Fixing a Cracked Tiller
I looked down to see a small gap between the laminates near the base, where it connects to the rudder. We limped home and I was extra gentle with the tiller, lest it break off and leave us stranded without any ability to steer the boat. Luckily is was a calm day.
I replaced the tiller earlier this summer when I installed the auto-pilot. The varnish on the old tiller had worn off and it was looking pretty ratty. I had this spare tiller kicking around in the locker and it had a beautiful finish on it. The base was a little big, resulting in a more than snug fit when trying to install it.After removing the cracked tiller, I discovered that despite its beautiful varnish, the base had been rotted and poorly repaired. Some previous owner gave it a good try, but this old chunk of wood had seen better days. What this tiller needed was a fiberglass reinforcement to breathe new life into her.
I used my four-inch rotary grinder to carefully grind a tenth of an inch off of each side of the base. A pair of digital calipers that I keep on hand allowed me to check and make sure I shaved off the material evenly. After getting the surface material off, I could see that the core was still structurally sound, if well weathered.I carefully measured and cut out some six ounce fiberglass cloth and prepared my epoxy resin by mixing in thickener until it was the consistency of maple syrup. A little runny, but not too fast. I carefully wrapped the butt of the tiller in four layers of cloth. After each wrap, I painted on more epoxy. Then applied steady but even pressure to the cloth as I wrapped it as tightly as I could. The cloth whetted out really well.
I wasn’t sure how many layers it would take to equal the material that I had ground off. I was hoping to add slightly more than I removed as I could grind the finished fiberglass down to fit. I almost stopped at three wraps, but I’m glad I continued on to a fourth because that turned out to be just the right amount. I hardly had to do any touch up grinding before installing the hinge plates and mounting the tiller back in place.Better than new and twice as strong!
When the varnish eventually wears off, I’ll replace it with a coat of thickened epoxy and paint it with gel coat. I sure love beautiful wood like this, but I don’t have the patience to maintain it. I’ve slowly been covering every inch of wood on Solace with fiberglass. At thirty three years old, all the wood is at the end of its life, but the fiberglass hardly looks any different than they day she came out of the mold.