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Stormer 12-07-2002 01:40 PM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?

Is windvane steering essential? Richard Henderson''s Singlehanded Sailing discusses alternatives and suggests that it is possible to work out statisfactory self steering arrangements by rigging sheets to the helm. He also indicates that a few single handers have used these arrangements on very long voyages. Does anyone have any experience with these arrangements?

WHOOSH 12-08-2002 03:07 AM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
Stormer, I think the ''bible'' on sheet-tiller steering was written by John Letcher some years ago (Self-Steering for Sailing Craft, I belive) - no doubt out of print but available sooner or later with a search. I think it''s excellent and I used those techniques on all points of sail aboard our first boat, a Vega 27, in Pacific coastal sailing with great success. However, the Vega was the sweetest sailing offshore boat I''ve experienced and this technique probably works less well with less responsive boats.

Henderson''s works are IMO quite dated now. Moreover, altho'' he''s been involved in sailing for many, many years, he''s only written about one short-handed offshore passage to my knowledge, a run to the Azores and back. (No doubt he''s done multiple Bermuda races but most likely with larger crews on boats atypical to cruising). All of this to say I was struck, when recently rereading his Azores book, by how limited in value some of his writing now appeared.

I probably should add that ''older'' writings aren''t necessarily no longer useful. I continue to find Ross Norgrove''s and Hal Roth''s early books to be excellent and quite germane except where technology has offered new choices. No doubt there are many other examples.


jklewissf 12-08-2002 07:58 AM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
I agree with Jack that the Letcher book is excellent. He has a real gift for taking an incredibly complex subject (aerodynamics and hydrodynamics) and presenting it in a very understandable way. Its worth reading even if you dont try to make your boat self steer. The book really improved my understanding of the forces at work on a sailboat.

I messed around with many of Letcher''s ideas for several years and could get some of them to work some times on my Norsea 27. Any time the wind was forward of the beam the boat could be made to steer herself. Broad reaching and running were quite another matter. That''s where the wind vane comes into its own.

If you are planning on crossing oceans I hope you are going to take routes where the wind is usually behind you. In that case you will probably want a vane.

The vane is much easier to set up and does not require nearly as much fussing as getting the sheet to tiller sorts of arrangements to work. On my norsea I found that I could get the boat to self steer with Letcher''s methods but if I moved my 200 lbs around the boat the self steering would fail.

If you are going to cross oceans a lot I think you will be very happy to have a good vane on your boat.

Jeff_H 12-08-2002 09:14 AM

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,

Stormer 12-08-2002 10:52 AM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
jklewissf -

I think it''s very interesting that the techniques work with the wind forward of the beam -

Henderson describes a twin headsail technique for downwind sailing.

Basically the boat flys two identical headsails - each poled out witht he poles 10 to 20 degrees forward of the beam. That way, wind fills the sails appropriately and the boat remains balanced (I suppose in theory as I''ve never tried it). Depending on specifics, sheets may be run back to the helm or the help can remain free if the boat is actually very well balanced.

Seems like an interesting method for trade winds type sailing.

jklewissf 12-08-2002 12:50 PM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
I have heard that twin headsails can cause some boats to roll quite a bit. also that its important for the clews to be cut very high so that the poles for the headsails are high off the deck.

Someone once told me about a fellow who had adapted two large jibs to twin headsails by sewing the luffs to the same bolt rope and running them up the roller furler. He could reef the headsails simultaneously by rolling them up part way...that seemed like a clever idea.

Its not really surprising to me that the NorSea self steered better up wind. Hard on the wind I could lash the tiller in place and it would steer itself for days. Off the wind was when it got fussy and the vane paid for itself.


walt123 12-13-2002 09:59 PM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
I used a Navik vane on a 29'' fin keel, spade rudder boat in all conditions and it work endlessly and effortlessly for over 30000 miles. I used twins downwind by hanking on a #3 and poling it out one side and free flying another #3 with pole on the other side. You can sail quite a way off dead down wind by adjusting the poles and if the wind starts to pick up, adding belly,by easing the sheets works as a temporary reef, I also rigged lines via blocks to the tiller from the individual sheets and I could sail ok with this arrangement. Your steering needs are dictated by the boat first..since most boats handle differently I suggest you look for sister ships and query them for suggestions. If your boat is still in production a call to the company will probally be your best be initally. I would also call or e-mail the various companies that manufacture vanes and solicit there recommendation. Fair Winds

paulk 12-23-2002 05:59 PM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
On to the other side of the question - whether self-steerers are necessary or not...
A lot depends upon the crew and the boat. We sailed transatlantic with a crew of six and no self-steering gear on an Ohlson 38. The wheel was sized up a few inches to make the steering easier, and it was manned the entire way.

thomasstone 12-23-2002 07:03 PM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?
I am considering an Ohlson 38,as one of many boats on a short list. I read Hendersons book along time ago ,I think he had one and thought it a nice boat if Im thinking of the right guy. How did it sail?With a crew of six you probally didnt have to steer more than two hours. I think a wind vane is neccessary equipment for any boat going offshore, with an autopilot for motoring.-thomas

WHOOSH 12-24-2002 12:44 PM

Windvane Steering Necessary for Long Ocean Passages?

You''ve got the right sailor linked to the right design: see To the Azores & Back for how he set up his Ohlson 38. But keep in mind that autopilots were huge, often chain-driven, power-thirsty monsters when he was prepping his boat. What he would choose these days may be different. (Which is true of a vane choice he might make, as well).


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