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Get out of the rain, Silly!
Despite years of good advice from Mom, I spent years sitting in the cockpit, at the tiller, in the rain. Now that I'm a nominal grown-up, I tend to apply a stronger term to myself than 'Silly'.
Pure laziness. One of our mentors showed us the general principal during our first year afloat. When I finally got around to setting it up a couple of years ago, it took all of an hour.
The basic principle is that a single line pulls against springy tension supplied by the opposed bungee. When relaxed, the tiller is pulled hard over, toward that bungee. When tensioned, it can be fixed anywhere, all the way to hard-over on the pull side. Given this range, we can perform any (steering) maneuver from shelter.
Loops at the tiller cleat (or ball... see tips, below) are very quick to engage and disengage. Thus you can kick the system 'out of gear' at a moment's notice.
The bungee in the pull line acts merely as a shock absorber.
Less friction in the system makes the pull lighter, and fine tuning easier.
We use a caribiner on a grommet at the pull-side corner post, fairleads and a copper plumbing elbow glued in place as a bulkhead through-lead (angle it slightly upwards, inboard to keep rain out... it can be corked for extremes or winter storage). These choices mean we have to turn and face aft to pull comfortably (easing out is easy). Consider reducing friction (see Tips, below).
As a bonus, a slight variation converts it to a lashing system:
The long bungee can be replaced by a line with an eye-splice (loop) in one end. Loop goes over the tiller cleat. The tail rounds the corner post and affixes, mid-line, with a rolling hitch (Scouts call this a 'taut-line hitch'). This can be adjusted to fine tune the lashing position.
The pull line is set up a bit 'up' (to windward) from center balance position, and the rolling hitch is adjusted to pull to balance.
So lashed, SLACKTIDE will sail herself for hours on all points, so long as waves are relatively small. Then we have to babysit the tiller for the occasional deviation, when we're kicked out of balance (lashing at a balance point isn't 'self-steering'). Just slip off one or both loops, adjust course and reset.
KISS, cheap and reliable enough!
CAUTION: The boat may be steering herself, but she's NOT watching where she's going! That's still our job! Keep an adequate lookout at all times.
- Substitute blocks or HMD for reduced friction. If you want to get tricky, a wheel or lever at the inside station can supply mechanical advantage.
- Substitute a bungee with ball termination for tiller cleat loops on long bungee and lashing lines... tension can be micro-managed by wraps of this line, anchoring ball under nearest horn of cleat. None to a few turns covers quite a range in small, half-turn steps.
- Make sure that easy seating, adjacent to the tiller is possible... this may require elevating the tiller, slightly, to let lines clear your lap. Installation will vary according to cockpit layout.
- Lashing may not work as well for boats with fin keels... the problem is low tracking. Consider a drogue to enhance track steady, and whether it's worth it... another system may be advisable.
- Splicing bungee to line is tough going... seizing with small stuff works well and looks salty.
- Where possible, run the pull line as much out-of-the-way (close to walls or corners) as is feasible... don't want to trip over it, and a line on a deck can roll and pitch you.