Helms 30 Tips and Solutions

Although the boat really is nicely built, mine showed some warts. They are primarily design related and have little or nothing to do with age (mine or Mojo's). Most failures occured in the first few years after she was commissioned.

Homebrew Winches
If you detect any wobble in your winches, replace them. Used name-brand winches can be a good buy.

The primaries that came with my Helms 30 are Merriman-Holbrook 40’s. They are truly high quality and fit for the task. They will last a very long time if properly maintained. I had to make only one repair on one winch sinch 1978. I still have them on the boat.

The other winches that came with the boat were unequivocal junk. They were amateurishly made with exceptionally poor void-ridden castings to boot. I replaced those winches as they began to fail over the first two years.

Mojo now has  #25 Lewmar two-speeds as secondaries (primarily for spinnaker work), mast-mounted #16 Lemar two-speeds for jib and spinnaker halyards, and a #10 Barient for the main halyard. The main halyard winch actually never completely failed, it just wobbled as the spindle to base joint failed.

Helms 30 Tiller Head
Examine the tiller head if you have a one inch diameter solid rudder post. Make sure the head is suitably sized for the boat

The tiller head on my Helms 30 failed (broke) in heavy air one day just before the start of a race on the Chesapeake Bay. We managed to sail the boat back across the Bay to our dock using sail adjustments to steer and a pair of vise grips on the rudder post to keep the rudder centered.New Tiller and Rudder Head

Upon examination and making stress calculations, it was clear that the head casting was undersized and bound to fail. I managed to identify from its part number as being intended for the one-design Soling class. As I recall it was manufactured by Schaeffer. The rudder post at the time was a one inch diameter solid SS rod (more about that later).

When I spoke with Jack about the problem, he reminded me that he was a Georgia Tech Graduate and knew what he was doing. Nonetheless, I sent him my calculations and my design for an appropriate tiller head, which I then had fabricated. I am an electrical engineer, so I had my structural engineering colleagues check my work. My mechanical engineering professor dad would have been proud of me. I got it right. Interestingly enough, the next boat Jack delivered had a variant of my design on it. I know, because the boat was ordered by an acquaintance and neighbor of mine at the same marina. A fellow sailor in New Jersey called me in 2006 describing a similar failure of the Soling head. I sent him my new design.

At the time the rudder was off the boat for the machine shop to fit the new tiller head, the fabricator commented to me that the welds at the top of the rudder looked poor but were “probably okay.” Jack had built this rudder on a hollow tube as is the normal practice, but had then unconventionally inserted a solid shaft inside and the rudder post. The solid post was welded to the hollow tube just above the rudder. Welds immersed in seawater have to be excellent and completely passivated or they will be subject to corrosion.

Helms 30 Rudder Post
If your boat has a one inch diameter solid rudder post, make absolutely certain that the post is pinned to the rudder.

We lost our steering on a light air day several months after installing the new tiller head. This time we steered back using our emergency steering gear which is rigged using our spRudder Postinnaker pole over the stern. The welds at the top of the rudder to the solid post had failed, and the rudder had simply fallen off. Again Jack explained to me how he was a GT grad and knew his stuff. I reasoned with him and asked him to fabricate a new rudder for me using the conservative construction technique of a single one-piece hollow tube. He told me he no longer welded the two pieces and now used epoxy. I insisted on a one piece hollow tube. Jack relented and built me a new rudder my way. I chose a post diameter and thickness that had over 200% safety factor in torque. I had to change the simple top and bottom bearings to acommodate the larger diameter of the tube, but it was well worth it. Of course I had to have a new matching rudder head fabricated (again) as well. Both the rudder post and head have been providing excellent service ever since.

Bonding two pipes together is tricky from both materials and process perspectives. There are many variables and I would not trust the strength and integrity of such a joint over time and environments without considerably more data than is available. Make sure you pin the joint if your rudder post has either an epoxy or welded joint.

. . . Rudder Postscript
A local fellow who was looking at buying a Helms 30 lying in Florida called me one day to ask what areas of the boat to look at closely. Among a few other things, I emphasized the necessity to check the rudder and to have a pin installed through the two parts if the post was made of two-pieces . I told him it was mandatory.

He called me two weeks later from a boatyard in the Outer Banks of Carolina. He confessed he had ignored my advice and his rudder had fallen off part way through his trip. I sent him my rudder cross section data and photos. It cost him dearly to have a new rudder fabricateHeadd on-site. Oh yes, my friend with the Helms 30 had his rudder pinned shortly after my mishap.

New Tiller Head Design Details
Attached are some photos of the tiller head that fits the new rudder post. The one I had fabricated for the old solid shaft was similar. I will be glad to provide details if asked.

Helms 30 Shaft Strut Failure
One fine day as we were motoring out I noticed an unusual vibration. It turned out that the shaft strut had failed across it’s web. Upon examination, the casting was found to have many voids. A metallurgist colleague of mine said it was a fabrication flaw. I never found out if the strut was DIY J.A. Helms. I had a new one cast by a foundry in Baltimore. No problems since.

FWIW, I have had a bronze Martec folding prop on the boat since it’s first season. I use one or two football or bullet-shaped zincs just ahead of the strut on the Monel propeller shaft.

Helms 30 Stern Rail Repair
The welds on the most forward uprights of the stern rail cracked. Stern rail under sailI temporarily countered this by attaching bracing lines between the stern most rail holes and the eyes of the failed uprights. I finally got around to making a repair in 2004. It required no welding and is very strong. I designed and had custom sockets made to fit the failed upright posts. The new flanges mimic the original flange dimensions and hole pattern. The socket portions have an ID that is so close to the OD of the uprights that no set screw was needed. The uprights were cut just above the failed welds and inserted into the sockets. Before and after (mixed but obvious) photos are attached [in process]. I can provide a detailed drawing if asked. This fix is very strong and secure.

Helms 30 Fuel Tank Replacement
My Helms 30 came with a Yanmar YSB12 diesel (what a great little motor!) and a nice aluminum fuel tank. The tank was mounted directly to the liner shelf in the engine compartment with access through the starboard hinged cockpit seat. After about 15 years I noticed diesel seepage from the tank. The bottom of the tank had corroded resulting in small pinholes. The cause was trapped seawater under the tank. The tank might have lasted longer had it been slightly elevated, although it would probably not have been a good structural situation. I agonized about how to replace the tank since it was not clear to me how it could be extricated. The seat locker hole was far too small, and I wasn’t about to remove the engine. Cutting up the tank seem onerous.New plastic fuel tank

I fooled around patching the bottom for several years before I discovered that the tank could be horsed over the transmission and would just barely fit through the port side (quarter berth) engine access door. I pulled it out and replaced it with a plastic tank. Details and photos follow. I’m sorry I didn’t take the pictures as I installed the tank, but I think my description is clear enough. If not, just ask for more info.

When mounting a plastic tank one must keep in mind that it needs room to swell with changes in fuel volume and temperature, and that there are no mounting tabs on the tank. In my case I also wanted to be sure that the arrangement could take a pounding at high pitch and in roll angles. I started by screwing four teak strips to tightly confine the bottom of the new tank in roughly the same location as the old. Since the stress will be entirely in shear, self-tapping screws are sufficient. The screws are spaced about 3 inches apart. Put some 5200 adhesive under the wood if you are a belt-and-suspenders type. Locate the strips carefully, being sure you have a snug fit to the tank. The strips will confine the horizontal movement of the tank. You don’t want it bouncing around.

The other part of the arrangement is a strap to hold the tank against the mounting surface from fore to aft. You can use two straps if you like. If the straps are properly fitted, the tank will not be able to tip port to starboard either. I fabricated my straps out of 1/16 inch aluminum, but you can use stainless steel if you like. Just make sure that you get a good fit. A loose fit will promote vibration and chafe. Too tight a fit or the presence of pressure points may stress the plastic. Get some oil-resistant rubber and slightly compress it under the strap where it goes over the edges of the tank. This will keep a snug fit and will prevent potential stress and wear at those points. The screw joints that hold the tank down will be in tension. Use two or more screws on each side of the strap to spread the load. I recommend bonding with 5200 as well. Clean both the mounting surface and the strap with alcohol or other good solvent first.

Be sure you make provisions for grounding the return side of the fuel sending unit back to a central electrical ground point.  The new tank does not have a suitable place to mount an on/off valve. If you want one, put it in line near the tank.

Helms 30 Bilge Pump System
If there is a check valve in the electric bilge pump discharge path, remove it.

Elevate the bilge pump discharge hose as high as you can under the rear of the cockpit and install a vented loop.

My Helms 30 came with a Rule bilge pump and float switch in the bilge under the cabin sole. The system worked well for what little water ended up in the bilge. There came a time after a year or so when my bilge pump appeared to have become ineffective. The pump ran, but no water came out the stern fitting. The only thing between the pump and the discharge through-hull fitting was a factory installed bronze check valve just after the pump discharge port. Disassembly and examination of the valve showed that the valve flapper had become stuck shut preventing any flow. Upon further investigation, I found out that BIA (now ABYC) standards prohibit the use of check valves in bilge pump discharge paths. Rule also advises against it. I summarily removed the flapper and later removed the entire valve. Maybe a plastic valve would be okay.

But wait, there's more . . .
One day we were motoring in following sea of about six feet on our way to a race. All five people aboard were in the cockpit. Someone went briefly into the cabin and noticed water on the cabin sole. The fuse to the electric pump was blown. The bilge board was removed and the area pumped out using the fixed pump mounted in the cockpit. Two crew members examined the bilge and other areas for leaks. Nothing was found and no further water intrusion was evident. We left the bilge exposed and all went back to the cockpit. A short time later a significant amount of water was again evident in the cabin. The bilge was pumped again and dried out completely with the same result - no more water intrusion. This had now become disturbing enough to consider grounding the boat on a nearby sandy beach as a protective measure if the leak got worse.

The next time it happened (you knew this was coming) I stuck my head into the companionway was just in time to see water pouring out of the pump inlet slots. However, when I got down to the bilge, the flow stopped. To make an already long story a bit shorter, seawater was siphoning from the outlet through hull back into the pump. When everyone was in the cockpit in the following sea, the through hull was immersed above the hull discharge and siphoning started. When one or more bodies moved to the cabin, the stern came up enough to break the siphon! Now I understood the intended purpose of the check valve (maybe) - It was the wrong solution to a potential siphon problem. The rest of the day we were careful not to have everyone in the cockpit when the sea was behind us. No more problems.

The permanent fix was to extend the pump discharge hose enough to form a high anti-siphon loop on the port side of the boat under the rear cockpit seat. I epoxied a small attachment point under the seat. An anti-siphon valve was later added at the high point. That is the by-the-book solution and I strongly recommend it, as does Rule (same FAQs)

There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Pumps
Complying with racing safety regulations has caused me to make changes and carry some equipment I might not otherwise have. One of these is a cockpit-operable bilge pump. It’s a good idea. My pump is mounted inside the aft area just behind the vertical surface at the back of the cockpit well. The pump bezel accommodates inserting the removable handle from the cockpit side. The pump has a 1-1/2 inch diameter inlet hose running to the bilge. The discharge end is Y-connected into the port cockpit scupper’s through-hull fitting. The Y-connection is not strictly by the book. But since standards do allow pumps to drain into the cockpit, I reasoned that the arrangement was okay. I just have to remember to put a foot over the scupper while pumping or a little water will spit up at me through the scupper. No big deal. The scupper acts as a siphon break so there is no danger of siphoning back into the bilge. We also carry a portable “Thirsty Mate” pump. for extra measure.

Seriously consider adding a second battery if you have only one.

My boat came with only one battery (on the starboard side near the fuel tank). There was a battery platform on the port side, so I assume a second battery was an option. I added a second battery with a two battery switch almost immediately. It’s nice having two batteries if you sail with Nav lights and instruments or spend nights on the boat. Starting the diesel by hand is not practical the way it’s arranged.  I try to alternate which battery I use for starting, as well as alternating which one gets charged when the motor runs.

revised 08-09-2009 by dbz.