Memories of Whittier: Making a Rudder

Memories of Whittier: Making a Rudder

While I was an 18-year-old art student attending Rio Hondo Community College in 1975, I became friends with a classmate from high school, Julie.

Julie had pretty eyes and a Hobie 3.5 mètre boat which she sailed at Belmont Shores/Naples. During our budding friendship, I talked her into taking me sailing on a number of occasions. I also talked myself into taking on a big project for her boat.

During our trips sailing in the “canal” as we always called Belmont Shores/Naples, she frequently mentioned the need for longer rudders. She said it was necessary for the boat, especially with one pontoon out of the water.

I didn’t know the first thing about boats or pontoons. I did want to impress Julie, though. She seemed sure of what she wanted, so I offered to make longer rudders for her Hobie. She was surprised but pleased by the offer.

It happened that wooden rudders would satisfy a 3D project requirement in one of my art classes at Rio Hondo, if I also built a display box to go with them. The rudders were designed for use, not display, but I felt proud of my clever workaround. Next, I had to figure out what type of wood to use.

My grandfather had been in the Navy. He also made skis from his floorboards in winter in North Dakota and built silos in Iowa, so I thought he would certainly know best with all that experience. I asked my grandfather what type of wood would be best to make a sailboat rudder. “Birch,” he said.

I was satisfied and felt sure I could impress Julie with my new-found nautical expertise. She and I discussed the desired length of the new rudders and I asked for one of the rudders from which I could make a pattern.

The pattern lengthened the center section and kept the top, attachment, bottom, the leading edge, and curve the same. I purchased some birch wood and got to work. I had no power tools except a drill, so the rudders were created by hand with basic tools. It was quite a bit of hand work, but I did the work carefully and earned an A grade. After the rudders were graded, I gave them to Julie to install on her boat.

The last time I sailed on her boat was when I got to experience the new rudders in action. I rode my bike from Whittier to Belmont Shores/Naples and sailed the newly equipped boat up and down the canal with Julie. I could not tell much difference, but she seemed pleased. However, her interest in the rudders did not, as I hoped, come to include their maker.

I learned a lot building those rudders, but never built any more, never sailed again, and I lost touch with my friend until about three years ago, when we reconnected and looked back fondly on this memory of Whittier together.

Photo: Rudy & Mikko / Creative Commons

Leave a Reply