|This drool-worthy custom wheel, made by South Shore Boatworks, is what I'd do if money were no object (but of course money is an object...)|
In an age of diesel motors and GPS, traveling by sail is primarily for the romantics. And if we're traveling by sail in an homage to romance and history, we might as well have a spectacular traditional ship's wheel. Except for one teeny, tiny problem ... our teeny tiny bank account.
Our boat has a budget-basic modern stainless steel wheel. Totally functional, but the aesthetic is, well, minimal. I've been looking for a classic replacement for years. One I found was too big. Another was too small. Another was too cheaply-made-looking, more appropriate for hanging on a basement rec room wall than on a boat. I thought I had found The One, then it turned out that the guy who was advertising it didn't exactly own it. I'm just sayin', it was a jungle out there.
|There's just something about being at the wheel. Every visitor to the ship wants a photo there. Here, a crappy cellphone photo of Dan dressed for his "work day" at the helm of El Galeon. We want a beautiful signature wheel too!|
One day we were walking home from the computer repair shop -- again, ugh -- and stopped for a break into a nautical antiques store. And that's where we found it ... a gorgeous, absolutely unique solid brass wheel, the exact right size for our boat, with a price tag on it that was well within our reach. SOLD!
Well, if, we explained to the owner. If it fits. We took careful measurements and thought it would work, but needed to get it to the boat to make sure of the fit. We measured it in the shop, then agreed that we'd go home to check out the numbers and then come back to buy it the following Monday if we thought it would fit, but she'd allow us to return it for a full refund if we brought it back because the shaft was the wrong diameter.
We debated over the weekend with normally-impulsive me being reluctant to spend the money and normally-practical Dan being enthusiastic, then decided to go for it. Unfortunately, Monday the shop was closed due to an emergency, and when we passed by on Thursday, our next day off, it was closed again. We suspected that once again we'd have to give up on this particular antique wheel and continue our search elsewhere. We gave it one last try the following Monday and ... connection happened! When we showed up, the wheel was even more beautiful (and even heavier!) than we remembered. Money changed hands. We told her about our multi-year search, and she said, "Maybe it'll be like Cinderella's slipper -- and you'll be the only one in the kingdom where it fits just right," she hypothesized.
"Um, funny you should mention that," I said, "because our boat came with the name Cinderella."
"Oooh, I just got goosebumps," she said. "It's got to be an omen!"
In place aboard, the new wheel was gorgeous. We excitedly pulled off the stainless steel modern wheel ... only to find that the new-old replacement was microscopically too tight to fit on the shaft. But also, once we got it roughly in place, it was too beautifully right to return. The modifications were minor, something any competent machine shop could do for us.
Our friends on El Galeon offered to help us in their metal shop. That's when we learned, our new wheel was metric, while our pedestal shaft was English units. Oops, and our friends, being from Spain, had metric tools, so they couldn't help us do the modifications. 'Sokay, we'll work it out. The more time that passes, the less willing we are to let this chance go.