A Boat on the Side

Tea for the Tillerman Part 2

Last week I took you part of the way through the process of building a new tiller. So I’ll continue.

Now we remove all the clamps and hopefully the packaging tape will have prevented the tiller from sticking to the jig. So far, so good.

Power Tapering

The next stage is to plane off excess resin, square up the piece and sand off any residue (or should I say resin-due) on the face veneers. The new tiller is then tapered by power planer. I usually do about four passes each side with the planer set at just under a millimetre starting at the handle end and planing longer passes each time so the handle end gets 3 mm off, the stock none.

The tiller is now almost ready for packing and shipping. All that remains is to bevel the four corners, again progressively so that the stock remains square and that’s it. I was once severely reprimanded by a customer for doing too much of the shaping – “I was really looking forward to that!” he said mournfully. Chastened I have left them alone since. Of course if it’s a boat built by us there’s a fair bit more work in rounding off the end, hand planing, spokeshaving, sanding and coating but for the kits, that’s it.

Nearly Ready for Crating Up

Subtle and tricky to get it right, but a well shaped laminated tiller makes a strong statement about the character of the boat.

Broken down to its component parts, the job isn’t beyond most builders but the jig itself has to be strong enough to withstand the stresses and to be shaped in such a way that the boat can be comfortably steered sitting down or standing up. In the case of our Secret 20 model, it is also long enough for the single-hander to reach all the sail control ropes at the stern or cabin bulkhead – vitally important for the safety of ship and crew. With a fast, nimble yacht like Secret good control is essential and while the boats are renowned for their perfect balance, their response to the smallest of tiller movements requires the very best in cockpit ergonomics.

So, the tiller is now safely tucked up in a nice warm crate and off over the seas to distant shores. In the years to come it’s pleasing to speculate on the tiller’s paramount duty as it guides the little ship on her many voyages. Where will she roam? Across the English Channel in a blustery Force 5? Racing hard in the East Coast regattas? Trailered over to the Med for a balmy summer season exploring the Adriatic? You never know where a good tiller will guide you but most importantly, after a long day at the helm, is a good strong single blend Ceylon tea  . . .  . or perhaps a tot or two of rum.

Setting Sail - note the beautifully figured cedar on the cabin

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