Pedestal Steering Conversion

The San Juan 28 is a sweet sailing boat and has a great feel at the tiller. In spite of that, I decidedpedestal1.jpg (33280 bytes) to convert to pedestal steering because the combination of a long tiller and a short cockpit caused lots of leg bashing when I had "cruising passengers" aboard. The decision was reinforced when I located a used pedestal complete with  wheel, wheel brake, shifter and cable, throttle and cable, pedestal guard, and a great compass. I think I paid $300 for all of this. If you have priced new Edson components, you know how good of a deal that was.

I have been sailing with the pedestal steering since 1999 and have no regrets. The helm still has good feel and the cockpit is much more people friendly. Single handed sailing is at least as easy as before if not easier. Click any pic for full size image.

First, I ordered Edson's catalog and also their Data Sheet for the San Juan 28 to study what would be involved and to determine additional parts I would need. The Data Sheet calls for a pedestal that is shorter than normal by 2.5 inches to accommodate a recessed adjustable idler assembly (Part No. 801) which raises the pedestal by 2.5 inches. bringing it back to standard height. My used pedestal was already full height so I looked for options. I found the solution on the same catalog page as the recessed adjustable idler. I used "Edsons Recessed Crossed Wire Sheave Idler" (Part No. 940-35/4). This part was much less expensive, stronger (in my opinion), and most important, allowed me to use the standard pedestal and base. Since it is not adjustable, the centerline of the pedestal had to be located between 17 and 22 inches from the centerline of the rudder post. My location was approximately 20 inches, yielding almost perfect alignment.

In addition to the Recessed Crossed Wire Sheave Idler, I ordered the following from Edson to complete  my parts requirement:

  • Part No. 777/6.5 Radial Wheel Drive, 2 7/8 inch bore, no keyway, to be pinned.
  • Part No. 646/4 Flathead pedestal mounting bolts. (four)
  • Part No. 618/1-312 Wire take up eyes. (two)
  • Part No. 960/A666 Pedestal guard feet with bolts

Total cost for these parts was about $325 About $25 was spent on miscellaneous needs, bringing the total cost of the conversion to about $650. If all parts had been bought new, the total cost would have been about $1200 without a compass.

It should be noted that this entire job was done with the boat in the water. The only part that concerned me was dropping the rudder. This actually turned out to be easy and is discussed later.

The first task was to reinforce the cockpit sole. I wanted to be sure my 200 pound friends pedestal2.jpg (42836 bytes)could pull themselves up by the top of the pedestal guard without any flexing of the cockpit sole. I accomplished this by glassing in place a piece of 3/4 inch plywood that was essentially the same width of the cockpit sole. This work is cumbersome because it is overhead work. I made it somewhat easier by precutting fiberglass cloth strips and stapling them to the perimeter of the plywood. In addition, I stapled a layer of matt on the top surface of the plywood to act as a sponge and hold a greater volume of epoxy resin. The matt was saturated with epoxy and then the plywood was positioned. I used a hydraulic bottle jack opedestal3.jpg (34940 bytes)n a block of wood to hold the plywood in position because it was easily adjusted. Minimal pressure was applied. Next, I "painted" resin on the fiberglass strips stapled to the perimeter of the plywood to attach them to the cockpit sole.

Next, I positioned the pedestal in the cockpit, marked hole locations, drilled mounting bolt holes and cut center hole large enough to accommodate sheaves. control cables, and electrical wiring (for compass illumination).

Although the Edson drawings in the catalog did not indicate it would be necessary, I had to add an additional piece of 3/4 inch plywood between the sheave assembly and the first piece of plywood attached to the cockpit  sole (see pictures). This eliminated an interference between the sheave assembly and the pedestal base.

 Now it was time to work on the rudder post. A section of the fiberglass rudder tube had to be cut out and the rudder post had to be drilled to accept the radial drive wheel "pin" which is a bolt. I ran a rope from the stern pulpit, under the rudder, and to the stern pulpit on the opposite side to keep the rudder from falling out once the tiller hardware was removed on top. This turned out to be unnecessary because the rudder is buoyant. Mine was fairly waterlogged and still had neutral buoyancy. In addition, there was enough friction in the rudder tube to hold it in place. Once the tiller hardware was removed, I attached a safety line to the top of the post and then pushed the rudder out of the rudder tube.

Back under the cockpit sole! I used a 3 foot ruler to establish the cut locations of the rudder tube by holding the ruler against the bottom of a sheave and against the fiberglass rudder tube. I "eyeballed" it such that the ruler was parallel to the cockpit sole and perpendicular to the rudder tube and make a reference mark on the tube. Next I measured the radial drive wheel from the cable groove to the top and bottom of the wheel hub to determine how far above and below my reference mark the cuts needed to be made. I gave myself some margin for error and made the two cuts on the rudder tube.

Next step was to reinstall the rudder. Yep. That was the only way I could be sure I was positioning the radial drive wheel in exactly the right location. Once the rudder was back in, I loosely clamped the radial wheel on the rudder post. I adjusted it up and down the post using the 3 foot ruler to align with the sheaves at the pedestal. At this point, precision alignment was easy. By positioning one end of the ruler on both the leading and trailing edge of the radial drive wheel, the other end of the ruler (near the sheaves) accurately showed the radial wheel position relative to the sheaves. Once alignment was established, I marked the exact location on the rudder post. Now the radial drive wheel was removed and the rudder was removed again.

An inexpensive benchtop drillpress was used to drill the hole for the radial drive wheel pin. I highly recommend the use of a drillpress because the stainless rudder stock is very difficult to drill accurately otherwise. The location and size of this hole is critical for good strength. To precisely locate the hole location, I positioned the radial drive wheel on the rudder post according to the reference mark I made when it was installed on the boat. I then chucked a properly sized bit in a hand drill and inserted it into each bolt hole in the drive wheel and "drilled" just enough to mark the location of the hole on opposite sides of the rudder stock. The drive wheel was then removed and the holes drilled. Make sure the bolt will go through the drive wheel and rudder post BEFORE reinstalling in the boat. Fine tuning (slight filing of the sides of the holes in the rudder stock) is much easer off the boat.

Rudder was reinstalled and radial wheel installed and pinned. Steering cables were routed and attached to the radial drive wheel via the wire take up eye bolts. This was one of the most difficult tasks simply because of the close proximity of the radial drive wheel to the cockpit sole and because of the poor access to the workspace. I did not install the rudder post stuffing box as the Data Sheet shows. The cut in the rudder tube is far enough above waterline that I get no water in the boat. This holds true even at full power then the rear of the boat "squats" from the thrust. This was another significant cost saving.

You would think you would be finished, but there is another major task to be completed: Glassing in strong rudder stops to limit the travel of the rudder. The radial drive wheel has a post bolted to the topside near the rim. This post needs to hit a stop in both directions. Edson suggested 30 to 45 degree travel in both directions, but I provided for about 60 degrees each direction. I had learned to appreciate this tight turning radius with the tiller and wanted to preserve it. I glassed in wooden blocks with notches cut into them so that the rudder stop post would hit the wood block squarely. Close inspection of the enlarged version of the pictures above show these stops. If anyone wants better pics, I could take some and post. Email me for more details (use link in upper left corner).