Freehand Steering System


Back in 1982 my girlfriend Lauren and I were sailing up Newport Harbor in my 18 foot Gaff Rig Topsail Canoe Yawl, ‘Serena’. I had heard rumors that Seraffyn was back on home waters where she started ten years previous and which she had completed an east-about circumnavigation with no motor.

Larry on the Tailspin

As I saw her sailing up the harbor I still couldn’t believe my luck seeing this small, tough, little sailboat and now famous sailors.

I threw on the “Iron Topsail” and headed straight for them… before they could turn their heads in our direction, I cut the engine and we coasted towards them.

After introductions and a short conversation with my heroes, we were invited out for a weekend to “Bull Canyon” to see their new boat under construction.

Bull Canyon new boat construction

I remember on the kitchen wall was a cut-away artist illustration of their boat including the interior that SAIL magazine had made up for one of their stories on the Pardeys.

On the backstay was a small sail, wheel and a trim tab off the rudder.

Clumsily, I asked Larry if that was the new windvane I was hearing about.

How it hung off the backstay with its simplistic design had intrigued me, and at the time I wondered how it work as there was so much to take in when visiting Pardeys.

(For old time sake, click here on” Bull Canyon” to see my photos of the times out there before Taleisin had a name and planking. And check out Lin Pardy’s book on Bull Canyon as well. )

Little did I know at the time that I would be the builder of the Freehand Steering System for the next thirty years.

Building a device that actually can steer a boat around the world efficiently only using the wind…

Mike with upper lifts of freehand steering system

Well, I can only say that it is very satisfying, especially when you get the many “thank you’s” for helping someone achieve their dreams.

“…The Freehand was a reliable third hand that did almost all the steering. We have sailed it in about 4-5 knots of apparent wind and up to about 40 knots downwind. I particularly like its simplicity in design, a key component in its reliability, not to mention it aesthetic qualities. Nothing is perfect on a boat, but I’d have to say that the Freehand is probably the best piece of gear we added in terms of usefulness, durability and reliability. We’ve had fewer problems with it than almost anything else.”

~ Tom Galatea

If you are in need of a freehand steering system for your boat, give me a call and let’s discuss.