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Pedestal Rebuild

Rating: 9 votes, 5.00 average.
Originally posted 02-07-2013 (4935 views)

Photo guide to step-by-step disassembly of pedestal steering:

This took longer than expected, often felt like the dive-into-the-bilge-to-repair-the-batteries sequence in the movie “Das Boot”, and featured two fairly classic goof-ups which made me laugh at the time.

Thelonious was in above-average condition when I bought her in November, but the one job that stuck out was the pedestal base. The original owner, who had the boat from 1985 to 2011, must have watched the base of his aluminum Yacht Specialties (YS) pedestal slowly disintegrate, building it up from time to time with Bondo, then finally hiding the Bondo under a boot injected with foam . Here’s what was under the boot.

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There are occasional old YS pedestals for sale, but in the end a friend who was rebuilding an airplane recommended a machinist—“it’s a tube, just put a new base on it.” I found myself in the hands of Keith, who runs Findlay’s Machine Shop in West LA. Machinists are in whatever subgroup of humans that includes boat owners: they like to fix things, are capable of wonder at how the universe works, and need problems to solve. He took a half-inch plate of aluminum, found a tube that would sleeve the pedestal, and welded them together without seams [see note at bottom of page]. I provided a careful template of the holes in the cockpit floor, the orientation of the wheel and the original bolts so he could countersink for them. Total cost: $400, which included a rebuild of the wheel-to-sprocket assembly to remove play (new keys alone make a big difference).

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I painted it Interlux Brightside white, after two coats of brushed Pre-Kote sanded with 220. The shape of the pedestal had cast doubt in my mind as to success with rolling and tipping, and I have already complained here somewhere that life would be easier if they’d just put Brightside in a spray can. Well, they do. Or, we can. Those $8 Preval paint sprayers work quite well for a job like this. I thinned the Brightside about 30 or 40 percent, and after five coats the result was just about professional. That I am not a professional will become very clear, soon.

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Pedestal work fairly cries out for changing the old Morse cables for throttle and shift.This was less trouble than expected, although the connections hidden inside the pedestal do tax the imagination. You can pull the cables up about six inches for the view attached above. On the 32-3, at least, connecting the other ends to transmission and throttle wasn’t hard. Measuring the cables is easiest when you have them in hand, and new Teleflex cables are an exact match. The run of the cables should be gentle, with no sharp bends. They cost only about $50 each—well worth it for instant butter-smooth operation of pedestal-mounted engine controls.

Like everyone else who has done this, I sent my (Globemaster) compass off (to Ritchie) for rehab. After $200 it came back nice and shiny, with new card, fluid, rose and plastic base. Re-installing it made me scratch my head. The compass mounts on a plastic YS collar about two inches high, which houses the Fuel and Shift levers. The Fuel lever turns 90 degrees to push the throttle ahead. But the Shift lever has to turn 180 degrees—push and pull, for forward and reverse. This made the control arm stick up above the collar, where it interfered with the base of the rebuilt compass. Ritchie must’ve put a new underbody on the Globemaster, because it fit before I send it off. But the plastic isn’t structural, so I stuck a screw driver up there to break away some space.

The result was mineral spirits running down my arms and into the cockpit. I’d just punctured the brand new diaphragm. Feel stupid? Turns out, though, that it’s easy to replace a compass diaphragm. Drain or save the remaining fluid, order a new diaphragm from Ritchie, and pick up a rather small bottle of compass fluid from West Marine for a rather large $15. Use a turkey baster to refill the globe through the screw hole in the side. On a cool day it was easy to get the last bubble out. Ritchie walked me through the disassembly-reassembly sequence, which is simple but not obvious.

To raise the compass up an inch I needed a spacer to match the diameter of the controls housing. King Starboard seemed an obvious choice, but how to make a perfect circle? The answer is a router on a homemade “compass” jig. A jigsaw would work, but the router makes a perfect edge.

Pedestals like mine use a sprocket-chain-cable to turn a quadrant or radial on the rudder post. Simple enough, and installed at the Ericson factory—meaning that the cables were swaged within the radial, meaning one swage has to be cut off to disassemble, meaning a long reach with a hacksaw blade (unless you have the sense to own a bolt-cutter, which we all ought to have on board anyhow in case the mast goes over the side). I reassembled using stainless cable clamps on the cut end during an afternoon of grunting curses upsidedown in the stern lazarette. Success!

With the new Teleflex cables sticking out of the unfinished pedestal like Martian whiskers I decided to motor around the harbor to celebrate. The slip was very tight, no room for fenders, concrete barnacle wall on one side, other folks’ self-steering gear protruding off sterns on the other. But I am extremely good at this stuff and thought little of controlling shift and throttle by pushing the cable wire ends while steering backwards in a brand-new-to-me yacht. One learns, when as experienced as I am with some 20,000 miles offshore, many ahem dinghy trophies and a wonderful personality to boot, to take it slowly so the admiring crowds can get better photographs.

What the hell is going on? One inch from the barnacle wall! Now sideways across the lagoon, climbing on somebody’s transom to fend off! Could this boat have an offset prop shaft? Oh, torque—that’s it! Must correct. Get up some speed and then neutral—wait, not working, turning the wrong way again! Fend off!

Yes, I failed to cross the steering cables inside the pedestal. All helm commands were therefore reversed. At half-a-knot speed, I can tell you, that is impossible to deduce from sensory input. Only stuck crosswise in the tiny slipway did I start to laugh, realizing what I’d done. Idiot! I had studied an old YS diagram of the steering system which showed uncrossed cables. Later I saw that the quadrant in the sketch was installed facing forward. My radial faces aft. Well, I eventually figured it out.

I had a new 1” stainless rail guard made for $100 by Railmakers in Costa Mesa because I was unable to get the old rail tubes off the YS connector plate. The stainless and aluminum had gotten to be very good friends in 27 years, and nothing could break their bond. I sawed off the ends and made a Starboard shelf to connect guard to pedestal. It bolts onto the remains of the old plate and will be a platform for instruments.

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Two months, two laughable mistakes. That’s pretty good, for me.

[The welds of the new base of the pedestal failed a year later in rough seas off the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i. The welder had made only hidden tack welds, for appearance sake. However, yacht pedestals and binnacle guards endure heavy side forces and require deep-penetration, maximum strength welded connections.]

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  1. mkollerjr's Avatar
    I've got some stiff cables and was thinking of replacing them. Would you recommend replacing the housings as well?

  2. Christian Williams's Avatar
    I would hope not to, unless they're broken. The set-screw that holds the cables firm is important, and may be missing. But usually it's just new cables needed, and the result is very pleasing indeed. I just replaced the cable for my diesel shut-off, at the cockpit panel, which was very stiff. Now I wonder why I didn't do it long ago. New Teleflex cables are a treat.