CARE AND REPAIR OF YOUR RUDDER      ( lenschoonover@msn.com)

What goes wrong with the Santana rudder is covered elsewhere so I won’t go into that. But, Santana 525 boats were made with rudders of the same construction as most other sailboats in her class. Gel coat (or resin)-over foam-over-stainless. No glass. (There are many choices of products to use for repair, and I chose the West System as it is widely available and it works exactly like the directions say. west book Buy the book 002-550 if you aren’t familiar with working with this stuff. It is a great help. This product is epoxy which is different from the polyester resins used to make your boat. That is a good thing as it doesn’t shrink when curing and can have additives mixed with it to change its properties) When we had Opus out of the water for maintenance, we noticed rust bleeding out of the side of the rudder (below right).

opus rudder out of water This could not be a good thing. Removal of the rudder is easy, just takes two people. Loosen the two top bolts and when you pull the long one out the rudder will fall out (into the hands of the guy down below). First was to sand off the old finishes to find that the rudder had been repaired already ( below).


Opus rudder showing cracks








The fissures or cracks had been filled as they were, and this is the wrong way to do it. If you’re going to try to fill these cracks, they must be opened up first with a tool that makes a V-shaped gouge, then filled (see picture, and see the West System book). If you just fill them as they are, then you have no strength in your repair and they will likely crack again. I opened up the leaky cracks with an old can opener and filled them with thickened resin from West System directions. After curing, sand or file all till flush. My rudder had so many fissures that I could tell there was no hope of re-fixing all of them in a timely manner so I chose to bond a layer of glass cloth over the whole thing. You will need to be able to suspend the rudder as well as lay it down, so plan ahead. The top of the rudder was letting water in around the shaft, so using a dremel tool; I ground a groove where the two materials meet. I also noticed the stainless steel had been worn where it pivots in the body of the boat and I’ll go into repairing this later. The top of the rudder had cracks also, so I ground down the whole thing and planned the following two step fix: Level the top surface of the rudder (my Black and Decker Work mate table was perfect for this).
Rudder shaft
Apply masking tape around the perimeter of the top to hold the resin within (NOTE I left small spots in the top surface un-touched so I would have reference points around the perimeter for the proper height). Now mix up resin using the appropriate hardener for your conditions, pour it onto the top of the rudder and use a tooth pick or similar to work out the bubbles. (Hint- a vibrator sander applied to the body of the rudder quickens this part. The high speed vibrations make those little suckers come right to the surface) Pay particular attention to where the rudder meets the stainless shaft and make sure the resin runs down around the shaft; we want a tight joint here.

Rudder shaft repair
 Now move to step two. (skip this if your shaft is pristine) In my prep, I had sanded the bearing surfaces of the stainless shaft to that I could build the surface back up with a mixture of resin and graphite. Take the left over resin in the cup you had from the top of the rudder, and mix graphite powder into it. Now apply the mixture to the top and bottom where the surface is worn. I use a disposable brush. Some of the mix will run down and mix with your other resin on the top of the rudder but no harm. Let it go. I didn’t need much surface buildup and a thin layer is all that was necessary. Now go away and do something else while it cures. I had a Moosehead, you may like another brand…
rudder with glass cloth
All cured up now so you can commence getting the rudder sides ready for their fix. Change the rudder orientation to make the shaft horizontal and the thin or aft portion straight up. Having prepped the surface with 120 grit or even 80, lay the glass cloth over the rudder and cut off most of the excess. I recommend the thin edge up because if you do it the other way ‘round, the glass won’t join well at the thin part and you will have to do more work later to get your shape back. You want to mix your resin and roll a coat of it onto the surface of the rudder. Then with a helper lay the glass over the rudder making sure it extends over all edges on both sides. Now roll or squeegee more resin into the glass so that you have 100% filling of the glass strands. Work one side then the other. The hardest part for me was getting the bottom surface to lay down flat. I finally gave up and redid it in a later step. Once you are satisfied that you have no air left in the surfaces you can let it set up for an hour or so. Once it is firmed up but still tacky, mix up some more resin and 406 silica to a mayonnaise consistency. Apply with a squeegee and make a thorough coating of this mixture. Fill all those little low spots between the fibers of the strands of glass. We’re going to come back and sand the thing smooth later so put on just enough to fill but not so much to make your work load worse. You don’t want to sand back into the glass, just smooth the surface you added.
sanded rudder
 I’m no expert racer, so I didn’t see the need to blueprint the surface (fairing in sailors terms). I just got it as flat as I could. When this coat sets up for an hour or so come back and look to see if there are any other spots that need more resin. If so, mix up another small batch and put it on those spots. (NOTE if you wait until the resin sets up you will have to deal with washing off the amine blush that occurs when the stuff cures and then sand to have a mechanical bond. Not insurmountable but it is easier if you do these steps before any thing cures up) Now that the coating is thick enough, and you’ve filled all the low spots, take a break. About 12 hours from now you can start sanding. If yours looks like mine did it is a nasty stringy looking mess. You can make short work of the mess with a air powered cut off wheel. But if you don’t have these resources, you can cut through the mess with tin snips. If you are careful, you can start smoothing with 80 grit but it cuts fast so be careful. I went with 120 because it is slower. The end result is that you flatten the high spots down level with the low spots. My preference for sanders is a half-sheet electric pad sander. It leaves no marks and helps keep things flat. A two foot straight edge is very handy to show you where you need to work. Keep in mind that if you cut too deep, you can always mix more epoxy and add some back.

painted rudder
At some point I call it close enough and wipe the whole thing down with acetone in prep for bottom paint. If not finishing with bottom paint then you will need to finish with either gel coat, an epoxy paint that is rated for below the water line or West resin with 207 hardener. Without a proper top coat, you will get degradation from UV. (
VC Offshore bottom paint. with Teflon. Apply outside, fumes are Toxic. )

From here I chose to build up the bearing surfaces for the rudder. It is a simple job and I short cut the whole thing by not going into the boat to remove the rubber hose than connects the upper an lover bearings. I just scuffed the tubes applied the epoxy-graphite mixture and inserted a well waxed rudder shaft. When it had hardened to a soft plastic feel I broke the rudder loose so that the bond would not strong. If there is a secret to this job, it is proper planning, and lots of wax or mould release. Remove the rudder the next day.

top of rudder
Clean up any blobs or run-over areas. Finish with the application of a good waterproof grease and you are back to a like-new condition in the steering department. This method differs from the West book, but if you have no reason to remove the rudder in the first place the you will want to climb into the stern, and follow the instructions in the book.

reparing bearings





One of the most important things to do is to remember to cover the rudder while out of the water. Direct sunlight can over heat the rudder  causing the shell to split.  It is very common to see boats on the hard without rudder protection, and rudder failure is one of the most common  and serious proplems to have.

covered rudder















Author’s note:
1) I particularly like the West pumps for dispensing their product. I have measured epoxy in measuring spoons for years and this is much better.
west system
2)  The mixing pails are top notch too. They clean up for re-use with ease.
3)  What ever product you choose, play with it on some scrap material first until you get used to how it works.
4)  Protective gloves are a must when working with this stuff as you will be using acetone to remove it from your hands or what ever it runs or spills onto.
 5)   A well ventilated area is a must. Either that or wear a properly rated respirator. I’d much rather loose brain cells to the results of the brewmaster than the chemist that made acetone.
6)  sandinf of surfaceAfter sanding, shiny spots are the low spots. Needs another application sanding table















7)  Removing amine blush after epoxy cures.
washing amine blush