Which way to orient the grain for steam bending is a debated topic that really has no right or wrong answer. Sometimes the nature of the work will dictate this and other times the wood itself will decide. Mostly it boils down to personal preference and experience so here my take on it.
From a sheer steam bending perspective, taking no other factors into account, I prefer to orient the vertical/edge grain parallel to the bend. In the case of outer gunwales this would put the edge grain along the sides of the gunwales. I find that most species bend with less resistance when the grain is oriented this way. It also lessens the chance of compression failure.
If you decide to orient the vertical grain on the side of the gunwale I would not worry about the wood splitting when fastening. Sure the chances are a little greater when grain is oriented this way, but splitting usually occurs at the fault of the person doing the fastening.
As long as proper screw piloting and tightening of the screw are exercised you won’t have too much to worry about. Think about all the hundreds of thousands of boats and canoes built with vertical grain planking, ribs, frames, decks, gunwales, etc that have their fasteners, whether screws, rivets, clinch nails, bolts, etc, oriented parallel to the vertical grain and have held up fine. Some for over a century.
The wood of the outer gunwale is not providing much, if any, holding power for the screw to secure it to the hull. The ribs and inner gunwales are the members providing the holding power.
If you were to examine the profile of a typical outer gunwale and how a screw is fastened through it, you will notice that the shank of the screw, the unthreaded part, is the part of the screw that is set in the outer gunwale, not the threads.
A screw derives its’ holding power from the threads so the more important part to securing outer gunwales is not the wood of the outer gunwale, but what the threads of the screw are biting into.