One of the discussions that sometimes comes up on sailing fora, is wheel or tiller steering. Of course, it depends on the boat and the user, and there are pros and cons with both. Our first boat, a 30 ft Dufour Arpege, had tiller steering. Vestavind has wheel. Until now, that is.
I have wished to change to tiller for several years, but have weighed for and against. Although it will be possible to change back to wheel steering, it probably will not be done, at least not by me, so I had to be sure if it was the right thing to do.
One of the main reasons for going for tiller was to get more room in the cockpit, both when sailing and in harbour. Standing behind the wheel when sailing, in Vestavind, you had to step up on the side bench to go forward. An 80-year old man who sailed with me some years ago (see Sailing in the North), wondered what was the point with the big wheel. It was so bothersome to get around! Well, I explained, you need to be able to sit on the side when you sail, and still reach the helm. Now, some years older myself, I have to admit I see his point! I am not getting younger. With tiller, I can stand or sit wherever I want in the cockpit, reach the sheets easily, and move around in comfort (relatively, depending on the wind and sea!). I can sit in shelter under the sprayhood if there is rain or spray. I can quickly push the tiller over to turn sharply. And there are fewer things that can break.
The cons? I had to find a new place for the engine control, which now is a bit too low down. And the compass and the chart plotter, but it will be solved. Going in reverse, you feel the force directly in your hand and have to hold the tiller firmly to keep control. A bigger drawback is that it meant blocking the aft locker lid. I can reach into it from the opening to starboard, but the extended rudder shaft has taken up some of the room in the middle. This was a roomy locker, so I have lost some storage. If I still want to have an auto pilot, I either have to get a new drive unit that goes directly on the rudder shaft, or get a tiller pilot. The first option would be the best, but definitely the most expensive. I will see. The boat tracks very well without the autopilot when the sails are set well. And with the tiller, I have a good feel of the balance.
I have just tried it two or three times yet, but so far I am happy with the change. There are some things to get used to, like going in reverse, and having to reach down to the engine control when going into a marina, when you need to have your head up. But the flexibility it has given to life in the cockpit far outweighs the cons. It can be tilted up and completely get out of the way when in harbour.
Here are some images from the process: