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Possible causes:

1. Is the wheel break on? Simple I know, but it's always best to start with the simple things first when diagnosing.

2. Autopiolt set to on, as your wife suggested. Another possibility is that if the ram arm is frozen (assuming a belowdecks pilot), then the wheel would be very difficult to turn, regardless of whether the autopilot is on (this happened to me once).

3. Steering cables WAY over tightened.

4. Rudder is aground.

5. If it's hydraulic sterring (and I'm almost certain it is not), hydraulic fluid could be low.

6. Frozen pulley somewhere in the steering system (which would explain why the steering freed up slightly after WD-40).

7. Steering cable jumped a pulley somwhere.

8. Depending on the steering system, the cables may need to be greased.

There may be other causes for sure, but those are the ones that come to mind. One thing is for sure, it's not merely that because the boat hasn't been used in a while and the steering system needs to stetch like it just woke up or something. Something's wrong, and needs to be addressed. It may not be a big problem or hard to fix, but something is not right.
 
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