This madness all started when I saw a small 8-foot Puddle Duck Racer being sailed by Dave Sanborn during the 2010 Sail Oklahoma Messabout and Puddle Duck Races on Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma.
Dave was sailing along, facing forward, and sitting on a comfortable seat with a nice backrest! Perhaps the fact that my old tired back was hurting influenced me, but then and there I decided that that's the way I wanted to sail my newly built Puddle Duck sailboat "Duck Bill" in the future.
I learned that Dave was using a push-pull type of tiller that allowed him to sit facing forward, and control the rudder by pushing or pulling a tiller like extension that rested near Dave's right hand.
Dave was very helpful in answering my many questions about how well his system worked. He did stress that it took a little while getting used to the push-pull tiller, but he felt that I could master the push- pull system with any major problems. Little did Dave know how dumb I really was!
However, I copied Dave's push-pull tiller arm the best that I could and ended up with this set up.
Then I went sailing to try out the new tiller system. I will spare you the sad details, but people said it wasn't a pretty sight seeing a fat old man sailing in circles because he couldn't grasp the concept of when to push, and when to pull! After about 30-minutes of this nonsense I held the nub of the rudder head and returned to shore! I tip my cap to the ability of Dave Sanborn to sail with such a system!
Someone in jest suggested that I needed a tiller mounted to the front of my small Puddle Duck Racer (PDR). Other's suggested a steering wheel. but, really now, a steering wheel on an 8-foot sailboat?
However, the idea of a front tiller did appeal to me. I always sail solo so the loss of space wouldn't bother me, and with a front tiller I could have a nice easy sofa type sitting arrangement! Ah! I could envision myself sailing along with a cold drink in one hand, enjoying the nice view, as I sat on a soft cushion, leaning back on a padded backrest!
After a bit of thought and a crude drawing or two, I ordered 6 each Swivel Shackle blocks (RL-205), 6 each Stamped Stainless Pad Eyes (SD-081103) from Duckworks.
While waiting for the Duckworks order to arrive I made the wooden items I thought I would need.
1. A front tiller arm.
2. A mounting block to install on the PDR's foredeck, to which the tiller's swivel block would be mounted.
3. A tiller swivel block to which the tiller arm would be attached.
The foredeck-mounting block was made from scrap 3/4-inch plywood, and a scrap piece of maple.
The mounting block was attached to the PDR's foredeck with screws and epoxy.
Once the mounting block was installed I attached the swivel block to the mounting block with a ½-inch bolt. This bolt allows the swivel block and the front tiller arm to turn right and left. As a bearing I used a short piece of ½-inch copper tubing epoxied into place.
As you can see in the swivel block photo, I added two eye screws to which the tiller control lines would be attached. In addition I added a small strap across the top of the swivel block to prevent the tiller arm from falling downward onto the PDR's cockpit floor.
||Swivel block and tiller attached to mounting block
To try out the front tiller system I elected to leave the rear tiller in place, and hook the front tiller's control lines to it. I installed a single eye screw 7-inches from the rudder's pintle's center point, which is the same distant ulitized in mounting the front tiller eye screws. Later, I will make a much shorter rear tiller attachment out of the discarded push-pull tiller!
I then mounted six 1/4 -inch swivel blocks, two at each stern corner and one each on the port and starboard sides of the PDR's air compartments using the stainless pad eyes I got from Duckworks. To help maintain tension on the control lines, I used two springs at the rear tiller attachment point.
Prior to mounting the swivel blocks, I attached reinforcement plywood panels to the sides of Duck Bill's air compartments. I used sheet rock anchor screws to ensure that the pressure from the control lines wouldn't pull the fasting's from the thin side plywood.
||Stern control lines-close up
||Bow control lines and block
||Stern control lines and blocks
I first rigged the control lines so that the front tiller's movement was such that when I pushed the tiller to port the rudder would move the boat to port. But, then I changed the rigging so that the tiller movement was similar to the tiller used on the old three-wheeled golf carts. Now, if I push the tiller to port (clockwise) the rudder will turn the boat to starboard. The tiller could more easily be rigged to do the opposite; push the tiller to port (counterclockwise) and the rudder would turn the boat to port. The counterclockwise movement seems more natural to me.
To give the control line some small measure of protection, I ran it through short pieces of ½-inch ID electrical PVC pipe.
Shortly after completing the installation I took "Duck Bill" to Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City to test the front tiller. Arriving early in the morning to beat the Oklahoma July heat, I met a sailing friend, Brad Hickman, who assisted me in getting the boat launched.
Launching from the small sailboat beach, it took only a minute or two to get used to the front tiller, and sail out into the body of Lake Hefner.
||Bill Nolen sailing with front tiller, use the one you feel is best.
I'm quite pleased with the front tiller. It was quite easy to become accustomed to using it. Now, my next project is to find some soft material to pad my sliding folding seat and backrest!