To move the rudder from the helm required muscles. Something was wrong. The broker removed the auto helm which had already failed but this did not make the helm any easier. The test sail was interesting with no feedback from the steering. Also close quarter work was a challenge. I left it to the broker!
As the helm felt stiff immediately, i.e. even a tiny movement was stiff I guessed it was in the steering console and not the rudder itself. The surveyor thought likewise but it was going to need to be stripped down to find out.
This was not going to be easy. I had no idea how to start. So the internet searches began. It took me a while to find out the console was called a pedestal. I also found lots of posts on problems in the pedestal but I was not able to identify my particular one. It was clearly a Lewmar Constellation but all the resources on the web related to a newer model the Constellation 600. The only thing for it was to strip it down and see what was there. To get to the bearings required first removing the compass. This was slightly more difficult than I imagined. I found the first two screws holding it to the pedestal but it would not come off and I knew there must be others. But where. I decided to photograph it and put out a question on the Practical Boat Owner web site. One of the most fantastic resources you will ever find when you are stuck. I’m sure there are hundreds of guys just sitting there waiting to pounce on your post with the most fantastic knowledge and advice. As I was taking the photograph and checking the close up focus I noticed the model number was a small plastic insert. Would it prise out. The answer was yes. Here were the elusive screws hidden behind the model and model number covers. The rest of the removal to reveal the shaft and bearing was relatively straight forward. Once inside it revealed a shaft held in a front a back bearing with thrust washers and circlips. On the shaft was a cog which engaged a chain which had on either end the steering cable attachments. The next problem was getting the circlips off. Even with buying two different circlip pliers I just couldn’t jet enough hold on them. In the end I just had to force them off. The shaft was indeed stiff in the bearings. Problem found. The bearings are nylon and the aluminium carrier had white oxidation which had compressed the nylon. Also the nylon can expand when oiled. This may have have added to the problem. The removal of the shaft from the bearings required the refitting of the wheel and a bit of pulling. Now I had to find out how to renew the bearings and remove them. I found lots of kits for bearing replacements for all other types of Constellation pedestals but couldn’t find one for mine. An email to Yacht Parts Plymouth asking if they had a kit reminded me what good service is. Richard emailed straight back explaining how to remove the bearings, enclosing a diagram of the assembly and explaining how to temporarily refurbish the existing bearings at no cost. The pedestal was identified as a Whitlock Constellation 100 Classic. I decided to order the replacements to get it 100% perfect. When Andrew Potter surveyed the chain plates he also recommended the replacement of the steering cables. As I had everything stripped down this seemed the right time. I removed them easily and left draw string in place to refit. The bearings were ordered and took 2 months to arrive. They were too large and I needed to machine them on a lathe to take 0.6mm off. On the 22/Jan/2011 they were installed and the shaft now turns with ease. The new steering cables were pulled through with the mouse string and duly attached to the rudder quadrant. Bliss, the helm and rudder now move using my little finger!
When trying to discover the reason for the stiff steering one place to look was the rudder. The rudder quadrant was in the stern locker and on first inspection it looked a little scruffy. The surveyor also advised that the stuffing box should be serviced. To do this the auto helm arm had to be removed and the quadrant. This reveled the stuffing box and once the collar was off it was a fairly simple job to remove the packing. To replace the packing was also quite straight forward using a very good instructional video on the internet. A bit of cleaning painting and job done. The rudder now swings effortlessly.
22/Jan/2011 This job is now complete.