James Stevens explains which skills are best to perfect while you have plenty of time to do so. This week, fitting the emergency tiller
Fitting the emergency tiller
I’ve only once had to use an emergency tiller in anger. We were quite close to a lee shore on a breezy day so the pressure was on. Fortunately I was sailing with a very resourceful mate who managed to disconnect the wheel linkage and fit the emergency tiller while I did my best to steer with sails to keep us out of trouble. RYA dinghy instructors, as part of their qualifying test, have to sail around a triangle without a rudder. Sheeting in the main brings the bow to windward, releasing the main and sheeting in the jib results in bearing away, especially if assisted by heel to windward. Occasionally these skills can help a yacht skipper.
An emergency tiller fits to the top of the rudder stock, normally just behind the helmsman’s position at the wheel. Space is limited so the tiller is stubby and almost impossible to steer by muscle alone. A rope purchase to the aft winches or the aft cleats is the usual solution. It can take a while to find the right set-up so either practise in harbour or take a very practical mate to sea. The situation can be complicated if the wheel linkage is stiff or jammed. Disconnecting it is usually best done at the rudder stock end but it might be quicker under the pedestal in the locker or aft cabin.
If you have tiller steering, what would you do if the tiller split, or the tiller head cracked? Buying and fitting spares of both would give you confidence that you could get home in that event.