Everyone who sails a small craft has, at some point, found that something they need is out of reach up at the bow or stowed in a locker. Many have also had the experience of a sore wrist or cramped hands from a full day of steering. Small boats don’t typically stay where they are pointed once you leave the helm, and a day underway on the water usually means a day stuck at the tiller.
While there are a few gadgets and techniques that address this with bits of string or bungee cords to hold the tiller, I have always found they take time to set up, and don’t engage and disengage quickly. I looked for other solutions and was delighted to find an often-overlooked traditional device, the tiller comb. Elegant in its simplicity, it can hold the tiller in place and be instantly disengaged by lifting the tiller slightly. I bought the Tiller Comb Stop from Victory Products, a chandlery in Vancouver, BC. The stainless-steel device includes a blade for the tiller and a hinged comb. One side of the comb bolts to the boat and the other, with a toothed edge, pivots upright to engage the blade and hold the tiller—it is folded down out of the way when not needed.
Mounting the comb closer to the rudder will increase the arc of positions it will hold the tiller in; farther away offers a more fine-grained control of where the tiller stays. On my 19′ Lightning, I bolted the comb to the deck with the comb side standing against the cockpit coaming when up. This put it roughly 2′ forward of the rudder pivot point, and this position works extremely well.
Hold the tiller to set the course you want to maintain, then set it down to engage the blade in the teeth. With proper trimming of the sails, the boat will hold a course relative to the wind with little intervention. To make an adjustment, just lift the tiller half an inch or so, bump it over, and drop it back down. The tiller stays where put yet is available at a moment’s notice. Sailing upwind for half an hour without touching the tiller has become common for me, and those frantic dashes to the bow and back are a thing of the past.
Robert Hodge lives aboard a 42′ sailboat in Seattle, and cruises Puget Sound on his wooden ’60s-era Lightning that has been restored and extensively modified. He works seasonally in commercial ship repair in local shipyards and in a marine retail store. He is a veteran of two first-leg Race to Alaska attempts and has plans to compete in the full R2AK in 2021.
The Tiller Comb Stop is available from Victory Products for $39.99 CAD and with easy shipping to the U.S.
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