Practical Boat Owner - - Practical -

Wind vane self-steer­ing is not some­thing cruis­ing sailors think much about. If we want to go be­low, we sim­ply push a but­ton and the elec­tronic au­topi­lot takes over. But such de­vices (along with all other dig­i­tal aids such as GPS and chart plot­ters) were not around dur­ing Sir Robin Knox-John­ston’s pi­o­neer­ing voy­age 50 years ago, and so are not avail­able to th­ese retro cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tors ei­ther. All are us­ing wind vane self-steer­ing sys­tems with var­i­ous de­grees of suc­cess.

Philippe Péché is us­ing the French made Beau­fort wind vane sys­tem. Na­bil Amra had the same on his Bis­cay 36 Lib­erty II, but a weld broke putting him out of the race. This may have been caused by the ex­tra load­ings put on the sys­tem by the boat’s un­bal­anced rig and rud­der con­fig­u­ra­tion

An­toine Cousot and Ist­van Kopar, also cursed their Wind­pi­lot wind vanes and were forced to stop within the first few weeks. But was that down to faulty sys­tems or lack of prepa­ra­tion and un­der­stand­ing of how they work?

Oth­ers who spent more time tun­ing their boats have been get­ting on fine even un­der spin­naker, us­ing a va­ri­ety of makes from Aries, Beau­fort, Hy­drovane and Wind­Pi­lot. Hull shapes and rud­der con­fig­u­ra­tions may also have a bear­ing.

The long-keeled Rustler 36s and tra­di­tional OE32 dou­ble-en­der sailed by Are Wiig (Fin­land) have their rud­ders mounted on the tran­som and have more lat­eral plane aft. They ap­pear to be bet­ter bal­anced down­wind com­pared to the Bis­cay 36, En­durance 35, and Tradewind 35s which all have their rud­ders mounted fur­ther for­ward. Only the finer lines of the Spark­man & Stephens de­signed Gaia seem to lessen the ef­fect.

The Tradewind 35 ap­pears to be worst for track­ing down­wind, which of course loads the wind vane self­s­teer­ing even more.

Hav­ing an ef­fec­tive down­wind rig that is in bal­ance with the boat is also crit­i­cal. Péché, Slats and In­dia’s Ab­hi­lash Tomy sail­ing the Suhaili replica Thuriya all carry large twin head­sails. which de­liver al­most as much for­ward power as a spin­naker with far greater sta­bil­ity.

Th­ese dou­ble sails equal the pres­sure on ei­ther side and steer the boat dead down­wind, tak­ing all the strain of the self-steer­ing.

Oth­ers with twin furl­ing sys­tems are set­ting the larger head­sail to lee­ward, pol­ing out the smaller sail to wind­ward and reef­ing their main­sails in an ef­fort to achieve a sim­i­lar bal­ance, but this does not project any­thing like the same amount of sail to the wind and in the case of the Tradewind 35s be­come dif­fi­cult to handle in winds of 25+ knots.

Philippe Péché is us­ing a Beau­fort wind vane sys­tem

Mark Sin­clair has a 40-yearold Aries self steer­ing sys­tem on his Lello 34 Co­conut which he re­ports is work­ing well even with the spin­naker set

Ist­van Kopar’s Tradewind 35 Puf­fin stug­gled with wind­vane prob­lems be­cause it wasn’t set up prop­erly

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