Vagabond 17 Lee Helm Sail Balance Problems

Article By Harvey Z

This is a dialogue between Harvey and Shorty, he contacted me about some issues sailing his Vagabond 17 and I twisted his arm to let me post our conversation along with some pictures.

Harvey: Hi. I am struggling with my newly acquired vagabond 17. I have never experienced a sailboat cursed with such lee helm. I have tried to rake the mast as far aft as possible even removing the aft stay adjusting hardware and shackling it directly to the chainplat! Surely I can't be the only v17 owner to suffer these problems. Maybe the orig owner (I'm 3) changed the rig or oversized the main. ANYTHING you can think of would be a Godsend.

[ NOTE: Lee helm is where the boat will want to turn the bow down wind while sailing. So that would indicate that the sails are too far foward of the keel (the CLR - Center of Lateral Resistance), so Harvey adjusting the rig so the sail rig is further aft is a very reasonable thing to do, assuming that there is a problem with a possibly replaced rig or faulty boat design ]

Shorty: Mine balanced fine, I know plent of other HV17 owners who's boats balanced fine, so something is up with your boat!

Is there any chance you could send in some pictures of your boat setup along with a longer description of what the problems you are having? Most older boats like ours have had their sails and rigs swapped or adjusted, so what you are experiencing could be a problem related to that. Or it might be something else.

Harvey: Thanx for getting back to me. I'll need to wait for a "windless" opportunity so I can have the sails deployed so it may take me a while. I welcome any suggestions as to what shots/angles and any other info would be useful.

Shorty: The most important picture I am looking for is a profile picture with the sails up, like shown on this page in the section Where To Place Your Leeboard or Centerboard which describes about balancing a sail around a keel and the center of lateral resistance.

But also would like to have some pictures of what the underside looks like - one of the things I am wondering is if your keel is jamming when you lower it. Also you said you changed the settings on your stays / shrouds, how about including some pictures of those and description of what you did.

[ NOTE: I assumed that Harvey had her on a trailer, didn't realize she was kept in a slip ]

Harvey: The pics are all post hz modification. The modification started out with an attempt to sweep the mast aft by adjusting the backstay as much as it would allow but the lee helm persisted; essentially I could not sail upwind without jibing even with keeping my hand on the jib sheet to let it out.

I then removed the backstay adjustment and shackled it to the aft chain plate which resulted only being able to crab upwind and not terribly well. I don't know if the spars are original; i know the sails are not and she still sails like crap.

Harvey: As I have stated, I have owned this boat for a few months having sailed her only a handful of times and up until last week don't think I did anything to her that would have effected her sailing. I believe that all her spars are original as is the hardware. The sails are most likely after market and I have no idea if they are "right "for this boat.

It had a wicked lee helm, wanting to jibe in all but the lightest of breezes and even then would do so unless a light hand is used on the jib. I have tried sweeping the mast aft even to the point of removing the adjustment hardware and shackling the back stay directly to the aft chain plate for maximum sweep but that has only caused her to crab upwind although the lee helm issue may have been mitigated.

Funny, but now that I'm thinking about it, when I 1st got her and sailed her in PA, there didn't seem to be the leehelm problem. When I trailered her down to FLA from where I am now corresponding with you, the lee helm issue appeared and I had made no changes of any kind except replacing the winch (the clutch wasn't working) with a standard trailer winch with the "clicker" control. Maybe it is something with the swing keel although it seems that I am able to fully deploy it (the cable has a lot of play in it when it's all the way down.). Other than that, I can't think of any other changes I made.

Harvey: The more I'm thinking about it the more I'm leaning towards a swing keel issue (as you had suggested early on.) How many complete winch winds before your keel is either fully retracted or extended? I will try and get a mask to go under her ASAP and look but there are a lot p. man of wars in the water and I don't relish a sting.

However, I think I will reinstall the aft stay adjusting hardware and remove the shackle. Something must have happened to the keel during our 1200 mile towing that is not allowing its complete deployment.

Shorty: With the original worm drive winch, it takes somewhere between 50 and 52 million rotations. :) Before you dive the boat, I've got a couple of ideas for you. You say that the cable goes slack, a simple thing we can do is you measure the cable as it dissapears down in the hole while lowering.

When the keel is up:
- attach some string to the cable (like duct tape it on)
- then as you lower the cable, the string will go down with it
- when fully down, mark the string (like tie a knot in it)

Now we will have something to work with for figuring out if the keel is going all the way down, or if it is getting stuck part way.

Another thing I have done with my cable is I painted a section of the cable for when the keel is retracted. That way when cranking up the keel, when I would see the painted section come up, I would know that I am almost done winching it up.

And while talking about winching stuff, after I get my vagabond 17 back on the trailer, I would lower the keel a little bit so that way the weight of the keel is sitting on the trailer, and not still being held by the winch. I am sure the winch and it's support structure is strong enough to hold it, just that letting the weight sit on the trailer made me feel better.

Harvey: There are approx 40 winds for full retract/deployment and the total cable length at full deployment is approx. 42"

Shorty: I am currently inbetween Vagabond 17's right now, so I can't measure my cable. The next best thing I can do is make a guesstimate using the factory brochure drawing which looks pretty accurate.

First I want to show some more detail pictures of what the winch area and the underside looks like. Here is my first V17 with the factory supplied winch. Its not completely factory original, when cranking the winch my knuckles would bang the cockpit sole so I moved the handle up a bit on the arm and used a wooden dowel for the handle. But I know a LOT of other pocket cruiser owners have swapped their winches like you did, and that should not effect anything.

Here is the inside of the cabin showing the swing keel trunk. You can see that the keel pivot bolt is not in the center of the keel, it is near the edge.

This is the underside of the hull, looking from the bow.

Here is a picture from the stern looking at the keel. You probably can't make it out, but towards the aft end the trunk is very shallow and almost all of the keel is held externally.

So here is a copy of the factory brochure drawing with some creative artistic guess and expression. Assuming the drawing was created to scale, the hull being 17' long, that would make the scale of the drawing I printed 8.1" / 204". My guess at the cable length is 1.5", so that translates to 37" which is shorter than what you mention. So my fancy sketch really didn't reveal anything.

My best guess at this point is that the keel isn't going down all the way, so we need to figure a way to tell if it is or not. Is there a chance you have the trailer for her? Maybe she could be pulled out of the water and take a look in the trunk to see if anything is lodged in there?

Harvey: I went swimming yesterday to find that, as you first suspected, the swing keel deployed to 85% with cable slack. I had a long blade (probably 12") screwdriver that I was able insert without opposition up into the trunk at the pivot bolt end. Water too murky for me to see up inside.

When I pushed on the bottom of the trailing edge of the keel (near the attachment point) it would bounce back. It feels like the keel deployment is being impeded at the pivot bolt and my guess is that the pivot eye in the keel has been damaged or worn aft into an oblong shape which allows the keel to move forward at the pivot enough To provide a vertical "stop."

I think that perhaps during transport or wear over time the eye thru the keel thru which the pivot bolt passes may be damaged or have gone out of round. I am going to take it to a yard so that the keel can be dropped.

vagabond 17 keel locking and pivot bolt

Gene Heard: Was reading the article on the Venture 17. Most, if not all, Ventures have a "lock-down" bolt, for lack of a better description. The photo of the centerboard box looked like the bolt was in place, which would prevent the board from going all the way down ...INSTANT lee helm !!! The bolt goes through another hole in the board after it is fully down, to prevent the board from "crashing" into the hull in a severe knockdown (over 90 degrees), thus doing damage to the hull. I don't think the upper bolt is the pivot bolt. He can pull the keel (board) up and take the nut off...if he can wiggle the bolt then, it's NOT the pivot bolt, take it out and let the board down again and all should be well..............!! I would only put the bolt in when the wind was up and there was little chance of running aground. Let me know if that is the problem.....

Shorty: Oh my gosh, I completely forgot about the lock down bolt !! I'm gonna email Harvey right now...

vagabond 17 keel locking and pivot bolt

Harvey: I took some pics today. Aside from a through-the-trunk bolt ( maybe 1/2 in. Diam) which I assume is the pivot, there are only 2 other possibilities: A single small Philips head screw/ bolt mounted on the port side at the top and aft of the trunk at what I assume to be the keel's vertical position and A "swollen" area maybe 1 1/2" in diam on both sides of that same area that has been painstakingly painted/ epoxyed over. I have no idea what's under that mess but I suppose could be a bolt head and nut.

Shorty: Your locking bolt is on the top of the trunk. I put a big yellow arrow pointing to it. Thats not the original though, the original is a regular hex bolt that goes throught to the other side. Yours looks like a screw or something else wierd, and it has all that silicone around it which actually would sort of explain the bounce back you are talking about. As you press on the keel underwater, the top of the keel would press on the locking bolt and then twist it pushing it into the silicone, which would compress slightly and cause that push-back effect you were talking about.