WIND VANE SELF-STEERING
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