Sorry to disappoint you, but the Tiller Boys doesn’t refer to a line of feather-costumed, precision dancers high kicking their way along the deck of Gondola.
Instead, I’m referring to the boys in the crew who, in an emergency, need to work the tiller to steer the boat.
In normal operation the Helmsman steers the boat from his position up on the helm using the wheel.
However, should the steering mechanism fail for any reason we have to be able to steer the boat using the tiller.
Two of our new recruits, Jack and Dave, were put through their paces on an emergency tiller exercise recently to make sure they know what to do if we have a steering failure.
At the stern of the boat there’s a removable hatch above the rudder where a tiller locks into place so that the boat can be steered by moving the rudder directly, as demonstrated to our new recruits by crewman Greg.
Using the tiller requires quite a lot of muscle so it’s a two man job and it also means the boat has to travel a little slower than normal as running at full steam makes it almost impossible to move the tiller.
But it’s not simply a question of brawn, brain is also required. The tiller boys work under the direction of the Helmsman, who shouts out instructions to tell them to move the tiller to port or to starboard.
And here’s where the brain is needed because if the Helmsman wants the boat to turn to port the tiller has to move to starboard and if he wants the boat to go to starboard the tiller has to move to port. The Helmsman therefore has to think which way he wants to manoeuvre the boat then ‘flip’ his instruction the other way around for the tiller boys.
If things go wrong the boys can end up doing a funny little dance backwards and forwards with the tiller as the Helmsman corrects his instructions – not quite the dance of the tiller girls, more like the hokey cokey.
I’m pleased to say that in our exercise, no such tomfoolery ensued and we sailed in a controlled fashion under precise instruction from the helm from our base at Pier Cottage all the way to Coniston Pier for our first pick-up of the day.
Anyway, back to those Tiller Girls ….