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Better protection from the elements whilst tiller steering



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What is the issue?
Manually steering a vessel via the tiller invariably positions the helmsman at the middle-to-back of the cockpit as the yacht is designed to allow the forward area of the cockpit to be worked by the winch handlers.

The back of the cockpit is unfortunately highly exposed to the elements and when sailing shorthanded line control jammers and sheeting blocks are just out of reach for the helmsman. You can buy telescopic tiller extensions, but these are primarily designed to add side reach, or just slightly forward of athwartship, for beamy boats and they do not allow the helmsman to come directly forward in the cockpit. This leaves the helmsman taking the brunt of the weather whilst staring at a beautiful protected section just a metre in front.

Why address this?
Enduring the elements in this position for an extended period can be wearisome, particularly so when close-hauled in cold and harsh conditions. It also places the helmsman firmly in the back of the cockpit making sail tweaking highly inconvenient.

How to address this?
Add an improvised tiller extension. This enables the helmsman to come right up to the forward end of the cockpit and take cover from wind and spray under the spray dodger - or even the main bulkhead where there is no dodger.

This position often provides a better view and enables easier tweaking access to control lines on the coachroof and the main blocks. It can also be useful in strong winds because it provides added leverage. My first approach to a tiller extension was to use a wooden paddle I happened to have to hand. I sawed the paddle off the bottom piece and bolted the remaining section to the bottom of the tiller, connection end facing out. All that was required to extend the tiller was to insert the top half of the oar into the coupling when required.


Tiller extension approach
Drawing: Tony Gibson


For occasional use, this is a simple solution and works well. However, it will not endure heavy conditions for very long. The final approach we used presented in the drawing can endure almost any conditions. First off we attached two hardwood braces to either side off the tiller and fastened them down with a pair of cross braces made of stainless steel plates as presented. We did not drill the tiller so as not to weaken it. As we had a square cut tiller the system below gripped on perfectly well by tightening down on the dome nut bolts. We liked to be able to take it off but if you want to make it a completely permanent fixture you could epoxy glue the braces to the tiller. We then attached the extension into the braces.

The key to this solution is to enable the extension piece to turn on a bolt in the braces otherwise you have a very long and unwieldy tiller sweeping the entire cockpit. This will be uncomfortable if you have visitors aboard or wish to carry out some fast tacking with extra hands to grind the winches. Likewise, it is a nuisance when the vessel is being controlled by autopilot. Being able to rotate the extension back when it is not required, literally gives you back the cockpit area. I would suggest that the joint be made more sturdy by implementing a removable second bolt to lock the extension in position when in use.

Integrated tiller extension
Drawing: Tony Gibson


Another approach, that is more convenient if a lot less sturdy, is to integrate a tiller extension into the end of the tiller as above. With the use of a bolt and wing nut it may be secured in a folded position with the bolt in slot one, or as a fixed extension in slot two. With the bolt removed the extension can be used on a swivel.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.

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