Last week I published a photo of an Isle of Wight paddle steamer at Ryde Pierhead.
Above the rudder at the stern was a wheel and I wondered what its use was.
As ever, there was always someone to enlighten me.
John Matthews dropped me a line to say the wheel above the rudder/steering engine was at one time almost universal on merchant ships.
It provided a direct mechanical linkage to operate the steering engine if the control system from the bridge failed.
Most modern ships have several control systems so it is very unlikely to be needed.
The fail-safe is to control the engine directly from within the steering flat, in response to commands from the bridge by telephone.
In John’s time at sea he saw this system regularly tested, ‘But never had to use it in earnest, thank heavens’ he says.
Louis Ledu told me the stern wheel was for emergency steering only.
The bow rudder and wheel were used for going astern and locked midships when not in use.
This was his job as OS on the Whippingham, Ryde and Sandown paddle steamers in the 1950s.
Tony Holley, assistant engineer on the steamship Shieldhall, tells me the wheel at the stern of the paddle is the emergency steering wheel.
The paddle steamer would have had a normal ship’s steering wheel on it’s bridge.
This wheel activates the steam-powered steering engine at the back (tiller flat) of the vessel which in turn operates the rudder.
In the event of a breakdown of this steering engine, the steering engine can be disconnected from the rudder and the wheel at the stern can be geared in to operate the rudder.
This means of operation would take at least four to six crew to man, because this is almost a direct drive to the rudder.
All ships of this ilk would have had this system.
We have the same emergency steering system on our Steamship Shieldhall and this is maintained in an operable condition and has to be tested regularly.