TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Kayak Customization & Repairs

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By Chris Philippi

I had ordered a set of Smart Trak Toe Pilots to replace the existing rudder controls on my Current Designs Zone. The unique properties of this system would afford me a fixed bracing point for my feet and perhaps a bit more leg extension—being 6’9” leg room is crucial.

Once my prompt shipment arrived from Tom’s shop, I eagerly began the installation process. Unfortunately, it soon became clear to me that I had a major problem.

Toe PilotThe Toe Pilot rails are designed to be screwed in to the cockpit from inside the hull. The rail is enclosed with a hollow tube-like design, so there is no access to the screw hole from the cockpit side. As such, I had no way to reach the existing screw holes. Although I had a front hatch, there was absolutely no way to get at it, let alone get a screwdriver in there. With no center hatch, and no access from the rear day hatch, I thought the project was over before it began.

I called Tom and discussed my dire situation. We kicked around a couple of ideas to address this seemingly novel situation. I finally decided that the best option would be to carefully drill/cut out an access hole on the cockpit side of the Toe Pilot rail to gain access to the screw hole.

Of course the notion of hacking away at these nice new pieces of equipment did not exactly thrill me—not to mention the fact that any future warranty claims would most certainly be void. However, the alternative of doing nothing was not an option. Discretion being the better part of valor, I contacted a neighbor who is an engineer and handy with tools. At first, the thought was to use a drill press, but in the end a Dremel rotary tool was used for greater control.

Cool Rudder WedgiesAfter a careful assessment of the situation, we proceeded as follows:

  1. Drill a small pilot hole from the existing screw hole in the rail through the other side of the rail. Be sure that the drill is level and use a sharp bit at a slower speed. This will give you the center point from which to carve out your access hole.
  2. Using a larger bit, begin to carve out your access hole. Be sure to keep the speed down as you do not want to heat up the aluminum too much. Also, be very careful not to cut the rudder cable that runs inside the Toe Pilot rail. Try to keep the access hole as small as possible, but large enough to allow for you to comfortably fit the screw head through.
  3. Ream out the existing factory screw hole as you will be screwing in from the opposite side as was originally intended and the threads are no longer needed.
  4. If you are using the Vertical Adjustment Kit (I did) you may find that the provided screws are not long enough. I ended up finding some replacement stainless steel screws that are about ¼” longer from a local marine supply store, which did the trick.
  5. When tightening the screw, I found that the rudder cable tended to get under the screw head. To prevent this, I used a heavy duty metal “dental pick” to hold the cable up and out of the way (this is another reason to have an access hole that is slightly wider than the screw head). Once the screw was tightened, the cable moved freely over the screw head. This may be a potential friction point, only time will tell.

In hindsight, it was not a huge project and fairly simple with the right tools, but certainly this was uncharted territory for all involved. While this is probably a fairly unusual modification, I hope these instructions may save someone else some time and consternation if they are faced with a similar dilemma.

I would strongly suggest that in the future, the manufacturer modify the rails with pre cut access holes to address this problem.

Related Articles & Links:
We stock rudder kits for a variety of kayaks. Take a look at our full selection of kits and replacement rudder parts at Tom's Top Kayaker Shop - RUDDERS

© 2008 Tom Holtey

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