Re: Self steering dilemma
Couple of things (what follows are my own opinions, YMMV):
Firstly, the modern auto pilots on a voyage use a lot less power than most people think. The computers used sense the sea state by checking for repetitive movements and if there are any they are over time, eliminated. By the time you have been at sea for a few days, all of the sea state has been removed and only course adjustment remains. We reached a stage in all our passages where the movements on the wheel were almost imperceptible and the current draw was the same.
Secondly, auto pilots work in almost all conditions. We sailed with ours from the USA to New Zealand in widely differing conditions and the time that we spent at the wheel would be less than 1%. We only took the wheel when we went into ports/anchorages, the rest of the time the pilot did the work. A windvane will not do this - you will spend a lot more time hand steering.
Thirdly, a wind vane does not steer a straight course - it basically waddles down a zig zag course correcting itself all along the way. How many miles does that add? I don't know but it does add miles.
Fourthly, a wind vane can't be made to adjust to shifting wind. If the wind shifts 10 degrees in the early evening and you're not paying attention, you could be well off course by the morning. A pilot can do both - steer a course or steer to the wind whichever you choose. You may ask why would you not want to follow the wind. Well when you're sailing off the wind (which is most of the time), an auto pilot will hold your course with very little effect on the set of the sails or boat performance.
Fifthly (is there such a word?), a vane takes up a lot of room, not only with its installation on the stern but with control lines coming into the cockpit. They're always in the way.
By now you're correctly of the understanding that I don't like wind vanes that much - I had an Aries on an earlier boat and even though it was at the time one of the best available, I hardly ever used it - it was too much work. I would not have another Vane even if given it for free. To add a few batteries to your electricity reserve is very little money compared to the cost of a "decent" vane.
Just a question (and I confess to not having any background) I have had discussions with sailors in NZ regarding a wind vane made in Australia called a Fleming. They gave it rave reviews in terms of performance but I don't think it was particularly cheap or small. I don't know much about it but have you had a look at it?
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