Suppose, suppose... Suppose we had a tiller instead of a wheel. Wouldn't the cockpit be much more spacious, wouldn't the mechanical complexity be much less and the reliability much greater, wouldn't it be much easier to feel the boat and balance the sails, and wouldn't a wind vane and self-steering be much more effective? All good reasons but when we suggested the conversion to most of our sailing friends, they thought we were nuts. In fact, if you do a Google search for "tiller conversion," what you will find is a long list of links to information for converting from a tiller to a wheel and not the other way around. Nevertheless, we decided that it was a modification that we wanted for SV Suppose and plunged into it. This was a "small boat project" but was definitely not a small project. However, the outcome justified the decision to proceed.
Note: This project is very similar to the one completed on Far Reach (Cape Dory 36). I exchanged email with the owner of that boat several times and he was a great source of advice and encouragement. The web is really an amazing community.
In the first picture above, you can see the corrosion at the base of the steering pedestal. We could tell that it wasn't solid and therefore, not safe for offshore passages. It was the corrosion that convinced us that we needed to either replace the pedestal or convert to a tiller. The costs were roughly equivalent so we opted for the tiller.
Unfortunately, after removing the pedestal, I discovered that the core in the cockpit floor was water saturated and would have to be replaced. I used an oscillating saw to cut through the upper fiberglass skin around the perimeter of the floor. It lifted off with very little resistance. Then I scraped the soggy plywood core off of the lower skin and gave the whole area a couple of days to dry. After covering the skin with thickened epoxy, I laid in a new plywood core and used wood screws installed from underneath to pull the fiberglass skin and plywood together. That was followed by two layers of fiberglass cloth, a layer of fiberglass mat, and another layer of cloth, all thoroughly impregnated with epoxy. The result is a very solid cockpit floor.
Coastal Bend Yacht Services) was invaluable.
After the epoxy had cured the rough tiller blank was run through a thickness planer. Then it was just a couple of hours work with a belt sander, rasp and several grades of sand paper to bring the tiller to its final form. That was very satisfying work.