Westsail Owners Alliance - Thread: "Weather Helm"
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Thread: "Weather Helm"

12,268 posts on 2,444 threads   •   From Mar 07, 2004 - Jan 08, 2012


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Weather Helm

Chip Wheeler (Guest)

Dear Bud,

I am having trouble with weather helm on my W32. No, it's more than that. Let's say I am having problems with the hydrodynamic forces on the rudder. When sailing close hauled or on a close reach, since the tiller is heavy, I can tie it off to the stern mooring cleats and the boat will steer herself.

However, when sailing off the wind, more active steering is necessary. This August, returning from Molokai on a broad reach in fresh trade winds and quartering seas, we had to wrestle with the helm with both hands...and neither helmsman is a featherweight, I assure you. I suspect that part of the cause of the problem may be in the sheer massiveness of a rudder with so much surface area. It certainly will not stall as rudders will on many modern boats.

Everyone says that the sails need to be balanced. I have sailed many miles with ample foresails and two reefs in the main. It does help, but it doesn't eliminate the problem. My tiller is only 5'7" long. A longer tiller is a longer lever. Has anyone fabricated and used a tiller 7' long or longer? Or, am I barking up the wrong tree? What is your advice?

Chip Wheeler
Westsail 32, Hull #32

Bud Taplin

Since you have the grandfather of all the Westsail 32's, you also have the original design rudder on her. Perhaps modifying the shape of the rudder would help. The modified rudder, which Westsail did at about hull #120 or so, has less chord, and more area down at the aft lower end of the rudder, with a straight trailing edge. I do have a drawing of the shape of this rudder if you need it. Also, the standard tiller is 5'-10" long, so that 3" difference would probably not help too much, but maybe so.

Chip Wheeler (Guest)

Hi, Bud,

I was excited to get your reply. Thank you.

To delve further...what do you mean by "chord"? Thickness? Shape? Surface area? I have noticed that the more recent Westsail 32s have a rudder that seems to be smaller than mine. They certainly have a squarer shape, as your comments suggest. Assuming that the rudder on the later boats has a more efficient design, I would like to take a look at the drawing that you have.

I have the additional concern that the bottom of my rudder is the lowest point on the boat by an inch and a half. Not good for grounding! I am considering cutting off a few inches next haulout. Also, the bronze gudgeons and pintals may not be as strong as the fiberglass ones that everyone else's boat has.

For now, the only thing that I can do is fabricate a longer tiller, I guess.


Bud Taplin

Chord is the distance from the leading to trailing edge of the rudder. Certainly, the bottom of the rudder should be at least 1" above the bottom of the keel to protect the rudder if the boat goes aground. Your bronze pintals and gudgeons should certainly be plenty strong enough. Just make sure to keep a zinc on them to prevent electrolysis.

Bill and Linda Kenner


An old racing techinque for a boat overpowered on a reach may help. Instead of pulling the tiller to windward and holding it there, try returning it to the midline and then jerking it back to windward. The theory that I heard is that when you keep the rudder to windward, it detaches the flow across the rudder and stall it. By repeatedly jerking it from the center line back to windward, you can minimize stalling and get maximum effect.

Another trick from racing involved releasing the mainsheet and then the vang/preventer to allow the main to rise and depower. Even if you play the main sheet it does not completely depower the main. Only the vang/preventer can do that.

Chip Wheeler (Guest)

I have cut and refinished the old wooden (spruce? fir?) staysail boom to be my new tiller. With the original bronze gooseneck still attached it comes to 8'2". It almost reaches the bridgedeck, giving the helmsman just enough room to clear it while standing in the cockpit footwell when we come about. My son and I leave for Maui this week. We should be able to test it. If this boom isn't long enough to give me the extra leverage that I need, I suppose I'll have to convert her to wheel steering...or buy new sails!

Norm Rhines

Good day Chip :
Where about in Hawaii is your home port.
I am over here in Oahu (Keehi marina) and would be interested in talking to you. There are some things that would help the westsail's rudder but it entails replacing the rudder with a new one. (I have considered having a group build for this item but I am not sure this possible as many are not willing to pay for the cost this entails. But integral to the design would be a trim tab which could be set to counter steer thus reducing the loads on the pins and helmsman. There are also tech items that could be fixed at the same time.
I just came over from the main land and the double reef and head sails work great. I am using a 1975 vintage rudder with mods (still not exactly right but close)

In any case ship me a mail if you would like to get together.
sv/Imagine W32#564

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