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rope steering on a Sailfish

bhm

Active Member
I put a double-wide bench seat on my 1962 Super Sailfish Mk2 so I can hike out a bit by sliding over, while still having back support and a footrest. But this made it more difficult to hold the tiller behind the seat. Alan Glos suggested trying rope steering, as in many sailing canoes like the Grumman. This is my first attempt to implement this idea, to test the design and operation. I haven't tried to sail it yet, but will soon, on a small flat lake where I test new rigs. If this design handles well, I will beef it up and make it more permanent.

Alan suggested blocks, but for this initial mock-up I just used some small eyebolts that I had on hand, which are lighter and easier to install in my wooden frame. The rope seems to run through them well enough, at least when the rudder is just waving in the air. Right now the rope tension is adjusted just by double half-hitches. One big question will be how much and how quickly the rope stretches or the knots loosen, under the greater stress of holding the rudder against moving water.

I am very pleased with the "reverse tiller" design, and I hope it works so I can use it permanently. The front rocker bar mirrors the rear rocker bar on top of the rudder, as joined by the two ropes, and the tilting front tiller rotates the front rocker bar. Due to the mirror reversal, the handle of the back-facing forward tiller moves in the same direction as you want the boat to move, rather than opposite as with a conventional front-facing stern tiller. As usual, the tiller extension is supposed to be long enough to let you hike out one way while pushing the tiller the other way. The old-style rudder still kicks up, because the rear rocker bar is sitting on a short square post that rolls over the top of the rudder, just like the original tiller arm. This places the rocker bar directly over the vertical hinge of the rudder.

I shot a short video showing the operation of this prototype, but I can't seem to upload it on this site, due to its video format having a .MOV extension, so I uploaded it to YouTube and put a link to that here.


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shorefun

Well-Known Member
Nice idea, I would not trust those little eyes in the end grain of the wood. They will pull out. I think you need some thing going from the top. Maybe a U bolt from the top clamping the line down tight.

Also I think you are not going to get enough movement on the rudder. I know I have put the rudder to a lock to turn at the last minute to get the dock right. Plus getting out of irons. I think you need to have a second set of blocks behind the seat close to center line to get more distance in rudder travel.

I will say this is just off the top of my head. I could be wrong about everything.
 

bhm

Active Member
Nice idea, I would not trust those little eyes in the end grain of the wood. They will pull out. I think you need some thing going from the top. Maybe a U bolt from the top clamping the line down tight.

Also I think you are not going to get enough movement on the rudder. I know I have put the rudder to a lock to turn at the last minute to get the dock right. Plus getting out of irons. I think you need to have a second set of blocks behind the seat close to center line to get more distance in rudder travel.

I will say this is just off the top of my head. I could be wrong about everything.
Thanks for your input. Yes, I totally agree about the end-grain eyelets; I just put them in that way when I first had the idea and wanted to test the geometry, to get a sense of what lengths for the two rocker bars and the front tiller would give a reasonable range of rudder motion, without worrying about the load or stress on the connections. Probably I'll at least move those eyelets around to the top of the crossbars so they go in crossgrain before my first trial run, in low wind on flat shallow water. I only need this prototype rig to hold together for one or two trials that way, while I find out whether or how well I can steer and sail the boat this way at all, For example, to find out whether my legs get tangled with the tiller when I move around, whether stuff catches in the steering ropes so maybe I need to run them through conduit or tubing, whether my current tiller extension is a good length, etc.

I'm not sure if I'll ever need to crank this rudder hard over. I only beach-launch, never from a dock, and I always sail with a kayak paddle ready to hand since I started from canoe and kayak sailing, so getting stuck in irons is never a thing for me. I know that Sunfish purists think you shouldn't need to use a paddle to come about, but I'm obviously not a purist when you look at all this extra stuff I put on my boats, and I figure I might as well use all the tools I have on hand.

I was out with my Minifish a few days ago and did a long tack upwind along a shoreline against a 13 mph wind and 1-foot waves, and had to use my paddle to get the boat all the way around, probably 80% of the time, until the wind and waves died down a bit. Often I was only making about 1 mph by GPS on the tack, and the waves would usually bring me to a dead halt midway through coming about, but a couple of strokes with the paddle would swing the hull around enough to catch the other tack. I guess this is very different from how most people sail a Sunfish, but I'm perfectly happy doing it that way, since I have the paddle right there anyway. In low wind I often lock the rudder on a course and cleat the sheet or hold it in one of my paddling hands and paddle and sail at the same time, and that way I can add 1-2 mph to what the wind alone would do.

I think that probably there are lots of different ways to sail these Alcort boats that haven't been explored very much, due to the rigid standardization imposed by class-legal racing. The world of kayak and canoe sailing has lots more variety in custom gear and variant styles of sailing. For example I've seen people make outriggers that don't use flotation at all, but rather are like little water skis, that give a bit of lift on that side when they go into the water at speed.
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
On my Grumman Sailing canoe, I found the ropes clumsy, so I custom-made a steering arrangement out of 1x2 inch wood boards.

The tiller extension had a pair of thimble-shaped pegs (o) which locked / unlocked into a u-shaped tiller with "o" being the hinge Though long gone, the hinged arrangement worked great, so I made no modifications in the years I owned it.

With no photographs available after 60 years (!) this sketch will have to do.

----------o---o (extension, long)

>>---"o"---] (tiller, short)

The "thimbles" were two wooden dowels glued to the extension with two aluminum washers screwed underneath. The rear-most dowel was locked to the tiller, and acted like a hinge.
 

shorefun

Well-Known Member
I would suggest that you just take 2 strips of wood and screw them down on top the bar you have there. My opinion is the eyelets you are using are just not going to hold up at all. I think you are better off with a couple of machine screws holding a bar down that clamps the line. The bar can be some plastic, some metal or wood.

The forces that close to the rudder are going to be substantial. I know when I am going into the wind I have some force on the 3 foot tiller so at 8" away you will have MUCH more force. Basic lever stuff.

Anyway stuff to consider, I could be wrong.
 
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bhm

Active Member
I would suggest that you just take 2 strips of wood and screw them down on top the bar you have there. My opinion is the eyelets you are using are just not going to hold up at all. I think you are better off with a couple of machine screws holding a bar down that clamps the line. The bar can be some plastic, some metal or wood.

The forces that close to the rudder are going to be substantial. I know when I am going into the wind I have some force on the 3 foot tiller so at 8" away you will have MUCH more force. Basic lever stuff.

Anyway stuff to consider, I could be wrong.
An issue with just clamping the line is that I also want eventually to be able to clip and unclip the steering lines from the rudder when I dismount it, while keeping the lines at their intended optimal length, i.e. without untying anything. For now I've just shifted over to loops of heavy insulated solid-core copper wire, that I happen to have a big spool of.

DSC05836.JPG

This wire is very strong. A single twisted loop of it can lift my Minifish sail when I clip a halyard to it.

DSC05833.JPG

I'm sure people will say that you shouldn't drill a spar because it weakens it, but it's worth it to me to be able to pull the gaff spar all the way up to vertical, as I do for the weird Hawaian-style rig I use on my Minfish.

DSC05791c.jpg
 

bhm

Active Member
On my Grumman Sailing canoe, I found the ropes clumsy, so I custom-made a steering arrangement out of 1x2 inch wood boards.

The tiller extension had a pair of thimble-shaped pegs (o) which locked / unlocked into a u-shaped tiller with "o" being the hinge Though long gone, the hinged arrangement worked great, so I made no modifications in the years I owned it.

With no photographs available after 60 years (!) this sketch will have to do.

----------o---o (extension, long)

>>---"o"---] (tiller, short)

The "thimbles" were two wooden dowels glued to the extension with two aluminum washers screwed underneath. The rear-most dowel was locked to the tiller, and acted like a hinge.
I don't get this. Is this tiller in front of you, like I am trying to do, or behind you, like a conventional rudder? Or is the U-shaped tiller a really big U, that has long arms that extend around your whole body? If so, is the bottom of the U in front of you or behind you?

Also, what didn't you like about the Grumman rope steering, so I can avoid whatever that was? I don't actually know how that whole system worked or even what it looked like; I've only seen pictures of the rudder, with the bar on top that the ropes tie to, so I only copied that part. But I don't know how you were supposed to control or move those ropes.

grumman-canoe-sail-rudder_1_5fea355453c9e46026c97f28f2bb37ad.jpg
 

bhm

Active Member
Better to put the windvane on the gaff, not the mast
Why?

(a) Mast is more nearly vertical, hence easier for it to turn. This pennant is tied to the fishing rod, so the whole rod has to turn in its socket with the wind; this would be harder to do if the socket was not vertical. Also, since it's just sitting in the socket by gravity, it would probably fall out when I dropped the sail. I lost my first flag that way last Summer, one time when I had to unstep the mast on the water to get the sail down (a sleeved-on Laser sail), and the flag fell out of the top of the mast during the excitement. That was on this rig. Since then I never use a sail I can't drop on the water just by letting a halyard go.

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(b) I normally paddle out through the surf some distance before raising the sail, to avoid getting blown back onshore (using a cam cleat on the crossbar in front of the cockpit). With the flag on the mast, I know the exact wind direction before I raise the sail. On the beaches I launch from, the wind direction near shore is often significantly different from the wave direction, so there's a moment when I have to turn from paddling directly into the waves to get offshore, to facing directly into the wind to get the sail up while the waves are now hitting me broadside, and for this maneuver it's nice to have a flag up before the sail is up.
 
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Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
Here's is something to ponder:
Will be used in the Race to Alaska (that's some serious trekking).
Note the ama(s) and the possibility to row
 

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L&VW

Well-Known Member
I don't get this. Is this tiller in front of you, like I am trying to do, or behind you, like a conventional rudder? Or is the U-shaped tiller a really big U, that has long arms that extend around your whole body? But I don't know how you were supposed to control or move those ropes.
The rudder kit came with no instructions, so I contrived the t-shaped, 2-part, "pivoting tiller".

As I recall, the helmsman sat far to the rear of the canoe, and the
tiller extension was of a conventional length--just shy of the helmsman. The 1"x2" tiller itself was relatively short.

===o===[] full length of tiller 16". The "[]" part is the 1"x2" cross-mount attached across the rudder, which connects the two provided holes in the aluminum top piece. The wood tiller is glued and screwed to the wood cross-mount.

The overlap is about 7-inches. The 1"x2" tiller extension was quite long. (~30"?)

The 1"x2" rudder attachment mount (where the ropes would normally go) could be centered, but it could also be constructed asymmetrically / off-center to clear your seats
.

Pull forward on the extension, make your tack with the rudder at an aggressive angle, re-center and push the tiller extension back into the 3" deep
⊃, which re-engages the forward dowel (of the two ½" dowels). The rearmost ½" dowel is just a solid pivot point.

Alternatively for the tiller, you could use [something like] a stiff garden hose section. Bend it severely to tack, allow it to return to straight after the tack.
 

bhm

Active Member
The rudder kit came with no instructions, so I contrived the t-shaped, 2-part, "pivoting tiller".

As I recall, the helmsman sat far to the rear of the canoe, and the
tiller extension was of a conventional length--just shy of the helmsman. The 1"x2" tiller itself was relatively short.

===o===[] full length of tiller 16". The "[]" part is the 1"x2" cross-mount attached across the rudder, which connects the two provided holes in the aluminum top piece. The wood tiller is glued and screwed to the wood cross-mount.

The overlap is about 7-inches. The 1"x2" tiller extension was quite long. (~30"?)

The 1"x2" rudder attachment mount (where the ropes would normally go) could be centered, but it could also be constructed asymmetrically / off-center to clear your seats
.

Pull forward on the extension, make your tack with the rudder at an aggressive angle, re-center and push the tiller extension back into the 3" deep
⊃, which re-engages the forward dowel (of the two ½" dowels). The rearmost ½" dowel is just a solid pivot point.

Alternatively for the tiller, you could use [something like] a stiff garden hose section. Bend it severely to tack, allow it to return to straight after the tack.
OK thanks. So if I follow this, that essentially was a way of turning your Grumman rope steering back into something like the standard steering system for a Sunfish or Sailfish, i.e. a sternpost rudder with a two-part forward-extending tiller that the helmsman controls by reaching aft to hold the tiller extension. But that's where my problem started, because with the wide bench seat I put on my Sailfish, it's awkward to reach aft over the seat-back to control that standard tiller. Then Alan Glos suggested rope steering, so the controls can be in front of the seat rather than behind.


So I started from that idea. But I couldn't see how to control the steering ropes just by pulling directly on them, while still being able to slide along the seat to hike out. That led me to this modified rope-steering system, with a second rocker-bar in front of the seat to pull on the steering ropes, and a backward-facing tiller to turn that rocker-bar, and a tiller extension attached to that. This prototype shows that the geometry works, but I still need to try it on the water, with more resisting force on the rudder.
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
OK thanks. But that's where my problem started, because with the wide bench seat I put on my Sailfish, it's awkward to reach aft over the seat-back to control that standard tiller. Then Alan Glos suggested rope steering, so the controls can be in front of the seat rather than behind.


So I started from that idea. But I couldn't see how to control the steering ropes just by pulling directly on them, while still being able to slide along the seat to hike out. That led me to this modified rope-steering system, with a second rocker-bar in front of the seat to pull on the steering ropes, and a backward-facing tiller to turn that rocker-bar, and a tiller extension attached to that. This prototype shows that the geometry works, but I still need to try it on the water, with more resisting force on the rudder.
Glad you were able to understand the geometry from my message!

Suggestion:
Replace your two-place bench seat with an adjustable-back transverse chaise lounge? :)
 

bhm

Active Member
It works!! I test-sailed this prototype for a couple of hours, circa 5-7 pm yesterday, at speeds up to 4 mph in wind up to 8 mph, but no waves since this was a small flat shallow lake where I test new rigs. The final test version used white nylon twine instead of woven rope, since it doesn't stretch at all, and makes very tight knots, and slides very easily through the small eyelets I used as guides around the seats. It looked like this:

DSC05839.JPG

The eyelets on the ends of the rocker bars that people noted as a weak point are now gone. On the front rocker, I drilled horizontal holes and ran the twine all the way through, with figure-eight knots in front to hold it.

DSC05840.JPG

On the aft rocker, I drilled vertical holes and put wire loops through those holes that can swivel from side to side, The steering lines then clip to those loops, so they can unclip to dismount the rudder.

DSC05841.JPG

The good news is that this system can steer the boat quite well, once I learn how to use it, and as long as the parts hold up. Especially, it served its main intended purpose, namely of letting me slide from side to side in the bench seat to balance the boat, while still being able to steer, using the front tiller with its tiller extension, rather than having to reach back over the seat-back to use the aft tiller. Learning how to use it will take some practice, since the mirror-reversed forward tiller works oppositely from a standard tiller, so all of your existing tiller reflexes are wrong and have to be re-learned for this new rig. But I think this probably won't take long, and I was getting a lot better at it by the end of these two hours.

Mechanically, I learned that the next-weakest point is the vertical pivot where the front-tiller meets the front rocker, i.e. this joint, which was getting pretty loose by the end of this two hours, causing the steering to become sloppy, but still workable.

DSC05844.JPG

But that's OK: I always knew that this initial prototype would have to be beefed up for a permanent version, once the basic idea was proven to work, as I think it now is. I have some scraps of oak that I've been saving for some project that needs harder wood than lumberyard Douglas fir, so probably I'll use that, and maybe a brass or stainless-steel hinge for the pivot, if I can find one small enough.

Another interesting discovery was that this rope-steering system stops working entirely if the rudder kicks up, due to the slack this creates in the steering lines. In contrast, the conventional aft-tiller steering still half-way works for a kicked-up old-style rudder. This happened during my test, when the rudder hit something in my shallow test-lake and kicked loose, and I had to crawl back to the stern to reset it, in order to have any rudder at all.

So this convinces me that for the permanent version of this system I should keep both tillers in place and usable, so I still have the aft tiller as an option if I want or need to use that instead of this. This should be only a minor modification, namely to attach the rear rocker bar to the top of the rear tiller, rather than directly to the rudder as in this prototype. Then each tiller will move the other tiller as well as the rudder, via their linkage through the steering ropes. Probably I'll mock up this system as another prototype and try sailing it that way, before building the final version.
 
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