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Old 12-08-2002
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Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?

I think this is a very interesting thread with a lot of sage advices. My hats off to the participants. I especially want to talk about the older methods of self-steering. I love reading these older accounts of how past generations lived within the technology that they had available. Their engenuity was inspirational. I enjoy trying out these ideas when my life doesn''t depend on it, and there''s the point. While these techniques worked to one extent or another, the fact that they could do these things with some measure of success, doesn''t mean that using these self-steering techniques really makes any sense given our current available technology any more than it would make sense to use celestial navigation around the world with only a wind up alarm clock without a minute hand, as Josh Slocum did.

I too have experimented with alternative steering methods. Of all of the boats that I have owned and tried this on, my Folkboat was best suited for this kind of low tech steering set ups. The Folkboat (like Jack''s Vega) offered good tracking combined with a light helm and a high degree of responsiveness. (My Kirby 25 was the second best at self steering for esentially the same reasons.) I tried a number of techniques for making the Folkboat self-steer. For the most part The Folkboat would self steer through a range of conditions using the shockcord to the deflected jib sheet method. Even as good as this was, the boat would sail through wide course angles and if there was a wind or wave angle shift would suddenly find herself either tacking or jibbing. As such it took a lot more vigilence than a vane. It was also quite tricky to set up and took a lot of fiddling before I could leave the deck. I also ended up with a cat''s cradle of lines crossing the cockpit which was a real mess.

With any of the smaller boats I tried this on, my own weight moving about the boat would alter the course of the boat. In fact if I was working forward I could steer by moving out to the shrouds on either side, thereby altering heel angle (the boat turns away from the side that you are on).

My experience with vanes has been far better. They are usable through a wider range of wind angles and less likely to result in a false tack or jibe. My favorite home made setup was a servo/blade on the trailing edge of a outboard rudder that was tied to a horizontal blade vane. This was a surprisingly simple rig and one that worked great in a wide range of conditions. As constructed you could not go dead down wind with it (the cables rubbed on the vertical pivot) but the owner said he never wanted to go dead down wind without being in the cockpit.

One minor point here is that Vanes work best on lower speed boats. On faster boats, the apparent wind shifts through such a narrow range of angles, that the vane isn''t sensitive enough to usefully hold a straight course. This why high performance boats generally use electronic instruments that can crunch the numbers and set an angle to the true wind rather than apparent wind.

Good luck,
Jeff
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