Dec 042016

Larry and Lin Pardey’s homemade vane worked on the trim-tab principle. Their boats were unique though, in that they both had aft boomkins which informed the design to a large extent. However, if it was good enough for the legends, then there must be some merit in the design. It’s worth looking in to!

Modern, commercial designs mostly lean toward the servo-pendulum concept, mainly due to the force-magnification inherent in the design. The only real stumbling block to choosing one is the almost universally unaffordable prices. We’re looking in the region of R35 to 40k. That’s a lot of money. There are cheaper options like MrVee (made out of plastic) at R15k but how long will it stand up to the rigors of offshore voyaging?

DrakeParagon doesn’t seem to have a ‘vane and relies solely on an electric autopilot. Looking at svParagon though, he has made a SUBSTANTIAL outlay on the electrics, so much so that he could just as well have installed a windvane.

‘Blue currently has nowhere near enough battery (and charging) capacity to do a multi’-day voyage under autopilot while still running nav-lights and interior electrics. I even have my doubts as to whether ‘Enry Autohelm (an ST1000 tiller pilot) is actually up to the task? ‘Blue’s captain is also terminally short of funds, so the temptation to cut costs by going for a “cheap-and -nasty” solution is always there.

But ultimately, considering the utility one gains from what is essentially another, tireless helmsman, perhaps cost-cutting in this specific area isn’t a wise decision!?

Anyway, we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves here. There’s plenty more to be done, plenty more, before considering the fitment of a windvane.

InlandSailing once had some thoughts on the topic.

Nov 182016

So that was a very rough sail yesterday. And it wasn’t nearly all the ocean could have thrown at us.

The 10-15kt forecast proved to be a joke. It started off well enough but then, as we tried to head toward Sea Point, we stalled, totally stalled in the wind shadow of The Mountain. At that point we thought it better to head back toward Milnerton and the wind we could see over there. Good choice if it was wind we wanted because soon we had a steady 25-30kt screaming in at us.

There’s no real panic when you’ve got space and time and with the boat hove to, or sort of, we tucked a reef in the main and rolled even more of the genny away. Even so, this was certainly life on the lean, wild and wet as we beat back toward Milnerton light.

The point I’m trying to make is, that even though it was fun with a full crew and many hands, it was damn hard work. On reflection it really has me asking again “Is this really what I want to do?” This is no Vaal Dam cruising here, it’s real, it’s hard, it’s potentially life threatening if things go wrong.

We nailed the docking, even in the breeze.

A strange mix of emotions I guess. There’s a real sense of satisfaction and achievement in handling the boat well, in dealing with the elements and getting where you wish to go. The flip side – things can go wrong in a hurry and you need to be prepared. The damage we sustained was minor and didn’t really require anything other than cranking up the reefing line to reset the sail as best we could. At the back of my mind though is always the scenario planning, always the PM paranoia of what next and what will we do then? That’s why you hoist the main in the harbour, why you only take it down when you’re back in.

And the point of this? I don’t really know. If the boat is well prepared, if the crew understand what could go wrong and have half a plan to deal with things, well, there’s no reason not to venture forth. There’s no way that you can foresee every little thing, and to tell the truth, no way you’d want to because what a boring life that would be.

So, right now I’m somewhat ambivalent. I’m not scared off by any means but I reckon, as C also said, “Don’t think S would have had much fun yesterday”. C and B seemed to relish the fresh conditions. R not so much and perhaps G neither. I would have battled on my own, seriously battled. I don’t think my autohelm is up to the conditions here and I honestly cannot see it coping. I haven’t tried it yet but just looking at the physical, ongoing challenge it is helming here and I have to wonder. That makes running the boat alone much more of a challenge. It’s not that it couldn’t be done. Heck, there are solo sailors all over the world. But, one’s level of preparedness needs to be that much greater.

Mmmm.Yes. What do I want from life? An easy comfortable time or wild and wet challenge?

Sep 292014

One gusty August weekend saw us [me, Ocean Blue and ‘Enry Autohelm] beating past the north of the Island in robust 20kt westerlies. In one of the stronger gusts there was a large, explosive “Bang“, ‘Enry’s grip on the tiller faltered and his little internal brain went haywire, forcing the the steering arm full travel in a vain [vane?] attempt at keeping us on course.

'Enry just before the break

‘Enry just before the break

'Enry's broken wrist

‘Enry’s broken wrist

Copper tubing, mouldable plastic and rivets - 'Enry's wrist replacement operation.

Copper tubing, mouldable plastic and rivets – ‘Enry’s wrist replacement operation.

'Enry, good as new and ready to take his turn on the helm

‘Enry, good as new and ready to take his turn on the helm

Unfortunately, besides breaking his wrist, ‘Enry suffered some internal damage as well. After trying to resume his duties and failing he was returned to the operating table and opened up. Surgeons discovered something aweful, detached ligaments. After recovering from the initiasl shock of the discovery, it proved a relatively minor surgery, relocating a toothed drive belt that had jumped the pulleys. ‘Enry soon recovered and was returned to active duty.

‘Enry’s real test came this last Wednesday with steady 15-20kt northerlies. Awesome sailing and good to have my trusty crew back on the tiller.

Aug 102013

If one considers all the truly great and useful inventions and innovations in the history of the world, self-steering for your sailboat has to be right up there with the best of them.

There’s nothing much worse than being invisibly shackled to the tiller, watch after watch, day after day, manually steering a course that starts out ok but soon degenerates into an erratic and jagged course across the ocean as boredom and exhaustion set in.

Even on sheltered inland waters, especially when sailing short- or single-handed, the ability to leave the boat to herself while tending the sheets or nipping down below to raid the cooler, is a luxury that, once experienced, will always be high on the wishlist. One might even argue … a necessity even!

There are basically two types – electronic auto-pilots and mechanical wind-vane systems. Both have their place on an ocean-going sailboat.

In confined waterways the wind-vane system will have limited application since any wind shift would quickly put you on a collision course with something. In these situations, the electronic pilots have the upper hand. But they obviously require battery power, which means you need to keep the batteries charged, which means running the motor or installing enough solar or…..and so it snowballs. Anyhow, the average boat would likely have most of the required battery and charging facilities for other needs as well, so it’s likely that a small, low power pilot would be on board.

The biggest problem with the electronic autopilot at sea may well be the sea itself. Electronics and salt water don’t mix and, no matter how well sealed the system, sooner or later it will fail and need repairs. Or the batteries will fail. Or the charging system will host a gremlin or two.

So, for offshore sailing, nothing beats the simplicity and reliability of a mechanical system. There is enough documented experience of wind-vane systems tending the helm for thousands of miles and in all wind strengths. These systems are robust, reliable and long-lived. It’s not unusual to hear of sailors using the same system for 25 years and hundreds of thousands of nautical miles of sailing.

They don’t come cheap however. Delving into this world you start coming up against trim-tab systems, servo-pendulum systems and all the associated theory and speculation as to which system is best and why. It’s fascinating reading a little of the history of how these systems evolved.

There’s plenty of superb gear to be had off the shelf but considering the vast number of different boat shapes and configurations out there, any system will require a fair amount of DIY for installation and set-up. So, it’s not so much of a stretch to move from thoughts of “BUY + DIY” to purely “DIY + DIY”. Here’s a really interesting design concept by Jan Alkema: Self steering for outboard rudders RHM-USD which then lead me to this website which has a wealth of reading material.

Some might consider it strange, all this thought of wind-vane self-steering for a Vaal-based Miura. Others will just understand and believe…! It’s just a matter of time [I hope] and so here is the new and evolving self-steering research page.