Hooking up an autopilot to your emergency tiller; electrical fittings—size matters; dump your mainsail early; practice makes perfect when it comes to impellers
Here’s a useful solution to the question of running a windvane self- steering gear with wheel steering. Leading the steering lines directly to a tiller has always seemed a better answer than to a drum on the wheel. If you have wheel steering and wish, for these purposes, that you had a tiller instead, why not dig out the emergency tiller and use it as a dedicated self- steering unit? If the tiller’s as good as this one on my Mason 44, not only will the gear work better, it will also remove any wear to the wheel system, with all its wires and pulleys, for the length of a long ocean passage. Making a smaller tiller specifically for this use could be even better.
I wish I’d had a dollar for every time I’ve cobbled together an electrical fitting with a “that’s good enough” shrug. An old shipwright once taught me that “good enough is not good enough” for boatbuilding, but I’ve tended to forget that when it comes to wiring. A typical case is where the ring terminal on a battery ends up too big for the bolt or stud. Many of us will make do by jamming it down with a washer and hope for the best. I learned recently what thoroughly bad news this can be. For a start, if the ring doesn’t fit properly on its bolt, the connection will be compromised. Far worse, though, is that a bad connection can generate heat—sometimes enough to start a fire. No more cobble-ups at the battery, thanks very much.
DEFUSING THE RUN
It’s been said with justification that gentlemen don’t boast about how windy it was, but the shape of my ensign in the photo will give well-informed readers a fair idea. They will also note that I’m on a near-dead run. The sea is building and, however carefully I steer, I’m vulnerable to a gybe. Some action must be taken to defuse the mainsail. Either a preventer is rigged or the sail has to come down. A preventer is dandy, but someone will have to go forward to organize it and, once rigged, the boat is committed to the wind on a particular side of the stern. By comparison, “headsail only” has a lot going for it. The wind must be kept slightly off dead aft so the sail sets sweetly, but gybing ceases to be an issue. And because the yacht is now effectively in front-wheel drive, she is a lot easier to steer too. So bite the bullet downwind and dump the mainsail in good time. Looking at my ensign, things are only going to get worse, and they did.
Engine raw-water pump impellers don’t last forever. Even if they are not destroyed by running the engine dry following a blockage, they still deteriorate with the years. If you’ve never had to change one, try installing the standby part when the boat is safe on her mooring, then buy a new spare. You might be surprised by what you discover. Some impeller changes require a fresh gasket each time. Do you have one? Does your screwdriver fit those machine screws holding the cover plate on? Did you lose a screw in the bilge? It’s so easy to do! If so, can you reach it? Perhaps you should carry a couple of spares? All vital experience when you have to do the job heeled over on a dark night.
It should be possible to run windvane control lines to your emergency tiller instead of the wheel
“I really wish I’d dumped the mainsail”
A common situation. The cables probably predate the battery: so do their terminals measure up accurately with the bolts securing them?
Learn to love your impeller