“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

The Neglected Steering System

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The poor steering system on Smitty had been neglected.  According to the manual from the manufacturer (copies of manual on the bottom of The Boat page), Edson, there are certain maintenance activities that should be done annually.  I know I have never done them and I doubt the previous owner ever gave it a second thought.  This was the last project on my “must do” list before we head out cruising.

This task starts with removing the compass from the binnacle.  You will want to put up the cockpit table before you start otherwise the weight messes with the binnacle as you remove pieces.  There are two screws holding the light onto the compass, after you remove those the whole metal collar around the compass can be lifted straight up.  The compass light can be disconnected via a quick connect located under the metal collar.  I then removed the compass by loosening a small clamping screw at the base. Don’t set the pieces you remove on the table as the weight will mess you up later on.

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Once the compass is removed you can turn your attention to the 4 bolts holding the compass base on.  These are about three inches long and thread into the bottom metal stand of the binnacle after passing through the section that holds the gear shifter and throttle.  One of my bolts was very tough to get out.  It was under the Nav Pod for the chart plotter so you could get straight down on it and the flat head opening was starting to strip.  It should really be a bolt here instead of a screw so you could use a ratchet or wrench on it.  I tended up using my impact driver to get it started.  I don’t think Catalina used any anti-seize or corrosion agents when they put this together.  Once I got the plastic base for the compass off, I set it on the cockpit table, this prevented having to cut and reconnect the compass light wires.

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I found the access was good enough for this task without removing the shifter and throttle section.  I looked for any signs of loose parts or wear. I cleaned the chain with a rag, then sprayed WD-40 Specialist Water Repellent Corrosion Inhibitor and Lubricant (I would have used Boshield T-9 but I ran out and the box store I went to only had the WD-40, this Specialist is a similar product) on the chain as I moved the wheel back and forth.  I lubricated the chain with motor oil.  A common mistake is to try and grease the chain.  The correct lubricant is 30-40 weight motor oil.  I used 3-In-1 Oil Motor Oil, the bottle makes it very convenient for application in this use. When the oil in the bottle runs out I will just refill it with the same oil I use in the diesel engine. Again, I moved the wheel back and forth several times during the application process.

On either end of the shaft for the wheel there is a needle bearing.  These need to be checked for play by trying to move the wheel shaft around.  Mine was good and tight with no play. Edson says to grease these needle bearings with Super Lube Synthetic Grease.  I get mine in the small 1 ounce tubes and you can easily push the tip into the holes on either end.  Again turn the wheel while applying to get a good application.

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The brass portion of the shaft in that looks like it has a grid pattern stamped on it is where the brake grabs.  Be careful not to get any grease, oil or lubricant in this area. I checked over the shifter and throttle and lubricated those areas with spray lubricant while I had the area open.  Then I just but everything back together.  When it came time to put the 3-inch screws back in, I treated the threaded area with Lanocote for corrosion and anti-seize protection like I talked about in the Preparing Equipment for Life at Sea post I did a couple of months back.  I caulk the heads of the bolts and the wire penetration through the compass base with some BoatLife Life-Caulk just to try and keep the area under the compass as dry as possible.  It appeared that Catalina had done the same during the initial installation.

Next it was on to the below deck portions.  The first thing you have to do was access this area by removing the fiberglass shroud.  I actually did this last weekend to look at the plate at the base of the pedestal.  Catalina had sent out an email warning of potential corrosion issues but I examined mine and found it to be in good condition.  To remove the shroud I had to remove all the screws and then cut away the caulking that was put there to make this a water tight area.  I used a utility knife to cut away some sort of white polysulfide caulking.  I then clean off all the old caulking and prepped the area for new caulking with acetone.

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For the maintenance, I checked all of the cables and idlers for play.  The cable was taught but not like standing rigging.  I check the steering radial drive and rudder for play. I also checked the alignment between the idlers and the steering radial drive. It took two people to really check this area over well.  I was down below while my Bride was turning the wheel back and forth for close to an hour. No major issues were found.  I found some surface corrosion on the idlers and the quadrant that was easily cleaned up a rag and some WD-40.  There is one area about the side of a pencil eraser of surface corrosion on the starboard wire that I don’t like. I can see this area when the wheel is hard over near the water heater.  I will continue to watch this area.

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I oiled the wire with motor oil by dripping it on top of the wire as my Bride turned the wheel.  I had to do this in several locations to get good coverage of the wire.  I also ran a paper towel over the wire as I was lubricating it. I used the paper towel over a rag because if there where any fish hooks or other defects in the wire it would tear off little pieces of paper towel and indicate I had a damage and the wire needed to be replaced.  I didn’t see any paper towel pieces or other indications of problems with the wire.

I then checked the rudder bearing, packing gland, rudder stops and through deck fitting. I had to open the top access panel where you attach the emergency tiller for part of this inspection.  I didn’t find any issues in this area.  The bolts for the packing gland were a little loose so I tightened them up a little.  You don’t want to over tighten these as that is the equivalent of over tightening a stuffing box.

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Rudder stops on my boat are glassed into the hull where the deck drops down for the top portion of the rudder bearing. The stops look good and so does the stop that bolts onto the radial drive to make contact with the stops.

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Glassed in Rudder Stop

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Rudder Stop Attached to the Radial Drive

I put a wrench on every bolt and nut in the steering system: the take up eye; the wire clamps; the bolts holding the quadrants of the steering radial drive together; etc. I checked everything to make sure there were no loose connections, no loose wire, no missing bolts or nuts. I feel pretty good about the steering system and it now turns smooth as can be.  I am thinking about ordering a spare Edson wire and chain but at $300 I may not go for that spare.  The most likely point of failure based on my inspection would be the wire.  But that is 1/4 inch wire and I should be able to find that pretty easily throughout the Caribbean.  I put the fiberglass shroud back over the steering components and recaulked it with some more BoatLife Life-Caulk.

So now I am done with the “must do” projects.  I am into bonus time.  Anything I get done from here out could also be completed along the way.  The first bonus project I tackled was installing a 12 volt outlet at the helm.  I found a spot in the engine controls to tap off some power.  I installed the outlet next to the connection point for the RAM Mic.  Now I can power the iPad while underway easily.

Next up will be to install the Navionics Sonar Phone T-Box.

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One thought on “The Neglected Steering System

  1. Nice post! The pictures really do a good job of showing the steering system. I’m surprised your below decks area and quadrant are that clean. Mine is much greasier and dirtier, but it’s also more exposed and your boat is newer.

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