Elliptical vs Stock Rudders


Some Olson 30’s have been fitted with elliptical rudders to improve heavy wind handling, especially downwind. The elliptical rudder shown is class approved.


Side by side comparison between class legal elliptical rudder and original rudder.

Class Legal Elliptical Rudder

A Class legal elliptical rudder may be used. This diagram below shows the details of the elliptical rudder. Unfortunately the original of this drawing is missing, if you have a better version of it please contact the webmaster.

olson30 rudder

Olson sailor comments about the elliptical rudder:

We sailed Foreigner for 18 months with the elliptical rudder. The chord was not good, very flat, but the rumors are true, it does give much better control downwind and even with the asymmetrical spinnaker up. Saves many a wipeout. We now sail Perfect Balance with the normal rudder and although the shape is much better and it is a little faster downwind in light air, it is not a patch on the elliptical. A stainless post is a must, the stresses are too large for a glass post.

When she starts to wipe out though, you can give an almighty heave on the tiller and she will dip down wind. I had to be brutal at times, but, unlike the standard rudder, large alterations of rudder angle actually made a difference.

– Richard Sharpe

I used to have both types available.

The downwind control was better of course as many have noted….but I even found that I had much better upwind tacking control when winds were over 23-25+kts with the ellipitcal. I didnt notice much difference between stock and elliptical upwind in wind less than 20 kts.

Just my opinion

Lorenzo Rota
Spirit #119

I’m new to driving O-30’s, but here are a few personal observations that agree with most everything that others have shared with me. We have both the original and the elliptical, and I’m still in the process learning them.

General: The original rudder is less balanced than the elliptical – as the rudder loads up, the tiller loads up more with the original than with the elliptical.

Upwind: The original has more “feel”. The elliptical likes less tiller movement. The elliptical seems to reduce weather helm (larger area?).

Power reaching: The original works fine if the trimmers do their part to help the driver. The elliptical provides more control for the same crew effort.

For the short-handed crowd: Tim Knowles suggested that the elliptical should work better with an auto pilot than the original.

Sam X McFadden

It is felt that they are a little slower in light air conditions as they have more wetted surface area and have a little less “feel” than the standard rudders. I’ve owned and sailed with both. The elliptical rudder does shine when reaching or running in a situation where you are sailing on the edge. The better crews can survive quite well without it.

Bill Vosteen

We’ve had our Olson for 15 years now; started with the original rudder, went to the elliptical soon after, went back to the original about 3 years later.

I still have the elliptical in the garage, I wouldn’t use anything other than the eilliptical for an ocean race with big waves and big winds, or a distance race likely to have lots of power reaching.

In my case (although my crew contends I have an “Iron butt”), the original rudder gives me much better feel going to weather around the buoys, and with mostly windward/leeward courses these days, the elliptical just wouldn’t save many crashes going fairly square downwind. The original rudder also has considerably less wetted surface, for lower drag.

That having been said, I’ve been passed to weather by really “great” drivers with the elliptical rudder (I guess you have to “use the force”).

As far as someone’s comment regarding the fact that you “have to have a stainless post” poppycock!!! The early ellipticals had stainless posts, with very little “memory” and a lot of strength. Once the post yields, it retains it’s bent status, making the rudder unusable (ask Dave Carrel of “Speedy Gonzales”, who lost an elliptical half way to Honolulu from SF, or Dave Oliver from “Zephyros” from many years ago). The unistrand post is the ONLY way to go, they’re indestructible, repairable when worn, and plenty strong in our typical 25 knot SF winds. A stainless post will only cause folks much grief.

anyway, my two cents… Andy Macfie, HOOT


Other Rudder Options

O30 Rudder Foss

This is a new design rudder that is being made for Enigma specifically for use in the Singlehanded Transpac. Not Class legal, but will be interesting to see how it works out.

Elliptical Rudder Suppliers:

The Foss Company

Finco Fabrications

Competition Composites Inc. (Ottawa, Canada)


Oslon 30 elliptical rudder computer rendering, from Phil’s Foils, Ottawa, Canada