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Outboard Steering Extension

September 23, 2013

When we bought Walküre it had been 12 years since we had owned an outboard. Lay Low, our first sailboat, also had had a 9.9 hp, so we knew how to maintain an outboard and what we could realistically expect from it. What we didn't realize was the difference the placement of the rudder in relation to the outboard makes.


Two bolts hold the entire contraption to the outboard.

Walküre is a Bolger AS-29 and, as designed, she has a tiny rudder FORWARD of the outboard. What this means in reality is that when under motor at low speeds, there is no water flow over the rudder, making steering her like driving on ice. Once her speed is above 2 knots there is enough water flowing over the rudder that she steers as expected, but when trying to dock or navigate in tight quarters, this is not only unrealistic, it's unsafe.


A string on the pin is imperative.

We had been told about her less-than-stellar low speed handling ability so we weren't surprised when we tried to motor away from the dock the day we launched her. Dave's immediate thought was, "This won't do." What we didn't know yet, however, was what to do about it.


Piece 1 must be long enough to clear the decks.

Not until a tropical system was headed our way the first summer we had her did the situation force a solution, but even it needed work. We decided to stuff Walküre up in the mangroves as far from open water as we could get her to hide from the coming weather, but we knew we'd never be able to steer her in those narrow channels. Dave took a long piece of line and tied it to the outboard handle. He installed an eye bolt on either side of the outboard well to "turn" the lines, then led the ends to the cockpit where he could pull on them to steer the outboard as well as the rudder. The effect was much more humorous than helpful, however. He was "steering" the outboard with two hands and the tiller with his feet, leaving no way to alter speed. A few crashes into the mangroves convinced us there had to be a better way.


All three pieces

The biggest issue preventing us from being able to devise a way to steer the outboard as well as the rudder is that the outboard sits deep in a well, with the sides of the boat high on either side so that a traditional outboard handle wouldn't have room to swing. Also, when we sail we tilt up the motor and anything added to the outboard to steer it would likely hit the mizzen mast before the outboard was out of the water. Finally Dave gave up on trying to find the perfect solution and decided to just build a "prototype" and worry about perfecting it later. As often happens, this prototype has been working marvelously for over 1,000 miles.


Pieces 2 and 3 can be easily removed and stored.

We were told by our neighbors in the harbor that wood would "never work. It'll snap with that much side load on it. You need to weld a metal piece here and yadda yadda yadda." That's when we quit listening. Any time someone tries to over-engineer a solution, we revert to string and wood.

String alone had not been sufficient, but what Dave devised was a 3-piece, partially removable, jointed "steer stick." He started by using 2 bolts that were already near the handle of the outboard (to hold a bracket for an option we didn't have) to attach a tall, tapered piece of iroko leftover from a recent project. This piece is semi-permanently mounted (as in, we've never removed it). To it he attached piece number 2, a piece of plywood with a "head" large enough for a hole to accommodate piece number 1. Once the second piece is slid over the first, a wooden "pin" is driven into a hole in the first piece to attach them, yet make them easy to separate. After an embarrassing large number of times of hearing, "Oh shit, I dropped the pin!" we finally attached a string to said pin so that it doesn't fall in the well when Dave drops it.


Our favorite universal joint

But this second piece is now running athwartships, still impossible to use. So, to it Dave attached a third piece of sapele 1 x 1 that he ran through the router to make round and easier to use as a handle. He attached pieces 2 and 3 together with our favorite universal joint: drill a small hole in each piece of wood and put a short string through them. Tie a figure 8 knot in each end, making the string as short as possible to eliminate slop. Now the outboard tiller extension can move in any direction.

When we want to raise the outboard, Dave pulls the pin, folds the 2 pieces together and slides then next to the seat. The first piece does not interfere with raising the motor and the pieces are kept nearby for when we need low-speed steering.

The one disadvantage of this piece of engineering is that when you're trying to steer you must keep track of a tiller and the extension. And even though it seems logical to me (if you hold one "tiller" in each hand and swing your body, they both move in the correct direction) Dave needs constant reminding. So if you see us motoring into port and hear me yell "Push--Port" don't think I'm crazy. I'm just reminding Dave how to drive.

MONDAY we'll continue our way up the ICW into a North Carolina city with several options for boaters and land-tourists alike.

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