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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We just had a Cape Horn Self-Steering wind vane installed on our CD 28, so this is an initial report.

After the installation, which took a day and was done by a person from Cape Horn, Eric, we went out the following day for a test sail with Eric and another Cape Dory 28 owner.

First, let me say the thing is beautiful, all highly polished, heavy stainless steel with a nicely finished teak rudder. It also has relatively low mass, which in no way affects the lines of the boat, unlike some "oil derrick" rigs we considered. Also, the installation was done with great care, assuring the angles were perfect, especially the worrisome moment when cutting the hole in the hull. The lines from the vane to the tiller lay perfectly, without touching any part of the deck or cockpit. With an arrangement of three blocks, each of two lines is run from the gear to the aft-most side of the cockpit and then along the aft side the cockpit to the tiller, resulting in good leverage and minimal friction with almost no restriction of cockpit usage, except you could not sit at the very aft part of the cockpit bench where one of the blocks is located.

(By the way, the hull was surprisingly heavily laid up where the cut was made, a few inches below the transom and just above the engine control panel at the aft part of the cockpit. The plug was bit over 5/8" thick.)

When we first went out the next day, there were very light winds, 5 knots and less. I must confess, despite Eric's assurances, I thought we would have to wait for the winds to pickup to get a test. However, apparently because we have a tiller and a system of lines and blocks with little friction, we were able to self-steer on all points of sail in light airs with no problem. After a quick demo by Eric, we took over.

What was really amazing was her downwind performance, with almost no apparent wind speed: the boat tracked perfectly with the wind dead astern, main out to port with no preventer and a 160 % genoa to starboard with no pole, the boat ghosting along at about 1.5 knots for over 15 minutes before we did other tests. During that time, the genoa began collapsing twice, but then refilled. Once we were confident the main could be sheeted in a little without jibbing, we adjusted the main aft, which spilled more air into the genoa, and it never collapsed again for the rest of that test.

What I particularly like is the adjustment feature, which allows you to move the wind vane at its base, while it is engaged, to select a new relative wind direction you wish the Cape Horn to maintain the boat on. This is done without having to lock or unlock anything, you just reach up and turn the base of the vane. Once this adjustment is made by the twist of the wrist, the gear heads the boat up or off the wind to position the boat at the new relative wind angle selected.

For example, suppose you want to change the heading of the boat from a broad reach to head up into the wind as high as possible. What you do is turn the wind vane base to point higher up the boat, which determines the new relative wind angle the Cape Horn will maintain, and then you adjust the sails as the vane brings the boat up. If you point the vane too high, you move the vane base back slightly to fall off a bit. This adjustment takes just a moment to reach up and do, so your chief focus is on the sails and the boat's heading. The gear itself requires no other attention whatsoever.

To tack, you move the vane base to its reciprocal position, and, as the wind vane brings the boat about, you change the sheets. It was amazingly easy, although Eric assured us it becomes even easier with additional practice. Later, the winds picked up to about 10 to 15 knots and we found the boat to be increasingly responsive and quicker to settle into a new sailing attitude.

Over and over again, with each test, the other Cape Dory 28 owner and I stood about on the deck with nothing to do, frankly amazed as the boat steered itself, maintaining the heading we set.

So, with the Cape Horn doing the steering, you can give your full attention to adjusting the sails. Or, after adjusting the sails, you can then finely adjust the Cape Horn wind vane to modify the position of the boat to take better advantage of a given sail setting. Since the wind vane base adjustment moves smoothly and stops precisely, the boat can be positioned relative to the wind with surprising ease and precision.

In over two hours of testing, we never handled the tiller, except once, when, in really light air, we had to push the tiller hard over to get the boat to complete coming about.

To my question about how I maintain the system properly, Eric's answer: nothing, no oiling, no adjusting, nothing. "Oh", he added as an afterthought, "if the lines wear at all, you should consider replacing them and possibly adjusting the blocks." We shall see.

On a more subjective note, as an former engineer, what appealed to me about the design was its simplicity, the economy of mass, the quality of material, and an elegance of solution. In effect, rather than building onto the boat a massive structure to muscle the boat about and handle the resulting stresses, the Cape Horn becomes an integrated part of the boat, actually strengthening the boat structurally rather than burdening it, performing the one essential task of a guidance system, which is to direct the existing forces without adding to them.

Finally, after months of researching and then trying to imagine using the gear selected, what struck me most in actual use on our first day was how astoundingly simple it was. And now we look forward to freedom from the "tyranny of the tiller", making using our boat even more of a pleasure.

While we have had just this one day experience with the gear, I am both impressed and delighted.

1,825 Posts
It's great when you have choices, and after making a choice. You feel happy it was the correct one. Being free from steering is a huge plus. Even if it is only a day sail. So does the Vane have a name yet?

My Columbia 30 had a tiller pilot, and it was Gilligan. My hydraulic on my cat is named Otto after the man while skiing on the mountain top in Switzerland. Talked us through our problem on the ICW in St. Augustine......i2f
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