National Geographic : 1971 Jan
KODACHROMES BYCARLOMAURI ) N.G.S. Disaster: a steering oar breaks IT HAPPENS during my watch. A superwave comes from behind, lifting us up, up, up. As the hiss ing giant passes under us, Ra II tilts nose down and tail up, surf ing into a deep trough. Just as we tip over the breaking crest, I hear timber crack violently. Turning, I see the blade of one of the two steering oars hanging loose in its ropes. Our port oar shaft, a log the size of a telephone pole, has broken like a toothpick! Ra II turns sideways, helpless before the furious ocean. The sail beats like gunfire against the mast, and green water bursts over us. Rough and discouraging hours follow, for we are unable to keep our stern to the seas. All but swamped, our topsides soaked, we start to sink again! What to do? First, to keep the mainsail out of the waves, we twist the yard fore and aft and reef the sail. Our second job-and the most critical-is to improvise a new steering oar. From a cardboard carton I make a 1/100th scale model of the broken pieces. Turn ing them around, I discover that if we use the longest shaft section and attach it to the upper end of the undamaged blade, it will just reach the floor of the bridge. Immediately I cut new holes for lashing the shaft to the blade. With Madani's help, I chisel it flat for attachment (left). "We fought against time," I re cord in the log. "All of us extreme ly tired, often working in water that broke to our necks. Finally everything was ready for inserting the new short oar, heavy as iron. Waited for medium-size waves, then rushed the log astern, up on end, tip of large blade into water with loops ready to tighten around its neck. One-two-three, and there it was..... Since we can no longer reach the tiller on this stunted oar, the helmsman hereafter must turn it one way with a long bamboo rod and the other way with a rope tied to his foot, at the same time steering the unbroken starboard oar with his right hand. The wave that broke the port oar has also jammed the star board one. Swept by waves (op posite), Kei hacks a larger open ing in the wooden fork holding it. After two wild days out of con trol, we finally resume sailing, and I sleep as if dead.