Tiller vs. Wheel on Downeaster 32 Cruising Corner Forums


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Tiller vs. Wheel on Downeaster 32
Jonathan Oasis
July 10, 2021 - 6:06 pm
Member Since: April 5, 2011
Forum Posts: 174
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A picture is worth a thousand words so here is a pic  (borrowed from Bodhran's site, hope thats ok Jason, by the way, where is Jason these days?) 

Look at how much space the wheel takes up in the cockpit well, and how tight it makes walking forward or aft (impossible basically, need to step out of cockpit well).   This is not a good situation in my opinion and a significant drawback to using a wheel on a DE32.   The irony is, driving is done from the high side which is perfect for a tiller on a 32' voyaging boat, and when not voyaging the tiller can be stowed away which releases a huge amount of cockpit space, this strongly suggests a tiller is better!  Another irony is, the interesting main sheet rigging does not need a traveller, which already frees up the entire cockpit area, compared to those nasty boats where a traveller makes moving around a cockpit difficult.    I have sailed more miles driving with a tiller on other ~25'-~32' blue water boats than I have driven with a wheel and found it just as enjoyable, actually a bit easier when tacking (my voyages while driving with a wheel are biased since those boats with wheels mainly used autopilots to steer so "driving" meant adjusting the autopilot heading with pushbuttons, rarely actually placing hands on the wheel).    Those boats with travelers made me love the Downeaster much more because all the traveller lines were always in the way, the knees constantly bumping against the metal beam, having to watch out for fingers during a mainsheet adjustment, etc.

I am nearly decided to remove my wheel, autopilot, binnacle (and compass, chart plotter mount and wiring, and "cheese tray" sized wooden tray table), also the huge quadrant with all it's wire mechanicals, from Oasis, unless I get some opinion that a tiller has some drawback which I'm not considering.     The quadrant uses a significant amount of space in the engine room as well.   Not having a quadrant unlocks a good amount of internal real estate.    


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The Downeaster 32 drives very lightly considering its weight and fat rear, the rudder is sized perfectly, so using a tiller I would guess does not have problems with leverage or maintaining against weather helm.  Some Downeasters were manufactured with tiller, so it's not unknown to voyage with that option.  Probably the wheel was a $$$ upgrade, and as I ponder why owners chose the wheel, I've only assumed it's a case of "bigger boat envy" since larger boats which have wheels look fancier, more beefy, more nautical, and less like a Sabot. 

It sure seems that a tiller is superior on a Downeaster 32.   Maybe a tiller is even superior on a Downeaster 38 although because of the cockpit dimensions, the DE38 tiller is absolutely massive in size.

So in summary, is there any reason why I should not dump my wheel & quadrant & binnacle to retrofit a tiller? 

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August 29, 2021 - 5:44 pm
Member Since: December 9, 2019
Forum Posts: 1
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None that I can think of, I have the tiller and I prefer it.


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Jonathan Oasis
March 30, 1926 - 10:52 am
Member Since: April 5, 2011
Forum Posts: 174
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My guess is that wheel was the "up sell" because with the cutter rig and the staysail boom, which makes the staysail "automatically trim" itself when tacking, that driving with the wheel is even more like driving a car.  If the headsail/jib is furled or down then turning the boat means just turning the wheel and no change of seating position needed, unlike a tiller. 

All sailboats should have an emergency tiller anyways, so sourcing at least a basic tiller has always been on my todo list.  

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