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Old 13-08-2015, 22:03   #1
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Sheet to tiller self steering

I am finding a ton of YouTube videos on this as well as reading John Lechter's "Self Steering for Sailing Craft".

Is anyone using "sheet to tiller" for long range cruising? If so, how hard to set up?

If not:

1) Did you try?
2) What decided you not to use it?
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Old 14-08-2015, 01:27   #2
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

John Letcher's book is an excellent read for anyone interested in learning about self steering.

Based on his own experiences including a solo trip from LA to Hawaii, the author provides an examination of the balance of forces at play when sailing and applies this to various self steering techniques including sheet-to-tiller as well as wind vanes and includes the information needed to design and build your own.

Well worth the time for anyone interested in expanding their skills and knowledge of sailing. I have seen it mentioned before that cruising is sooooo much more than boat handling and I find this to be a ridiculous justification for why more cruisers aren't better sailors.

Sheet-to-tiller is the simplest and cheapest method of self steering and can be made to work when all others fail.

I tore out the wheel on my boat and installed a tiller for a variety of reasons, being able to set up sheet-to-tiller was one of them. People who have wheels can do so by setting up their emergency tiller.

$10 worth of surgical tubing, a couple small blocks, and some small diameter line and you are in business. Point of sail and kind of boat matter but even fin keep and spade rudders can brought into balance. When you get it going it's like magic. Have fun!
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Old 14-08-2015, 01:56   #3
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

not really reliable unless your boat already has a lot of self steering characteristics. The problem with sheet to tiller steering is that it works until there is any change in conditions, at which point you have to rebalance everything. Having said that, when i used to use this method, i could, in the right conditions, go to sleep on the foredeck between tacks.
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Old 14-08-2015, 02:24   #4
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

The problem with any self steering is that they are all unreliable when conditions change, unless you motor all the time or are sailing dead downwind with twins. Wind vanes, electronic autopilots, and tiller pilots included. Isn't that obvious?

I think you could make the case that dead downwind with twins as seen in the image below is probably the most reliable self steering in existence. The twins don't have to have any shape and can be cut and sewn from flat rectangular panels. Compare to the cost and energy requirements of an electronic autopilot? KISS!
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Old 14-08-2015, 10:54   #5
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

get a powerful autopilot, something like Autohelm (now Raytheon) 6000 and above.
Install an extra solar panel
and you are set

All other solutions are more hobby than business - and please keep in mind, whatever they propose for your boat size, just buy the 6000 and above or similar from another maker- do not settle for a smaller one as you will have restrictions
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Old 14-08-2015, 11:07   #6
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

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Originally Posted by Manos1955 View Post
get a powerful autopilot, something like Autohelm (now Raytheon) 6000 and above.
Install an extra solar panel
and you are set

All other solutions are more hobby than business - and please keep in mind, whatever they propose for your boat size, just buy the 6000 and above or similar from another maker- do not settle for a smaller one as you will have restrictions
LOL, thanks for the suggestions, however this thread is specifically about Sheet to tiller self steering, who has used it, etc.
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Old 14-08-2015, 12:39   #7
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

I've not used it for long distance cruising, but I did rig my Columbia Sabre 32 with a jury-rigged version around the gunnel winches and using some fairleads (it had a bit of resistance built in for that reason).

It worked pretty well, but it did require quite a bit of resetting, even on a boat that kept course very well on its own. I was sailing in a narrow bay however, and couldn't tolerate much bearing drift.

I found that with my particular boat in my particular bay, I could get similar results just tying off the tiller, which was much simpler. If you look at the keel configuration for a Columbia Sabre, you'll see why just tying the tiller allowed that boat to track rail-straight on a heading.

My subsequent boats have all been wheel boats with autopilots, and so I haven't used it since.

Pardon the minor thread drift, but I will say that I don't agree with the assertion that autopilots are somehow "not simple"--they are, or that they're "unreliable"--they are actually quite precise, far more so than helming by hand or by any other manual method. Provide them with power and they work reliably. Especially the simple, inexpensive tiller pilots, which are a piece of cake and low enough power to be reliably powered with a solar panel. They're so cheap and simple that you can have a few of them aboard as spares as well. For long-distance cruising with a tiller boat, I'd strongly recommend looking into using a tiller pilot, and if you're concerned with reliability, get more than one.
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Old 14-08-2015, 12:47   #8
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

Classic Cruiser Forum advice "just throw money at the problem" since mastering the basics takes too much effort.

Mid to upper end auto pilot Manos recommends is like what? $3k for controller and drive not including solar or wind plus the battery bank required to power it?

If you can't balance you boat in the first place you're just going to burn through drive units and use more power.

Anybody who is serious about solo racing doesn't leave the dock without three or four spares. Do they do that because they are "reliable"? Or would they just prefer to spend their money on electronics instead of things like new sails?
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Old 14-08-2015, 13:45   #9
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

Manyt boats will sail themselves hard on the wind and sheet to tiller is fairly easy to set up for DDW. It's the reaching conditions that are the challenge. You have a boat that should be pretty directionally stable and worth experimenting with sheet to tiller. Good luck in getting it to work, however. Haven't heard anyone claiming to use sheet to tiller for making long passages recently though there may be a few die hards out there who had their auto pilots go tits up.

If self steering vane works on your boat, see no reason it shouldn't, would go that route. If you just want to play around, have at it.
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Old 14-08-2015, 13:55   #10
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

[delancy;The problem with any self steering is that they are all unreliable when conditions change, unless you motor all the time or are sailing dead downwind with twins. Wind vanes, electronic autopilots, and tiller pilots included. Isn't that obvious?]

not really - i would say that is a broad generalisation that offers no useful information at all. There are considerable differences in the extent to which each of these types of steering are reliable eg., in the same circumstances a sheet/tiller system will fall off the wind, a windvane will shift vessel bearing but maintain power, and an autopilot will lose vessel power by trying to maintain bearing as the wind shifts. The problem with arguments of this type is in occasionally misleading people into costly mistakes when it comes to choosing a type of self steering for their circumstances. If I was to make a broad generalisation I'd say - harbour sailing = autopilot; coastal sailing = autopilot or sheet/tiller if you love tinkering; ocean sailing = windvane unless you have money to burn in which case you're probably in a helicopter...
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Old 14-08-2015, 15:40   #11
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

A brand new tiller pilot is $440 at West Marine and cheaper everywhere else. That's hardly "throwing money at the problem"--you'll be nearly that much money in sheets and blocks to solve the problem unless you've already got them laying around.

If you really want to understand tiller self steering and play around with it for its own sake or because you're not doing any electronics on your boat, then by all means set it up. If you want to keep a straight course without your hand on the tiller reliably, get a tiller pilot.
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Old 14-08-2015, 15:46   #12
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

Meh. John Letcher made a passage of nearly 2,500 miles from LA to Hawaii in the seventies using sheet to tiller.

He made the passage with the boat on the cover of the book he wrote.

Not sure what is costly or misleading except for saying you can't make a passage without buying expensive gear.
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Old 14-08-2015, 15:49   #13
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

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Originally Posted by mstrebe View Post
A brand new tiller pilot is $440 at West Marine and cheaper everywhere else. That's hardly "throwing money at the problem"--you'll be nearly that much money in sheets and blocks to solve the problem unless you've already got them laying around.

If you really want to understand tiller self steering and play around with it for its own sake or because you're not doing any electronics on your boat, then by all means set it up. If you want to keep a straight course without your hand on the tiller reliably, get a tiller pilot.
I did reference specifically Manos recommendation for a spendy unit. He wasn't recommending a $440 tiller pilot. What size boat are we talking here anyway? That $440 tiller pilot is good up to what displacement? 10,000 lbs? The OP's boat weighs in at 14,000 lbs.

Tiller pilots are fine, easier to replace or ship off for repairs than a below deck unit.
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Old 14-08-2015, 15:56   #14
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

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Originally Posted by Delancey View Post
I did reference specifically Manos recommendation for a spendy unit.
Ah--I see that now.
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Old 14-08-2015, 16:18   #15
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Re: Sheet to tiller self steering

After he outgrew "Island Girl" Letcher designed "Aluetka" as seen below, which he successfully cruised to Alaska using sheet to tiller.
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