Steering Issues And Preparing For A Cruise

All of our recent activity has been for a purpose. We are preparing Beach House for a trip from our current location in Beaufort, South Carolina, to the Chesapeake Bay. We know it is the wrong direction for this time of year, but recent events have required us to head north. If all goes as planned we will leave the dock on Monday, September 14th and head along the ICW for the next 600 miles or so. We have made as many improvements as we felt were necessary to make the trip safe and comfortable.

One issue that took some extra work was the steering system. The upper and lower hydraulic helm pumps are Wagner 700 Series, very substantial and dependable units. The upper helm had developed a leak so we decided to send both units in for testing and service which included replacing the internal seals. We chose Florida Rigging and Hydraulics for the service since we had received good reviews from folks that had used them in the past. They did an excellent job and turned the units around very quickly at a reasonable price. They also spent the time on the phone to be sure we understood the requirements for bleeding the system and the proper fluid to use.

Once the pumps were back we immediately reinstalled them and bled the entire system. The bleeding process is fairly simple, the lower helm is filled with fluid, then the upper helm is filled. The hydraulic cylinder attached to the rudder has bleed fittings for both port and starboard sides. With both helm pumps full, the starboard bleed fitting is opened and the wheel turned to port. With a container at the rudder, the wheel is turned until the air is purged from the system and only fluid flows from the fitting. Once this is done that fitting is closed and the port fitting is opened and the wheel turned to starboard until all air is purged. But once this was done we still had a problem. The rudder did not want to turn and the wheel was almost impossible to turn with the bleed fittings closed.

We disconnected the hydraulic cylinder from the rudder post and used the emergency tiller to try and turn the rudder. It took all of my strength to get it to turn and that is not how it should be. In addition the steering was still very hard to turn, even with the hydraulic cylinder disconnected from the rudder. We quickly determined that we had two problems. First, the rudder bearing the sits on the top of the rudder bracket was almost completely frozen. And second, the hydraulic cylinder had gone bad and would need to be replaced. The local boatyard here, Marsh Harbor Marina, has been extremely helpful when we needed equipment or assistance in any way. They placed the order for the cylinder and had it for us the next day and at a price we could not find better elsewhere.

Our concern was that we would have to haul the boat to deal with the bearing and we would need steering to get to the boatyard, some three miles away. So for the next three days we soaked the bearing in place with PB Blaster, then WD 40, then more PB Blaster, then Corrosion Block, then More PB Blaster. Each day, using the emergency tiller, the rudder was turning easier and easier. There is a grease fitting on the bearing and we were adding grease as we worked the bearing. Finally after about four days the rudder was turning with almost no effort. We installed the new cylinder and bled the system again, making absolutely sure all air was out of it. The steering on the boat had been stiff since we bought it, but now the wheel will turn with one finger. We are very pleased that it has worked out as well as it has.

A few other projects are also completed. We installed a 2000 watt inverter to run the 110 systems when at anchor. We will do a complete posting on the installation later. We have also added a Honda 2000 Generator to run the battery charger and other 110 volt items at anchor for longer periods of time. Our past experience with the Honda has been a very good one, we used it on our sailboat for years. We wanted a good system to monitor our batteries and the state of charge as well as amp hours used and replaced. We installed the Victron BMV 600 since we know Victron to be a very well built piece of equipment and the installation is very simple. We have installed an LED anchor light with a photo cell that will turn it on automatically at dusk and turn it off automatically at sunrise. The spreader deck lights were not working so they too were rewired and replaced. We also installed a second high water alarm with a high decibel alarm, mounted at the back of the engine compartment, just forward of the new dripless packing for the shaft as an extra safety measure in the rare event of failure. Some rewiring for the 12 volt side of the fridge was needed and a few other minor repairs. We also added a set of Clarion speakers in the flybridge from our six disk CD changer/stereo in the main salon. We might as well enjoy the trip after all of this work. New screens were made for the side door and the center opening window at the lower helm. We won't have the air conditioner running under way so we wanted lots of air flow.

We look forward to getting under way again, even if it is heading north. We will be posting when we can for the entire trip so come back and visit often.


  1. Congratulations on getting moving again. I've been following along since you started the rebuild and it's amazing what you have done with the boat. Stay safe!


  2. Thanks Richard. The first day has gone great. we are anchored on the Stono River, just south of Charleston. We will post on the trip as we get WiFi signals. Our WiFi set up as posted on the site is working fine right now. Chuck and Susan


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