauvages and the shallow summit pond the day before.  Bar-Le-Duc was just 38 locks and 40 kilometers ahead.  I was at the helm, and had driven Rabelo into the first two locks perfectly.  The countryside was so beautiful and tranquil I even stopped to take a picture at lock number three.

“Lock three with the famous white cows of France in the background.”

When the lock was almost empty I checked the wheel to make sure everything was working right.  To my horror I discovered the wheel would not turn.  I knew what the problem was, and ran to the red shutdown lever to stop the lock.  Just as I was about to stop the lock from emptying any further the doors to the lock began to open.  There was nothing I could do.  We were already at the lower pond level.  I went back to the helm station.  I started to put Rabelo in gear, and a loud bang reverberated through my big baby. The stern dropped ten inches, and I knew it was all over.  I walked back knowing exactly what I would see…absolutely nothing.  The rudder was gone.  It had snapped off, and was lying on the bottom of the lock.

“There’s supposed to be a rudder there.”

There’s that old cliché, “A ship without a rudder.” Well that was Rabelo.  Wilco got on the phone to call the VNF and my boat broker who gave us the number for the insurance agent.  The agent said don’t worry.  Catching the rudder on the small ledge at the back of the lock happens all the time.  He would make all the arrangements.  A diver from Belgium would meet us in four or five hours to retrieve the rudder, and take it back to Belgium for repairs.  He didn’t know how long it would be before we would have our rudder back.  I asked about getting it fixed in France, and was told it would take too long.  It was better to have the work done in Belgium or Holland.

Once things were a little more settled Wilco wanted to back Rabelo down the canal almost two kilometers.  We would have to go through a lock and a narrow bridge to get to the dock where we had spent the night.  I was opposed to the idea, but at least we would have drinking water and as the pond level dropped we wouldn’t have to worry about getting stuck on the bottom. The only problem was we didn’t have a rudder.  Wilco took a line to shore while I handled the engine controls.  He acted as our rudder pulling us in the right direction as needed.  It took us a couple of hours, but we did it.  It was a good thing too.  The pond level continued to drop, and we might have gotten stuck.

“Wilco taking a line ashore to act as our rudder.”

The diver showed up just after five as promised.  He promptly put on his gear while his assistant got everything else ready.  In less than an hour our 700 lbs. rudder was sitting in the back of their van ready for the trip to Belgium.

“Our diver with the help of his assistant getting ready to retrieve our rudder.”

“Our 700 lbs. rudder coming out of the water.”

“The broken rudder shaft.”

“Our rudder finally going into the back of the van.”

-Tom Miller
Author of “The Wave” – 
a Chuck Palmer Adventure novel


About the Author:

Tom Miller graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. He is a consummate adventurer with over 1,000 dives as a recreational scuba diver, and an avid sailor who has traveled 65,000 miles throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Miller has also cruised the canals of Europe on his canal barge and given numerous lectures on cruising the canals of Europe, as well as sailing in the South Pacific. Piloting is also an interest of Miller's, and He has completed over 1,000 hours flying everything from small Cessnas to Lear jets.