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post #11 of Old 11-03-2004
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Tiller vs. Wheel

"I would never want a tiller on a boat that I was going to take on a long cruise..."

This observation caught me eye because I''ve just about reached the opposite conclusion. Of course, this is within the context of cruising a 10-11M, 6-8 ton boat vs. one of the larger/heavier boats that seems to be preferred these days. Why would I want to move to a tiller? For long-distance cruising, crew are rarely steering the boat, instead relying on one or more forms of in that regard, the type of steering is incidental. Why the preference for a tiller? First, it''s a far simplier, more bullet-proof system if properly built, something that goes a long way in blue water. Also, it requires little maintenance. Blue water boats demand lots of checks, adjustments & wear-related replacement; the more I can cut down on this, the better. (I almost never checked by Edson steering system. Thinking of going offshore got me very serious about that system and, as it turned out, with good reason on multiple occasions). Third, despite spending this last season in Scandinavia, most of our cruising is done in temperate climates where a cockpit is often the ''living room'' and sometimes the dining room. Folding up the tiller improves the functionality of a cruising cockpit immeasurably. Fourth, I''m sold on a wind vane being the best single self-steering system offshore; it''s relatively simple to repair, becomes stronger when you need it to, as conditions deteriorate, and it''s independent of the electrical system. And wind vane systems have the least control line lossss and simplest arrangements when working with a tiller. And fifth, one can easily add inexpensive accessories to reduce both the loading and the tending of a tiller, making it user friendly.

I realize not everyone sees this preference the same, and Zepher''s quite right to talk about an absence of tillers among cruising boats in American marinas, and a lessened resale value when a cruising boat is equipped that way. We Americans just want a wheel, period. On just about any size boat, and despite the ergonomics of the cockpit suggesting it''s a lousy choice.

But this isn''t at all a common view and one only has to cruise in Europe to appreciate how highly regarded tiller steering is, and how refined tiller-type steering has become. And these folks in some cases sail many, many miles at a time because their seasons are short and their cruising goals are usually quite ambitious for their 2-3-4 week summer holiday period. This doesn''t make their preference for a tiller ''right'' and our wheel fetish wrong, but it does illustrate that there''s more to a good helm than a big wheel.

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