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post #10 of Old 11-02-2004
Sailboat Reboot
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Tiller vs. Wheel

Missing for me in this discussion are two elements:

How much racing vs how much cruising the boat is going to do


How skilled and dedicated to "going to the edge" are your crew.

I have sailed with both tiller and wheel. I would never want a tiller on a boat that I was going to take on a long cruise (defined by me as 12+ hours or longer without a stop.) I would also prefer a wheel when I have unskilled guests aboard. They adapt to it better. For racing, that is another story. Yes, the feel of the tiller tells you a lot more.

A quick check of the 300 sailboats in my local marina indicate that the race boats (around the bouy type, not long distance type) have tillers. Everyone else has wheels. I suggest that is because wheels are much more comfortable for casual crusing. And most people do far more casual crusing than racing. This also suggests that tiller boats that are not pure racers would have a lower resale value than a wheel boat of the same make (e.g. our Catalina 42 MK II.)

Yes it is true that a wheel can obscure sail trim, but if you have some way of knowing amount of weather or lee helm you can trim quire successfully with a wheel. Our autopilot has a helm angle indicator that works even when the autopilot is disconnected. We have used it to learn trim. (We are still doing a lot of learning!) But even a knot tied around the wheel at 0 degrees rudder works quite well.

In summary, I suggest that going fast is much more a function of knowing your sail trim, your polars, and your crew than choosing between a tiller and a wheel. No matter what you can feel in the tiller its all about the trimmers, not the steering (at least not until you reach a level of racing far above mine.)

My 2 cents. Worth what you paid for it!
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