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Date: 30 June 2014. Tyranny of the Tiller (pre-purchase advice)


Still playing catch-up with articles because I am 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 its own version and it's not pleasant. That fact, and that I did not know prior to purchase is something you can learn from. Do not 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 is where the state coastline 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 Seaweed 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 direction changed. 

When I returned the course straight ahead was 330 degrees. I had turned and was heading northwest -- almost back where to I had come from.

This is a point of failure aboard Seaweed, and one I should have realized prior to purchase.  Not that I would have changed anything mind you. I would have known however to budget for an auto-pilot. Indeed, it is almost a requirement for my Seaweed.

Picture taken at Dockside 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 am 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 it is a pain in my transom.

A keel, if I had one, would allow Seaweed
to track better and keep a straight course.


Advice to 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 path. If I had done that I would have known that an auto-pilot purchase would be needed in the future.

That high-ticket (expensive) item would have allowed me to  negotiate
the price lower. At the very least I could have budgeted for an autopilot.


Later models of my boat have a keel. From the line drawings I believe mine was number one of the six built. I am 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, unlike Seaweed.


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 tie my rowboat Algae off to either port or starboard corner of the transom versus directly on the centerline.  That sometimes helps align Seaweed so she can track a bit better. This is not perfect but is all I have 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?

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A favorite aphorism:  Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. C. S. Lewis.

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