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post #9 of Old 06-16-2009
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The modern cruising boat is set up for drinking and dining in a space smaller than the average picnic table (a cockpit) under shelter smaller than the average patio umbrella (a bimini). Frankly, I've had better meals on pointy rocks. The wheel plays into this by giving the illusion of six by four feet of empty space in front of the helmsperson (which makes the boat look bigger even as it puts the weight of a human at the far end of the boat), and by replicating the way a car steers, even if that is not a great model for a boat, because it is the FRONT wheels of a car that steer, not a single large wheel at the back.

Intriguingly, the very first autos of the 1890s sporting in some cases a tiller steering setup, with motive power at the front and a "trailing" steerable wheel at the back. A great deal of the history of car, airplane and boat design is, however, convention and prejudice, not good engineering, and I would say this is the case with wheel vs. tiller. Early small boat wheels, however, were meant to be steered "backwards" to today's set-up, in which the helmsman would stand in front of the wheel, which would be mounted angled up, and would treat it like a tiller with mechanical advantage.

While I would hesitate to work from the tiller outward in determining a boat purchase, some things to consider include why solo distance sailors favour the tiller. Some reasons are that the helmsman stays near the lines; the set-up is mechanically simple and arguably more robust due to fewer points of potential failure; you get "feel" from a tiller that is not available on a wheel that is either mechanically or hydraulically linked; you can make an emergency tiller out of a 2 x 4, or easily carry a spare; and lastly, because of the direct relationship between tiller angle, rudder angle and turning effect, you can rig up self-steering of appreciable subtlety and self-correcting ability. Standing with the tiller between my knees and two hands for the sheets, I feel very connected to all the forces on my boat, and I can "execute" very effectively various tack and gybes by myself, dinghy-fashion. And of course, if you aren't stuck behind a wheel, you can get off the boat and on the dock with a spring line very quickly, because nothing but a coaming and a toe-rail and a lifeline is in your way.

And if you want to eat crabs and drink beer in the cockpit, you can lash it vertically, or remove it with 10 seconds and a wrench. No wheel in the cockpit means more room.

Now, a Cape George 36 is a biggish boat for a tiller, but its transom-hung rudder and full keel make it ideal for tiller work. I don't see that being an issue unless you are a particularly small person. A tiller is, of course, a lever, and even in heavy seas, a longer tiller or an extension will make whatever force you apply with muscle multiply at the end of the rudder, where the steering happens. I customarily steer with my legs, either from handling the main and shifting my hips (I'll leave the visual to you!), or from steering with my feet from the high side while handling the weather sheet around a winch. Sometimes on a long tack I will use the extender, and the force on it a baby could handle, once the trim is right.

I hope this helps.

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