Is a cracked rudder blade a common failure?

Fred P

Is a cracked new style rudder blade a common failure? What causes it?
I was out today in some heavy air and noticed a crack when I got home. I just bought the boat and don't know if the crack was there when I got it or if I did it.
A cracked rudder blade is indeed a common failure - just like laziness, rudeness and lack of courtesy to one's elders by modern youth. The cause is poor parenting, too much MTV and neglecting to floss. Just remember to allow anyone on port tack over the age of 50 to cross in front of you and you will never have this problem again.
Check page 344 of the Sunfish Bible for repairs to different types of rudder cracks and other rudder problems due to wear. SF Bible is available through the SF Class page. Good Luck.
If you don't want to mess with it, call Stu at Ellies Sailing Shop in 727-442-3281 in Clearwater, Florida. He will sell you a new one hand made by him, better than the original for about $75.00 + shipping. His blades are a masterpiece and it is almost a shame to use them.
The day after I read your post I went sailing and guess what I found... a large crack dead-center running half the length of the rudder blade. My Sunfish is a 2002 and has seen very little use. Have you contacted Vanguard to see what they have to say? I might make a new one with a harder wood.
My boat is a '79 and I have to assume the rudder is from the same era. The crack on mine is not dead center it's more toward the top of the blade and runs a little less than half of the blade length. I have not contacted Vanguard because of the age of the boat and because I don't know its history. (I just got it used.) I am in the process of getting a home-made mahogany blade. I think the older boats used mahogany. It seems to me there's a high risk of blade cracks because of the way the tiller is attached and how the blade sits in the water. In one of the posts I saw, it was stated that the rudder would have much less stress if the blade was more vertical but that this is illegal for racing.
Anybody else out there with more info??

The angle rule might be changed to a 15 degree I think it is. At the NA's we discussed the possibility of changing our rudder design and the degree of the rudder. I believe the class is going through the steps now to get this changed. Won’t happen soon but its something to look forward to. Also the crack in your rudder can be fixed with some fiberglass and resin or high quality glue. I just fixed one up for our jr sailing and I used gorilla glue on the crack then clamped it. Then I fiber glassed over the crack and it seems to have strengthened it quite a bit so you might not have to make a new rudder.
hope that helped u guys
Hi All,

Over the past 4 years, we have had 3 rudders that have developed sever cracks and one that completely failed! The 3 that cracked are from older boats (mid-80's) and one that failed is from a 2000. As Joe noted above, it is pretty easy to fix the "cracked" ones with glue/epoxy and some fiberglass. But regardless of how easy it is to fix a cracked rudder, there is obviously a flaw with the current design as it frequently exceeds the structural limits of the materials used.

It seems to me that the Class Association has two options:
#1. Reduce the angel of the rudder (as Joe suggests), and in effect reduce the loading it encounters.
#2. Replace the current wood rudder with a composite rudder that is engineered to handle the loads encountered.

Each has its good and bad points.

#1 Good: Most cost effective because wood is cheaper then a composite.
#1 Bad: May cause a noticeable change in performance between “current” and “new” design.

#2 Good: Will have the least impact on performance between “current” and “new” design.
#2 Bad: Will cost more!

I assume that others have opinions on this, and am looking forward to hearing them.

Best regards,

ken from what i understood at the meeting we are looking into a blade that is a smaller angle and is composite. it would use the same cheek plates and tiller so we wouldnt be replacing those.
Exactly what did you do to your cracked rudder with glue and fiberglass? I am not familiar with working with fiberglass. How do you get glue into a narrow crack and what do you do with the fiberglass? Do you expand the crack somehow?
Go to West Systems Epoxy web page ( look for the users manual and about 3/4s down the page, it will tell you how to apply the glass cloth to your blade. Surface preperation is important and is explained earlier in the article. To get glue into the crack, some people use a cyanoacrylate (instant) glue if the crack is tight. This thin glue will wick its way into the crack. If the crack is open, sqeeze a little epoxy into the crack and clamp until set, wipeing off any squeeze out. Then you can cover the blade with fiberglass. If you want to further reinfoce the crack, pg 344 of the SF Bible has suggestions. If you get epoxy into the bolt holes, no problem, just drill out the holes as you put the hardware back on. Wrapping the blade with fiberglass in legal per the ISCA rules. A few coats of varnish over the fiberglass will protect the fiberglass from UV rays. Good luck.
I fixed a blade on one of my older fish by 1: using waterproof glue and clapmps 2: drilling a hole 3/4 of the way through from the back of the blade, fill it with epoxy and a long stainless steel wood screw 3: make a paste with the drill shavings and epoxy and fill the hole back in. 4: glass or varnish over the repair.

Good luck!

As I said in a previous post, I got a home-made mahogany blade to replace the cracked one. All the other suggestions were welcomed and informative but too much trouble for me. I did use professional super glue on the old blade crack to finish out the sailing season but the new blade is ready for next season. The blade maker puts a hardwood dowl through the blade above the tiller hole and uses a nylon insert in a larger tiller hole to strenghten the blade and reduce the stress where most cracks occur. He also uses Central American mahogany which he claims is better than the kind the factory uses. Sounds like he knows what he's doing and I have confidence in his work.

The following is how I fixed my cracking rudder and I got another 25 years out of it. No need to mess with fiberglas. Using a doweling jig, available at your local woodworking store, drill 2-3 deep holes on the back edge of the rudder, 3/8 diameter, on both sides of the hole(s) where the bolts and pin go through. Prepare the wooden pins from a standard 3/8 dowel and glue with epoxy. You will notice the factory installed a metalic pin here as well,( I've never heard of anyone speak of this pin ) which appears to be insufficient in preventing these splits. All the new rudders I make now incorporate these dowel pins. This is a problem I don't expect to ever have to deal with again. Feel free to contact me regarding any questions you may have on making this repair. Al Courtines [email protected]
There was an article in the Windward Leg severial yers ago where Brian Weeks described how to pin a rudder to repair splits. If IRRC he used 10-32 threaded stainless rod and epoxy. I've done several using his method before they started to crack and I've had little trouble and that's with quite a few beaching and rock hits.
Back issues of the Leg are available through the class office.