To paraphrase the Motown hit by Edwin Starr, Wheels, uh, what are they good for, uh, .....absolutely nothing!!!
I hate wheels. Grab ahold of one on a dark, cold and stormy night and watch it eat your fingers. I find them way more tiring to steer than a tiller. Even on a boat with a heavy weather
helm, they are way tiring than standing trying to hang on to that frigid piece of steel
. Feel, there ain't no feel in a wheel.
Really think that there are a lot of people getting into sailing later in life or from a power boat
background and think anything that moves should be steered by a wheel. They haven't come up through the ranks of small boats and felt the control and sensitivity of a tiller. Also think there is a lot of pure snobberyl to a wheel, after all, have you seen a Hinckley with a tiller. Listen to the way people brag about them in there for sale
ads makes you wonder whether they are selling a boat or an Edson
. Same type of people who will pay three times what a shirt is worth simply because it has some idiot riding a horse with a mallet embroidered on it and then the shirt doesn't even come with a proper pocket.
I've made a single
from SF to LA in 3 1/2 days with a tiller steered boat that could only politely be called heavy on the helm. Never had a problem with being tiresome though 72 hours without sleep left me a bit wierd. Have sailed other boats with wheels on short overnight sails
and been totally
exhausted by the lack of feel and fighting the backlash of the wheel as it beat my fingers into pulp as the boat pitched into the swell. The wheel made what should have been a short enjoyable overnight sail into a torture session.
As the mechanical advantage of the wheel increases, the feel decreases. Hard to have one with the other. If you don't have much mechanical advantage your my suffer from the wheel beating you to death. Lot's of mechanical advantage and it's like sailing with a guaranteed unbreakable, 6 mil. prophylactic. Ever wonder why the wheels always have that fancy bit of rope
work on one spoke, it's 'cause they can't tell whether the wheel is pointing, north-south or at the moon without it.
Wheels add unecessary additional mechanical problems to the simplicity of a tiller. How many boats have been lost
because their wheel steering went tits up when it really counted. Just talked with a friend who is talking of selling his super whizbang toy filled cruiser and giving up sailing because of all the bad feelings and animosity generated by a failing hydraulic steering
system on a passage
Most wheels are stuck way the hell and gone back in the max spray area of the boat. Just love to get nailed by icey water
when I'm forced to drive. Probably has something to do with keeping the rest of the cockpit available for deck
apes. Maybe that's why the rich and famous hire Kiwi's to drive their boats, they are crazy enough to stand back there and take it. So much nicer to be tucked up under the dodger
as you beat into a late season NorEaster when steering with the tiller.
I'm a fan of wind
powered self steering. Simple, mechanical, no electrons and no pollution. The direct connection of the tiller to the rudder, with its inherent lack of friction, makes those simple airborne systems work like a charm. Not necessarily the case when even a super powerful pendulum servo vane has to do battle with the friction inherent in a wheel. People claim that wheels take so much less energy to steer. How much of that energy is eaten up by useless resistance. Autopilots are probably becoming so popular is they deal with the inherent friction of the cables
, sheaves and sprockets of typical wheel system with brute force. Of course if you go with an A/P, you have to add all the expense of feeding it's voracious electrical
needs. Additions that can easily cost many times more than the A/P.
As far as single
handing, a tiller makes it so easy. You can steer by straddling the tiller and use your legs to steer. That leaves both hands free to work the sails, the engine
controls, make up dock
lines or even grab a beer
About the only good thing about a wheel is in port. Actually it's not the wheel but the pedestal
. You take the wheel and throw it overboard
but use the pedestal to mount a table. Is handy to have that table for drinks and pupu's in the cockpit. Of course you can still have a table with a tiller, it just isn't as easy to set up.
Ah!! and then there's the inside steering station. Hope I don't ever get so decrepit that I have to turn into that kind of pseudo sailor. When I feel an overwhelming need for an inside steering station, the trawler
people will have an answer.
If you feel you have to have a wheel, have at it. For me, I'd rather use the boat unit or two of expenditure for something useful like an extra sail, self-tailing winches, radar
or an extra year of cruising.