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  #11  
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 self-steering...so 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.

Jack
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Old 11-03-2004
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Tiller vs. Wheel

Incredible feedback. Thanks folks... Please do not let this response take this full circle and kill the conversation, but I have to acknowledge my thanks and make a few comments:

To Silmaril and Woosh - I heard you both say in your posts (hope I interpreted correctly) that 2 pro''s for the tiller are and an advantage steering to weather, and the reduced "Murphy Factor." Those are at the top of my list too.

To DelmarRey - great input, thank you. We think alike, you wouldn''t be an engineer too, would you??

Billpjr - I agree with you! In fact, I think the single biggest reason wheels are so popular is the "yachtie factor." I am an engineer working in the marine industry, and while I''m not a yacht designer, I can''t believe "design limitations" are the reason we don''t see more tillers on larger boats. Over a certain size, the loads have to get ridiculous and it becomes a "design preference", or a "favorable trade-off" of course, but I can''t believe there are limitations in designing-in balance per se.

SVZephyr44 - Thank you, appreciate your reminder about quick, responsive turning in tight quarters... I remember trying to turn a tight corner in a marina in wheel-steered 36''. I thought it would spin forever - long after... I... hit... that... CATAMARAN!!!

In summary - If its the "decision point" on the next vessel, I''ll be more confident in compromising to a wheel, but the input here encourages me to keep tiller-steering in the "pro" column.

Not sure if everyone reading this will agree with my conclusion, but that''s what I get out of it.

Sincerest thanks for all the feedback!

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Tiller vs. Wheel

Paisan,

No I''m not an engineer, but the next best thing. A Mechin-ic (Maintenance Machinist/Toolmaker)35 years worth.

As for the tiller, the thing I like to do that catches the eye, is when I''m looking for a spot to drop the hook. I find just the right spot then I pop it in neutral, crank the ole tiller to 80 degrees and the boat spins around on it''s fin keel about two - three rotations and comes to a dead stop right where I want it.

The nice thing about a wheel is everything can be mounted right there. ie. Compass, motor controls, GPS, wind/water instruments and radio mic all within reach. Much like a powerboat. With the tiller everything is scattered all around the edges of the aft cockpit..........._/)
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Old 11-04-2004
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Tiller vs. Wheel

Del & the group:

"The nice thing about a wheel is everything can be mounted right there. ie. Compass, motor controls, etc.... With the tiller everything is scattered all around the edges of the aft cockpit"

We''ve had the good fortune to see a LOT of N European sailboats now. In the 8-12M range, I find it interesting (and instructive) how three basic design features have become default standards, among many different types of manufacturers. They each are very fucntional:

1. The ''standard'' Euro layout: quarter cabin opposite aft head (which can be more easily used underway), forward facing chart table opposite ''L'' galley, and opposing settees with center table, then V-berth forward.
2. Fractional sloop rigs
3. Tiller-steering in the cockpits with instrument clusters having a home in their own pod, on the centerline and above the companionway. The only exception to this might be an autopilot control unit, since reaching for a button on it makes such a location somewhat awkward. Otherwise, large digital displays make this location quite functional. It eliminates the obstruction they can be when on a pedestal, and the displays are viewable from anywhere in the cockpit (even when cowering behind the dodger!) rather than being viewed only when at the aft end of the cockpit.

Jack
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Tiller vs. Wheel

I have to strongly agree with Jack on this that a tiller is very preferable on a resonably modern boat that is less than 12 meters and that it is only US prejudice for wheels that make them so common over here. With a tiller it is easy to place the controls where they fall easily to hand while on the tiller and also placing instuments on the bulkhead or on a pod over the companionway, allows you to see both the jib slot and your instruments. Placing instruments on the wheel pod makes them only visible to the helmsman when motoring.

A tiller also has the advantage of allowing you to move around the cockpit using the tiller extension so that you can make adjustments and still keep a hand on the helm.

Jeff
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Tiller vs. Wheel

Jeff & the Group:

"Placing instruments on the wheel pod makes them only visible to the helmsman when motoring."

Errr...that last word...could that have something to do with wheels on American boats, do we think?

Jack
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Tiller vs. Wheel

Jack:

Have you found that we in the States tend to use our motors more than they do in Europe?

I know that Europeans tend to have longer holiday''s than we tend to have and so might feel less of a time crunch than we tend to. On the other hand I understand that Eurpoeans generally make longer hops and overnight passages which seems to be less common in the States. The Europeans also seem to tend more towards higher performance cruisers more than we do.I think they also have more consistent winds then we tend to have at least on the US Atlantic Coast. They also have higher fuel costs. All of that would suggest less engine hours per hour underway. Have you observed that to really be the case?

Regards,
Jeff
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Old 11-05-2004
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Tiller vs. Wheel

I have wondered if the American preference for certain features such as wheels isn''t related to how you come into sailing. Could it be that a higher percentage of cruising sailboat owners in Europe learned in a dinghy? Looking around our harbor, most people have jumped right into big boats. For someone like that a wheel is vastly preferable. That could explain a lot.
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Tiller vs. Wheel

I am not sure whether it is a matter of a wheel being ''vastly preferable to people who start sailing on big boats'' or that people who start sailing on big boats simply have not experienced how vastly preferable a tiller can be.

Jeff
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Tiller vs. Wheel

Jeff, we are saying the same thing. People who have no experience with tillers don''t undertand how nice they are, and therefore they prefer wheels. My question was whether a higher percentage of American sailors have not used a tiller compared to Europeans.

Getting back to the original question, I agree with the advantages listed for tillers. They are sweet, especially upwind. I have raced single handed without an autopilot, using a tiller with a line strung around the deck. Jibed the chute steering from the foredeck by pulling the line. Wheels have their points though; prefer a wheel driving downwind in big seas, or motoring with a rudder that kicks sideways from the prop wash.

Like almost everything with boats, pro''s and con''s, take your choice.....
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