Several years ago, I was on a bouncy delivery run from Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, to Trinidad when the wheel spun loose in my hand. The boat was a 51-foot Skye, and we were punching to windward through darkness and squalls in a channel crowded with fishing boats. We eased the main, sheeted the genny, and the boat traced drunken S-turns while the owner began rifling through the large cockpit locker for the emergency tiller.
Of course, the locker was unlit and cluttered with the sundry junk that collects in dark places aboard a cruising boat. It seemed like 15 minutes had passed before the owner, sweating and clenching a penlight in his teeth, emerged holding the emergency tiller.
It was an unwieldy club, but it worked. It offered only minimal leverage, fell at an awkward height across the cockpit and had to be held in place with downward pressure. With a long night of hand-steering ahead, I had time enough to master the beast.
It would seem simple to fabricate a useful, durable emergency tiller, and make sure itís easy to grab and quick to install. Yet of the many boats I stepped aboard at the Miami Boat Show in February, only a few had emergency tillers that came close to meeting these criteria. Among them was the Island Packet 440, the boat we review this month.
Every boatbuilder makes mistakes. (Those that donít admit this worry me most.) Too many hands are involved in the process to expect perfection.
Past problems on Island Packets include rudders that delaminated on a few boats from the 80s; aluminum holding tanks in the early 90s that were prone to corrosion; and until about 1997, chainplates that were tucked in fiberglass roving where leaking water could collect. Outright failures are rare, and that says a lot about Island Packetís emphasis on customer service.
Island Packetís approach involves a rapport between buyer and builder that is all too rare among production yards. Working to improve a tried-and-true concept, Island Packet CEO and designer Bob Johnson and his team base many of their changes on an extensive survey that every owner gets. Got a problem or a question? Check out the IP ownersí bulletin board (www.ipyachts.com). Got a suggestion? Island Packet wonít brush you off. The company has proven that success doesnít mean being all things to all people, it means mastering what you do best.
This month, we received the results of our own survey (mailed to 1,700 readers), and weíll be studying it closely. PS subscribers are a diverse lot, which only makes our job that much more challenging. (On the same day, we recently fielded an e-mail from a woman who was choosing a stove for her custom 53-foot Chuck Paine design and one from an owner of an old Luders 33 who suggested we look at lead lines).
So keep the e-mails and letters coming, I read every one and we respond to as many as physically possible. After all, it is your insight and opinions that keep our rudder and wheel intact.