By Peter Forthmann
All voyaging sailboats require a few kind of automated guidance to alleviate shorthanded workforce from having to lead each minute underway. electrical autopilots are the standard selection for weekending and coastal cruising; voyagers favor the higher reliability and reduce strength draw of windvane platforms and there are hybrids that provide the simplest of either worlds. This publication explains all of it, filling a wide hole within the marine how-to literature.
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Extra resources for Self-Steering Under Sail: Autopilot and Wind Steering Systems
As the vane begins to move back towards its upright position the pendulum rudder reduces the steering force on the main rudder and returns to the centre. This may seem rather complicated on paper, but fortunately it is not necessary to understand the science to appreciate the perfect steering a well-damped windvane gear will bring to your boat. Such a gear will also be very insistent in its criticism of your sail trim - if it never seems to be centred and is always working off to one side, you can be sure that something needs attention.
Wind direction is the key consideration when planning any voyage. If the wind blows from astern it is possible to set the rhumb-line course and enjoy a comfortable trip from A to B via the shortest route. When the wind is on the nose, however, tacking is unavoidable and a compass course is useless; the direct route is not the quickest if the sails are backing. The three elements of a windvane steering system are the windvane, the linkage and the rudder. We cover each in turn below: The Windvane The steering impulse in a windvane gear comes from the windvane.
The steering lines in a conventional system (Aries, Monitor) are attached to the pendulum arm itself and start at the bottom of the gear. From there the two lines (one on each side) are each guided through 3 blocks up to deck level, where 2 more blocks each lead them to the tiller or wheel. These systems therefore require 10 blocks and correspondingly long steering lines. Modern designs, in contrast, have the pendulum arm extended upwards, enabling the steering lines to start at deck level. The number of blocks required is reduced from 10 to just 4, and the steering lines are also correspondingly shorter.