As the fairly new owner of a Westside EFT, and tiller bar 'virgin', I found I love the boat but have had less than positive experiences with the stock tiller bar arrangement-Ihad grown used to the Toe Pilot arrangement (hating certain aspects of the design, namely breaking rails and lack of foot positions) in my sea kayaks, and the footpedal arrangement in my surf ski. With my size 12s, 'tiptoeing' the wooden tiller bar one side to another became a royal PITA, particularly in chop, and especially with heavier winter booties on. The tiller also had an annoying tendency to flop from one side to another when entering/exiting the boat, which proved a liability in races with portages. While many do just fine with tiller steering, the slippery and minimal round rod footbrace and wooden peg arrangement left something to be desired for me. The narrow bar hurt my feet with thin-soled booties on, and I found I was always paddling with knees clipped together, tiller pinched between my toes, so I could nudge it one way or another for minor corrections.
Enter Pat at Onnopaddles. I had purchased a seat from him for my QCC, and was incredibly impressed with his enthusiasm, professionalism, and design and building expertise. His reputation is well-noted on these boards and in the paddling world at large, and for good reason-what he makes works, and he spends the time with his customers to assure that it does.
Purchased the carbon fiber gas pedal/footbrace system from him and installed it in the EFT. The wide, flat carbon footbrace is a thing of beauty, and superbly executed-the matching gas pedals for rudder actuation pivot easily on hinges at the top and incorporate a series of rudder line holes that secure the kevlar cord, making adjustments in line tension and pedal position a snap. Each pedal adjusts individually to the rudder, and there is no springback system-line tension provides this. The carbon surface has a matte finish that encourages a secure foot position even when wet, unlike the slippery metal footbrace that came stock. The width of the brace allows an extremely positive and solid platform to push from, as well as a multitude of foot positions. Possibly the most positive aspect of this design is that it is extremely easy to actuate the rudder from any position on the footbrace-the stock setup required you slide your toes in to actuate-with this one you can place your legs wherever you'd like and still get to the controls. I look forward to trying the boat out now in some real conditions, as I'm sure this benefit will be particularly valuable in situations where you might need to brace against the coaming with your knees and work the rudder at the same time, surfing, for example.
Set up was fairly straightforward. Pat took measurements provided and drilled the carbon brackets for the brace position I specified, allowing for proper leg length. I modified the brackets somewhat, drilling additional holes, and slotting them out using a Dremel routing bit; allowing a range of adjustability in the event someone else borrows the boat, or the unlikely event that I sell it. If the position were to be changed, line tension and pedal position would have to readjusted; an easy enough task with the cable system used on the pedals. The brackets each secure to the footbrace using four stainless bolts and nylon locking nuts-very strong and solid. The entire setup 'drops in' to the stock drilled 'L' brackets glassed to the hull, using the two bolts and wingnuts provided with the stock footbar. Simple.
Pat uses kevlar cord from the pedals. For ease of hookup without swapping out lengths of line and changing over the entire cable system, I mated the stainless cable from the stock rudder to the cord using stainless thimbles and Brummel clips for quick disconnect, in case I ever need to work on the system or replace part of the line. The new mounting has the cable sit further out from the sides of the hull than the stock tiller bar arrangement, and after some thought (and recommendations from Pat), I settled upon a stainless eyestrap cable guide with a length of pvc tubing hot flared to a bell shape on both ends to smoothly guide the cable and prevent fraying-this bolted to the very last hole closest to the cockpit on the 'L' channel, and the cable/line travels smoothly slightly away from the hull contours. Recently I sourced out simple Spinlock guides that bolt with a single mount from one sailing accessory manufacturer that would do the same without additional fabrication. Note that this is not necessary-I simply preferred to see the line follow the contours of the hull as closely as possible.
Now for the good part: Paddling the boat has always been sheer joy-it's light, fast, and responsive (although the addition of a deeper rudder is I think needed-hmmm...P-41...). With the footbrace installed, I can pump my legs from any position on the footbrace and still easily toe the gas pedals for minute adjustments on the rudder. In buoy turns, a simple push swings the rudder through its range of motion, again, easily actuated from anywhere on the brace. It has all the ease of usage of systems like Toe Pilots with the added benefits of simplicity of design, strength and light weight of materials, AND the fact that you are no longer locked in to a splay legged stance (Sciatica...Sciatica), or toe wrestling a wooden peg. Surf ski paddlers will find this system comfortable and familiar, and all will find it intuitive-allowing you to focus on stroke and torso rotation from any bracing position on the bar. Well done Pat; he shoots, he scores yet again!