Steering Failure on “Aloha” SM72

Stephen Davis

I want to thank everyone who helped diagnose our steering problems, and let you all know the final outcome. After our complete steering failure from Panama to Hawaii due to broken teeth in both steering racks, we assumed that replacement of both racks and pinion/steering shaft would resolve the problem, but that proved not to be the case. We have now replaced both steering cables, and our steering perfect.

When we removed the steering cables from the boat and racks, we found that one cable worked smoothly by hand, and the other was nearly impossible to move. We inspected the bad cable externally, and found no sign of any damage. When I get time, I’ll attempt to cut the sheath off the cable, and determine what actually failed. Once the new cables were installed in the boat, the steering was smoother than it has ever been, and we have the required 1.5 turns in each direction.

When we first replaced the racks and pinion, I couldn’t imagine we had a problem with the cables, as they look incredibly robust. We learned a lesson on this one, and if anyone suspects a problem with their steering, I’d recommend replacement of all components. The cables and racks are made by Ultraflex of Italy, and can be supplied by Amel for about $1200 plus shipping. That price also includes a new pinion. Our pinion was in serviceable condition, but we did not want to mate the
new racks with a slightly worn pinion. If you have an older hull number like ours, you will probably find the original Ultraflex cables are M41 23 FT, and the new cables supplied will be M61 25FT. They appear to be the same cables except the new ones are 2’ longer and have a different style adjustment nut near the quadrant. I suspect sometime not to long after hull 72, Amel decided that a 2’ longer cable made for a slightly smoother cable run. Also, the end pieces that screw onto the cables and then insert into the racks were originally of a plastic material. At some point in production, Amel started manufacturing a metal end piece, and changing them out in the racks supplied by Ultraflex. We were able to buy the end pieces from Amel for about $50 each, and replace the ones provided with our new racks. If you have an older SM with the plastic end pieces, it would not be a bad idea to change them.

We could not find a lot of good information on the forum regarding how to take the steering apart. The first time we changed the racks and pinion was a bit of a learning curve. By the third time we completely removed the steering from the boat to change the cables, we were fairly good at it. It is not a bad job once you know what you are doing, and we could now easily remove the entire steering system from the boat and reinstall in a day. Removing the cables requires at least 2 people. I’ll try and write something up and post it when I have time. Anyone with a fairly old hull number that has seen a lot of sea miles should consider replacing their steering. We had convinced ourselves the steering would last forever, but learned the hard way, that is not the case. My other recommendation is while on a nice day sail, rig your emergency steering, and see how it works. You will find the boat actually fun to steer with the tiller, and it would be nice to know you have all the parts available, and know how to put it together.

On another note, Liz and I are the OCC Port Officers for Hawaii, and for anyone considering sailing here, please contact us, and we can provide you some useful information. Thanks again for the help in diagnosing our problem, and now we are going sailing.

Best Regards,

Steve and Liz Davis
Aloha SM 72
Ko Olina, Hawaii