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A helping hand
I heartily recommend wind self-steering gear as crew on board – they never complain or sleep on their watch, and they are very easy to provision for! Yes, they have their quirks. I sympathised with the author of your article ‘Vane attempts’ (November issue), who had teething problems setting up his Hebridean vane. His experience rang true.
I have sailed more than 30,000 miles with a Hydrovane. It never let me down. The sight of the vane itself moving at times had a human quality, rather like a hand writing its signature or conducting the music of your movement. That’s how I thought of it.
Setting it up just right and making the operation of a wind vane system instinctive takes a bit of getting used to as they aren’t plug and play.
Red all round
We had a wind vane on our ketch in the Nineties and I recall it coping admirably with a Biscay crossing with winds gusting to 45 knots and big seas.
With the wind vane driving, the boat ploughed on, taking the odd wave over her, one of which curled over the boat and drenched me. Our only real problems were holding on and sleeping, and the only damage suffered was a plate that decided to take flying lessons and failed.
We did have one drama during this period, which had nothing to do with the weather but happened as we crossed the shipping tracks north of Cape Finisterre. The crew on watch at night saw a red light with a single white above it: a small ship moving right to left across our bows.
Something didn’t seem right and the crew called me up for a second opinion. I knew it was important because I asked if I had time to go to the heads before coming on deck and he said: “No, get your wet weather gear on and get up here fast please.”
It was almost impossible to tell which way the ship was going so we had to make the yacht ready for fast evasive action and start hand steering. Eventually, we went round the front of the ship and to our amazement saw that the ship’s starboard light was also red. Then as it went away from us we saw the stern light was also red and large. Quite why a ship should be showing illegal and dangerous lights is beyond us. We would happily have throttled the skipper.
Golden Globe insights
While the rescues and attrition rate of the Golden Globe Race is quite high, we have seen some great examples of seamanship in this event so far. Given the long history of boat-breaking storms in this region, we shouldn’t be surprised at the number of retirements, but the examples of Norwegian Are Wiig in getting himself out of trouble and Gregor Mcguckin making a jury rig and trying to assist Abhilash Tomy are fine instances of great skill and bravery.
The consistent speed of the
Fine seamanship by Jean-luc Van Den Heede in the Golden Globe Race
Wind vane steering, such as the Hydrovane, can be a real boon