Monday, April 2, 2012

Sojourn’s Ten Dollar Tiller

We cruised to Port Ludlow with Milltown a couple of weeks ago and came home in need of a new tiller. Making our way south, we motored into 20 knot winds and six foot waves for a couple of hours before turning west at Possession Point. We turned right, hoisted the sails, and after the bumpy ride it was a surprisingly nice sail to Hood Canal. Initially, I sailed by a reefed main alone, but it felt like she could handle some more, so I raised the 130. A little later, took the reef out of the main and  sailed under full canvas at 6 knots.  We timed the current well, so we were making 8.5 over ground.  

imageArriving at Hood Canal about an hour before dusk in diminishing wind, I decided to drop the sails.  After doing so, I headed back to the cockpit and managed to trip on something, perhaps the line I had securing the dodger. As I look back, I’m amazed that the only mark on me or Sojourn was her broken tiller.

The next 30 minutes where an adventure as the water is shallow, the marker is at least 200 yards from where my new chart plotter say it is and the current was pushing me toward the rocks and the alleged marker at about two knots.  Someone later told me they installed a new marker recently.

Seeing that I was physically a few hundred yards from the marker, I decided to try to mend it, knowing I would have to drop the hook in a couple of minutes.  2012-03-16_18-15-03_170I found an old quick clamp, some utility cord and a nylon strap to get me the rest of the way to my destination.  Carrie and the kids had no idea any of this had happened.  Wow. Sojourn is filthy!

In Port Ludlow, I cut the splintered part of the tiller off with my Leatherman and Tony lashed it to the fitting.  Wow, I kind of like the feel of the shorter tiller. I’m not sure why the tiller was 5 feet long in the first place. Twelve inches makes for quite a bit more room in the cockpit.

Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to build a tiller rather than buy one.  I don’t know what they cost, but my foggy memory says I saw one at Fisheries for about $150.  I’ve been engaged in some wood working projects anyway, so I bought a piece of ash with a knot in it for $10 at the half price wall at Midway Plywood. It was my first introduction to ash, which I picked on the rumor that boat oars are made of it.  It works and looks much like oak.  Like walnut and a few other woods, its saw dust has a pleasant odor. Given the knot, I couldn’t just glue two pieces together and cut it with a jig saw.  Also, I surmise that laminating adds a little strength as the grain is interrupted and thus any potential large cracks.2012-03-27_18-19-35_304

I traced the old tiller profile on some MDF, modified the curve a little and cut it with my jig saw to make a form.  I then cut and planed the ash into 1-3/4 x 1/4 strips. I wanted to use alternating light and dark wood like the old tiller, but there wasn’t any to be had on the half price wall and I didn’t want to spend more on materials than I could have spent on a finished tiller. I had some walnut on hand, but didn’t know if it was a good “wet” wood.  Teak is prohibitively expensive.  According to Midway, Sapele (pronounced SA-PEE-LEE) is the species of choice for boat builders these days.

I smeared Titebond III wood glue on a couple of strips and clamped them to form. 2012-04-01_16-29-08_482 It may have worked but, I just wasn’t comfortable with the wood glue, so I switched to epoxy.  I ran the cured tiller through the planer and then proceeded to carve the handle, which I botched badly.  My last ditch effort to save it made for a much better finished product as it turned out. I cut the botched handle off and made a jig to get it to spin up in my lathe.  I turned the end down and then essentially gun drilled it with a 3/4” forstner bit.   I turned another piece of ash into a handle with a 3/4” shaft.  I slathered epoxy in the hole, inserted and clamped the handle.  Voila!  I even managed to get the grain to 2012-04-01_19-28-34_757match up pretty well.  The picture shows it with its second coat of Bristol Finish.

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