No detail of the fittings of canoes is as important for safety and comfort, as that by which the rudder is controlled, and no part is so often ill-contrived and badly fitted up.
The strong and simple tiller of the sailboat cannot be used, owing to the distance of the crew from the stern of the boat, and also to the necessity of using the feet for steering, the hands being fully occupied with the sheets, paddle and centerboard. To be of any real use, the footgear must be strong, as a very heavy strain is often thrown on it involuntarily by the powerful toggle-joints of the knees, and the failure of any part, when in rough water or in rapids, might bring disaster to the boat and crew. The action of the rudder must be prompt and certain without lost motion, there must be a firm bearing for the heels in paddling, and for the ball of the foot in steering, and both must be readily adjustable to suit the length of the leg of the crew. As canoeists know, it is often a great relief, when in the canoe for a long time, to slacken out the foot-gear, and lean back easily while sailing or paddling slowly, but as soon as a hard paddle is in prospect, the body is settled upright against the backboard, and the footgear shortened up until the feet are braced firmly against it for a long, swinging stroke. The footgear must also be so arranged as to be readily removed for sleeping, stowing luggage, or to carry a second person, and, if possible, it should be so fitted that the second man can steer while paddling.
From the days of the earliest canoeist to the time of McGregor, the paddle only was used for steering, either held in the hands or resting in a small rowlock on either side, called a crotch - Fig. 1 - a plan that answered well with the small sail then used; but with the greater number and area of sails something more became necessary, and rudders were fitted, controlled by a continuous line passing along the deck and around the fore end of the well, a pull on either side steering the boat. The increased work thrown on the hands by the addition of ballast, centerboard, spinnaker etc., made it necessary to transfer the steering to the feet, which had hitherto been idle, so the rudder lines were run through the coaming into the well, and loops tied in the ends into which the feet were inserted, an arrangement still further improved by the addition of metal stirrups. This gave a very powerful and sensitive gear, and it was not in the way in the least, but there were some serious defects in it; there being no brace for the feet in paddling, the stirrups were apt to slip of at times when it was impossible to stop and lean forward and replace them, while in case of an upset the lines might not free themselves and would entangle the canoeist's feet. In one case a canoeist, forgetting to loosen his feet, leaped ashore suddenly and was thrown flat in the water by the rudder lines.
A much better plan was devised by Mr. Baden-Powell for his first Nautilus canoe. As shown in Fig. 8, a vertical spindle of wood has its lower end fitted to turn in a step on the keelson, the upper end running through the deck, the projecting portion being square. Below the deck a crossbar, called the "foot yoke, was fitted to the spindle, and above deck a second crosspiece, the "deck yoke," was fitted to the square head, the rudder lines running along the deck to it. This gear was used for a long time on the Nautilus and all its descendants, and is still often met with. It had many defects, there was no brace in paddling, its position, once fixed, could not be changed, so it was usually just too long or too short for the crew, it was in the way in stowing, sleeping, or carrying double, the lines on deck added to the confusion there, and the parts required careful fitting, and brass bushings at the joints, or they soon worked loose. Several of these objections were removed by some ingenious canoeist, who cast aside the deck yoke, lengthened the foot yoke and ran the lines inside the well, to the extremities of the latter.
The gear shown in Fig. 4 was first fitted to the canoe Janette, in 1877. Two pieces of wood, each l-1/2xl-1/4 in. and 10 in. long, were screwed to the bottom on each side of the heel, running fore and aft, each piece having four vertical notches to receive the stretcher, a piece of oak 1/2 in. thick.
On the foreside of the stretcher a piece of oak 1 in. square was screwed, the upper end rounded for the foot yoke to pivot on. The stretcher could be slipped into either of the four pairs of notches, and was then held down by a hook and a screweye in the keel. This gear gave a firm rest in paddling, it was strong in construction, there was no lost motion, and it could be quickly shifted (to make room for a second person) to a pair of similar notches placed forward.
An improvement on this plan is shown in Fig. 5, in which the two fore and aft pieces are grooved on the sides facing each other, and a piece of oak 3/8 in. thick and 6 in. wide is fitted to slide freely between them. To this piece the stretcher or footpiece is fastened, and in the angle between them is a brass knee or brace, shown separately, the top of which forms a pivot for the footyoke. An eye is cast on the afterside of the brace, in which a short lanyard is spliced. This lanyard reeves through a screweye in the keel, and by it the gear may be held in any position, or by casting it off, the entire piece may be removed. Another pair of slides can be fitted forward or aft, as may be desired for carrying two. This gear seems to fulfill every requisite, and has thus far answered well wherever tried.
The canoe Raven has a novel arrangement, shown in Fig. 6, consisting of two wooden pedals hinged at the bottom to a brass rod, a rudder line being attached to the outer corner of each. A stout brass spring maintains a constant tension on the pedals, and is so formed as to hold them flat on the floor when the rudder lines are cast off. By this arrangement the rudder is always kept amidship when left to itself. The brass rod is held in two holes in the fore and aft cleats, and may be adjusted in the other holes as shown. A better plan would be to hinge the pedals with the spring on a board sliding as in Fig. 5, for which purpose the ordinary spring butts of brass answer very well.
The steering gear, shown in Fig. 7, in which the foot yoke is carried on a spindle passing through and supported by an arched piece of wood, the lower end resting in one of several holes in the floor, was devised by Mr. Rushton. The ends of the arched piece slide in grooved pieces on the floor, and by pulling up the spindle the gear may be slid forward or backward, the spindle end being shipped again in one of the holes.
Where there is a centerboard in the canoe the footyoke is pivoted in a bracket on the after end of the trunk, in which case its position is fixed, and the length can only be changed by using a straight, concave or convex yoke. The Pearl canoe is fitted with a yoke attached to the trunk, Fig. 8, but in order to steer with the feet when lying down, as is done in sailing to windward, the yoke has two loops of leather fastened to its fore side, in which the feet are inserted.
In most of the match-sailing in this country the crew is seated on the deck and the footgear is out of reach. To steer from the deck, a tiller, shown in Fig. 9, is used, having been first applied to the Dot in 1879, and since fitted to many other canoes. A yoke is pivoted on deck just aft of the hatch, and to this yoke a short tiller is fastened within easy reach of the hand. Two short lines join the ends of the deck and rudder yokes. All parts of the gear require to be made very strongly, as a great strain is sometimes thrown on the tiller by the weight of the body. The tiller is sometimes fitted to pivot on the mizzen mast, and is so arranged that a turn of the handle clamps it fast, in any position. Another device for steering by hand was applied to the Folly, S.F.C.C., by her owner; a half yoke only is used on the rudder, Fig. 2., with a stud in the end. A pole long enough to reach the well has a ring in one end, which is slipped over the stud, a push or pull on the pole moves the rudder. A lanyard on the fore end of the pole is belayed to a cleat and keeps it from going adrift if dropped suddenly. This gear is used in the left hand, and is not well adapted to steering from deck.
Another device, only mentioned to warn canoeists against it, has a single stirrup on one side, with a powerful spring on the other. Should the foot be suddenly removed from the stirrup the rudder is drawn quickly to one side and held there. The proper material for rudder lines has long been a subject of dispute among canoeists, and is still undecided, some advocating copper wire, some chain, some a rope of brass or copper wire, and some a braided or hard laid cord, the last being probably the best, if well stretched and oiled. It will work easily and without the disagreeable clang of wire, and will not kink as chain will do. Whatever material is used, it should lead as directly as possible from the foot gear to the rudder, with no sharp turns, and holes and screweyes through which it passes should be perfectly smooth. The rudder lines are in some cases run through brass tubes below deck, but this is seldom necessary, and they are best led in around the after side of the well coaming. Some means of taking up the slack in the line is necessary, the usual way being to use a small "fiddle" similar to those used for tent ropes, as in Fig. 4. If obtainable, small snap-hooks should be used to attach the lines to the yokes.
When in use, the steering gear should be examined often, the parts oiled, new lines put in if required, and all parts kept in perfect order. Before a race, of course, it will receive special attention, any parts that appear weak being strengthened for the occasion. Such care is never thrown away, and it is from the lack of just such attention that provoking mishaps occur.