Because today almost all boats have a double rudder wheel

We explain how a requirement originated in the world of racing, the double rudder wheel, has turned into a great advantage for the boats, which thus gain space and ease of operation. So much so that today, even on the smallest boats, they have come up with the double-wheel solution of the rudder

double wheel first 51
PRECURSOR The First 51 (15.63 x 4.55 m), designed by Frers in 1987, was one of the first production boats with a double rudder wheel.

Thefirst production hull with the double wheel ever built, judging from our archives, is Frers’ First 51, derived from the racing boats of the time that competed in the Admiral’s Cup. Why were there two-wheelers aboard these boats? This was certainly not to give more space in the cockpit, but simply to give the helmsman the ability to better control the headsails, especially in high winds where he was forced to helm upwind.

After that, a need that was related to performance turned into a winning solution to revolutionize the cockpit and stern of cruising boats. If there had been no double rudder wheel, even the aft mirrors would not have had that direct access to the sea that we are used to today. Today almost all standard boats, even small ones, have double wheels. In these pages we tell you how we got, on cruising boats, from the old tiller to the double wheel, via the single wheel.

double rudder wheel
DOUBLE WHEEL, MORE USABLE SPACE
In this image we have compared the tiller and tiller swing spaces (in red) and those for the exclusive use of the helmsman with the double wheel (in green), drawn from the deck of the Hanse 315 (9.63 x 3.35 m).

TRENDY BUT NOT FASHIONABLE

Everyone wants two wheels on cruising boats, as mentioned a lot of shipyards are offering on most models the double rudder wheel: it is trendy but not a fad.

The dual wheel was arrived at certainly not to come up with a new aesthetic solution that the market would like. The double wheel was born to solve very specific problems, and is the culmination of a technological evolution that has seen different solutions: single tiller, center wheel rudder, double tiller, pendulum rudders, double wheel, to be integrated with external, hanging, double rudders, and autopilot systems.

Today the double wheel seems to be the end point that everyone agrees on, the ideal solution that offers the best compromise between maneuverability, visibility for the helmsman, space on board, and construction performance, to the point that we find it on virtually every type of boat.

A LITTLE HISTORY: “THE INVENTION OF THE WHEEL”

We take the opportunity to take a look at the past. The rudder wheel was invented to demultiply the force needed to steer the tiller. It was, in fact, an added element to the bar to allow for its easy movement. As the size of hulls grew, the rudder steering tiller reached a limiting size and therefore wheel winches began to replace the tiller altogether, which was reduced in size and placed below deck.

The earliest evidence of wheel-steered sailing ships dates back to the early 18th century. It is surprising that the wheel rudder was invented so late, given that rope-and-drum demultiplier technologies had been known since the days of medieval catapults, and a winch was already used on ships to haul anchor. On some sailing ships, the function of a demultiplier winch is still evident, and in some cases we see double or triple rudder wheels to allow an assistant helmsman to apply the force needed to make fast turns.

double rudder wheel
EVEN THE LITTLE ONES WANT IT DOUBLE
Even on small boats such as the Hanse 315 (9.62 x 3.35 m) in the photo, or for example on the Elan E3, one of the forerunners of two-wheelers on smaller hulls, people are now opting for double wheels to increase cockpit space.

QUESTION OF SPACE ON THE SMALLER SMALLER CRUISING BOATS

The first reason that has made the double rudder so attractive to small boat builders in recent years is related to the ergonomics of space. The tiller itself takes up little room, but during navigation, the tiller swing light should always be left clear. In the drawing of the Hanse 315’s bridge (on the previous page above), both tiller and double rudder configurations are superimposed. We colored in red the total tiller and tiller swing area, which go to engage the crew seats. In the case of the double wheel, the mechanics are developed vertically, and the helmsman has a dedicated space, colored green, for his exclusive use. Especially on small boats, being able to reclaim a few square decimeters of space is reason to prefer the dual-wheel solution whenever possible.

THE LIMITS OF THE CENTRAL WHEEL

The center wheel obviously solves the problem of spaces occupied by tiller swing, but on modern, hulls, with wide beam shifted aft, the center position does not optimize the 360-degree visibility of the helmsman. If the wheel is small, in fact, the helmsman cannot sit in the sickle to see the horizon well, because he would not reach the wheel with his hands! With the advent of hulls with generous maximum beam, it became necessary to either increase the size of the wheel, or, which is classic for cruising-only oriented boats, give up some visibility and a helmsman who can stay on the sickle at all times.

On hulls with a performance-oriented design, the idea of a helmsman obliged not to be able to protrude from the gunwale was not feasible, so the only alternative was to increase the diameter of the center wheel. The limits were reached when boats with oversized wheels were proposed that even required a dedicated compartment dug into the cockpit.

The large single center wheel becomes a not insignificant obstacle for transition from bow to stern, and maneuverability is almost prevented by this solution.

double rudder wheel
MAXIMUM FREEDOM ON DECK
In this photo of the Grand Soleil 44 (14.35 x 4.27 m), it is clear how the dual-wheel solution is a winner on both cruising and high-performance boats. It allows the helmsman to have maximum visibility and enables the design of a clear cockpit. The space between the posts facilitates the maneuvering of the mainsail traveller, here incorporated into the cockpit. The helmsman and crew area are clearly divided offering maximum ergonomics. The swim platforms mounted on the rudder posts are the right place to place the electronic instruments.

CRUISE ERGONOMICS

On large cruising boats, space problems are not the primary reason for double wheels. Rather, the design and ergonomic factor comes into play. Indeed, in recent years, a process of cockpit simplification is underway, aiming to meet the needs of the cruiser by separating what is sailing from what is space for the passenger crew. The open stern with a tilting platform, for example, is possible thanks to the two side rudder wheel columns, which are accessible without hindrance. The stern-cockpit passage is now free of everything-no center rudder, no mainsail track in the cockpit, no backstay in a longitudinal line, but split on the transom beam.

THE DOUBLE WHEEL IS DEMANDED BY THE MARKET

The double wheel is so demanded by the market that many manufacturers, even on boats originally born with tiller or single wheel, have quickly adapted. Among the most notable examples is that of the Elan E3, one of the forerunners of the double wheel on smaller hulls, whose history starts with the single tiller E310 model, moves to the original pendulum center tiller, and in today’s version is standard double wheel. Even boats that are more oriented toward long-range cruising and comfort, such as the new HR 340 where many of the requirements for space or comfortable access to the aft beach might also be lacking, have adopted the dual-wheel solution.

Note that in the market, even among bluewater, cockpit and center wheel configurations are becoming niche. Manufacturers confirm to us that when a model is available in both tiller and double-wheel formula, 80 percent of owners choose the double-wheel.

NOTHING TO ENVY THE BAR

One of the criticisms that is always levelled at wheel systems is that they are less direct and less responsive than tiller-driven. This is no longer the case. The mechanics of wheel systems have made great strides. One of the leading companies in the construction of steering gears is Jefa Steering, whose products are chosen by most boat and catamaran production boatyards. Jefa, but also other manufacturers such as Italy’s Solimar, have come up with different technologies that go to eliminate the flaws in response, play, and vibration that were contested with classic wheel systems.

The spaces required for the rudder mechanics have been greatly reduced. By using cams, ball-jointed rods, or innovative mid-carriage solutions, the precision and sensitivity and response of today’s wheel rudders is second to none.

Modern designs already provide for and size the housing of the autopilot servomechanism, and include some redundant elements, to such an extent that the central hole in the cockpit is no longer needed for the installation of the backstay.

tiller
FRENCH BAR BUT NOT ONLY
If the center wheel rudder has practically disappeared, the same cannot be said of the dear old tiller rudder. There are still several new production models (mostly of the French school but there are exceptions) that offer tiller-only or double tiller steering, especially on small performance-oriented boats: for example, the various Pogo or the Jeanneau Sunfast 3300 (pictured) but also the Italian Grand Soleil 34 or the German Dehler 30.

THE (R)BAR STILL EXISTS

Tiller steering has not disappeared from the market; on the contrary. Especially in boats born to sail long of the French school (but not only!), there are still quite a few newly produced models that offer tiller-only or double tiller steering. Some examples: the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, the various Pogo’s, even large catamarans like the Outremer. In Italy, the example is the Grand Soleil 34.

Luigi Gallerani


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