Crude as the vertical tiller certainly is, New England fishermen have found it to possess many advantages.
The orthodox wheel, with spokes and drum for the ropes leading to tiller under deck, has virtually been abandoned by some fisherman in favor of the simple device which possesses the merit of being easily made from material ordinarily at hand in most any boat's tool kit or around the average boat yard.
At Chatham, Mass., whence hail majority of the small motor craft engaged in fishing, one infrequently finds the spoked wheel while the steering "stick" is everywhere in evidence except on auxiliaries where canvas plays its important part in propulsion. Take, for illustration, a 25-foot dory, a type that meets favor where anchorages are shoal or approaches to home waters are obstructed by sand bars, navigable at certain stages of tide only. A 25-footer is a large boat, as dories go, these boats being measured on the bottom, instead of over-all.
The steering stick properly installed will throw a rudder hard over in two seconds and, in this respect, is as quick as the horizontal tiller everywhere found on small sail craft. The stick is so arranged, usually on the floor timber that supports the lower part of the motor compartment bulkhead, that every inch of the rope, the, sheaves through which it is rove and the tiller at the rudder head may readily be inspected. Should the gear jam, the trouble may be found at a glance, and a sharp knife is always handy in the compartment for just such an emergency.
In a locality like Pollock Rip, where sea and sound meet in a turmoil if wind bucks the tide or an easterly heaves its great rollers across the steep-sided bars, necessity for positive handling of one's boat is the price of safety. The old-fashioned wheel would be too slow in winding the helm over when a rip cobbles right under the bow with its base the color of ashes scoured from the flinty sand about to catch at skeg and rudder. When these dangerous rips hump themselves it is well to give them a respectful berth, for they have been known to pitch-pole boats, with loss of all on board.
When installing a steering stick it is necessary to secure its foot with a sizable bolt passed through a bushing, for at this point most of the stress and wear are directed, and the timber supporting the stick should be of oak and fastened through the bottom and sides with screws. About midway the stick, preferably of maple; an iron band with eyes for the rope, most likely 15-thread manila with closed thimbles spliced in to take the shackles, is given a snug fit. The handle is shaped so as to be easy to the grip, sharp corners to b e avoided; and the end is carefully blunted, because in an emergency when the crew has to work quick, a misstep or unlucky lurch might impale him on a sharp point with disastrous result.
The boat depicted in the illustration has an open cockpit with narrow washboard, and it will be noted that a business-like pump is installed just forward the bulkhead and within reach of the helmsman. This implement is made of galvanized iron and its diameter is 2% inches, the plunger, or rod, being of maple, to which the leather is secured 'by straps tacked in place. As the boat some times carries a ton or two of fish, provision is made to prevent the pump becoming choked, and it will be noted, from inspection of the picture, that the pump is thrust into a box passing through the floor of the cockpit into the well, or deepest part of the hull, where water collects as it flows through the limbers cut especially large to avoid pockets between frames. The box is movable in a thwartships direction, and, no matter how large a trip of fish is being carried, it is but a moment's work to tip pump and box to the washboard and proceed to empty the bilge overside, this operation not interfering with steering which, for the time being, is attended to by a foot that pushes or pulls the stick to the desired angle of inclination.
These Chatham boats invariably carry a stout barrel in the cockpit to receive the fish livers and other market able parts of finny internal economy when cleaning up, and it would be absurd to venture even a guess as to how many gallons, yes, barrels of "oil" have been rendered from contents of this particular container, which appears to have been in service a number of years. Should spray fly so as to be uncomfortably wet the helmsman fits two boards in the entrance to his compartment and leans against this barricade with the companion slide shut against his back. When he dons wet-weather clothing, topped by a sou'wester drawn down over eyes, it has to be an inquisitive sea that can put the single cylinder, make-and-break motor out of commission. If it comes to a really foul chance to windward he rigs a tarpaulin over the cockpit to the proper pitch.