Date: 30 June 2014. Tyranny of the Tiller
Still playing catch-up with
articles because I'm underway on the Gulf Coast.
There is a term know by many
sailboat captains as the Tyranny of the Tiller*. Alas, such a
thing is not only relegated to wind-machines, but also to power
boats. Seaweed has it's own version and it's not pleasant.
That fact, and that I didn't know prior to purchase is something you
can learn from. Don't make my mistake!
Tyranny of the Tiller refers to
the fact that some boats (be they power or sail) must always be
steered. There is no setting a course and securing the wheel (or
tiller) and letting her go along in a straight line.
The consequence is that you cannot
leave the helm even for a moment and count on the boat continuing in
the same direction.
This area of Florida is known as the
Big Bend. It's where the state border
turns and heads south.
For instance, as I followed the
rim route (along the coast) of the Big Bend a couple weeks ago I had her on a course of 90 degrees.
That was putting me heading due east. I was thirsty and decided to
pour another cup of lemonade. In the two minutes (if that!) I was
away from the helm, without the wheel turning one iota, the boat's
When I returned the course
straight ahead was 330 degrees. I'd turned and was heading northwest
-- almost back where I'd come from.
This is a point of failure aboard
Seaweed, and one I should have realized prior to purchase. Not
that I'd have changed anything mind you, however I would have known
to budget for an auto-pilot. Indeed, it's almost a requirement for
Picture taken at
Boatyard on the Carrabelle River when I was on a rack.
That round area at the bottom allows water to flow
past it, but a slightest change of current of wind, and I'm off on a bunny
trail wandering around the ocean. In closed areas such as waterways with
lots of twists and turns the Tyranny is not so apparent. Out here in the Gulf of Mexico
though it's a pain in my transom.
A keel, if I had one would allow
Seaweed to track better and keep a straight course.
boat buyers before to purchase:
Of course we always have a sea trial prior to buying a boat. What I
should have done and failed to do was take her out to open water
with no obstructions. I should have set a course,
then left the wheel alone to see if Seaweed maintained the same
If I had done that I'd have
known that an auto-pilot purchase would be in my future and
could have budgeted for same, or negotiated the price lower.
Later models of my boat have a keel. From the line
drawings I believe mine was number one of the six built. I'm almost positive the
designer discovered quickly the steering issue, and it is apparent
from later versions that this flaw was corrected.
The photo on the right is from from a Schucker in
the Carolinas. She has a keel, and can be relied upon to track well,
My advice to you:
ALWAYS check for tracking ability prior to purchasing your vessel.
One thing I do with some degree of
success (not enough mind you!) is I'll tie my rowboat Algae off to either port or
starboard corner of the transom versus directly on the centerline.
That sometimes (not often enough) helps align Seaweed so she'll track a
bit better. It's not perfect but is all I've come up with at present. And
yes, I still would like an autopilot.
Do you have Tyranny of the Tiller aboard your vessel?
What do you do to resolve the issue?
In the Bilges
Deal Breaker (galley gear in thrift store) ~
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