The Wheel in the Boat keeps Breakin’

The wheel is an important part of any boat. Ours was original circa 1987 and not in the best shape.

surveyor wheel
The photo the surveyor took…


It seemed that all that was needed was a light sanding of the wood and a coat of varnish cetol. Nope. When the delivery captain brought the boat up he sent us this picture.

wheel tied.jpg
It’s not supposed to look like this?

The first time we went out sailing we sort of whacked the wood on to the spokes thinking that it had just come unglued (or something) and would stay on. We were wrong.


Here is a picture of the wheel at the beginning of the sail. I have no picture of the wheel at the end of the sail but we had to take the wooden ring off and steer by using the spokes. That wasn’t very fun.

The next time we went sailing I found some thin line and lashed the wood to the spokes. I tried to tie it in such a way that the spokes would stay in their little grooves in the wood. I felt quite pleased with myself and it looked nautically pretty. No picture, unfortunately…

My lashing system worked fine until we were well out on the water and maneuvering around all the other sailboats, ferries, container ships, and Coast Guard vessels. Then, of course, the wood came off again, only this time it was still attached by my twisting rope that was rapidly knotting up around the steering column. There were a few frantic moments before the lines could be cut. Oops. So much for that grand plan.

We made do.

During the trip to Connecticut to purchase our stove we poked around in Defender’s clearance room and found the perfect wheel. It is the same diameter as the original but with folding sides so there is more room in the cockpit. What will they think of next?

We purchased this wheel – the savings were just too good to pass up – and brought it home.

There it is in that white box on the side.

First thing was to remove the old wheel. How does one do this? Well, there is a 3” long tapered piece of brass called a key that locks the wheel in to place. All one has to do is to remove this key, slide the old wheel off the steering shaft, and slide the new wheel on to the shaft. Is this what happened? No.

The key would not come out no matter how much WD-40 we sprayed on it or how much we yanked on it with pliers. I think it took two days of hitting it with a hammer (one of my favorite forms of boat maintenance) to get it to come out. It was a bit worse for wear but, since it was much too big for the space in the first place, Peter simply filed off the dinged-up parts and it was better than new.

Once we got the old wheel off we realized that the new wheel required a different hub shape (new wheel had a tapered hub and our steering shaft is straight). Not to worry, buy a straight hub and fix it. Which is what we did. Peter swapped the hubs (it’s not as complicated as one might think, just a lot of screws), slid the wheel on to the shaft, and slid the shiny, perfectly fitting key in to place. All-in-all a pretty easy boat project.

p at the wheel.jpg
The wheel in Action. Photo courtesy of Duane Reed.

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