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Thread: Newbie: windvane / autopilot question

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
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    SF Bay Area
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    11

    Default Newbie: windvane / autopilot question

    Hello folks-

    I worry slightly that with this question (windvane/autopilot) that I might accidentally start a forum war; please take this in the "mild advice appreciated" category.

    1. I have a new boat (as in, sailing it for a couple of years now, with hopes of an eventual SHTP. Slowly outfitting it. Many years of inshore sailing experience. Roughly an Ericson 34; rack and pinion pedestal-to-rudder, inboard Yanmar 3GM30.)

    2. Eventually I'll need either a windvane or a better autopilot (I have a Raymarine wheel autopilot, which is great but clearly not up to serious work).

    3. A good windvane (e.g. Hydrovane) and a good below-decks autopilot seem to cost about the same, after installation (I am not an install-it-myself person on this)... and that cost is a lot.

    4. Advice from the folks who _would_ install it -- I love this boatyard, by the way, for previous trustworthiness but also for exactly the reason that they are suggesting I _don't_ do this yet -- is that "... wind vanes are less practical than Chichester and Moitessier make them out to be. For long distance sailing they can't be beat, but you probably won't be using one much for playing out in the bay. If you are planning on heading to Hawaii then get one before you go, or beef up your battery bank and buy the best autopilot known to man for around the same amount of money. Good autopilots have wind vane settings to allow them to steer to the wind just like a wind vane, but they also do great while under motor. A wind vane is useless under motor. My windvane (Hydrovane) steered me effortlessly for over 800 miles from XXX. I loved it. But I haven't used it since. So it cost me about $10/mile, and I installed it myself. Something to consider."

    Given that I am slowly outfitting for a LongPac/SHTP (and do not care how I place -- I am not a racer but a cruiser who wants to go in company), and otherwise my sailing will be (mostly by far) on SF Bay and (less) up and down the coast between Monterey and Drake's Bay,

    --> Question: From the SSS-folks perspective, what are the pros and cons of a windvane vs belowdecks autopilot (aka "what would you do if you could only get one")?

    As far as I can tell, the windvane (+wheel pilot) solve the "what if engine/batteries fail while out where you don't want to steer yourself all day", plus the Hydrovane solves the "alternate steering solution" race requirement. I am unsure how hard ($$) it is to solve the latter in a reasonable way other than a windvane. A good belowdecks autopilot seems maybe better for everything else, if... it works as well (again, not trying to start a war, just don't know).

    I had though the case for windvanes was open-and-shut, but now am unsure, hence this post. I would like to get something so I can practice with it for a while before trying something like an SSS event. But which to get? Again, hence this post.

    Advice appreciated. Apologies if I missed some existing thread on this; maybe I searched incorrectly.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Fremont, CA
    Posts
    141

    Default

    Some w your type boat use this. Raymarine evo-100 wheel. Below deck prob can be really nice…difficult to get to when it is not working. Others more expert in the mechanical issue of a drive interfacing w “rack and pinion” will be along shortly.

    https://www.defender.com/product.jsp?id=3661070

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2021
    Location
    Palo Alto
    Posts
    58

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    Hi! As another newbie in a similar situation to you, I can't offer you much in the way of experience and advice, but I can tell you what I have on my Cal 2-34 (wheel on a YS pedestal similar to Edson, plus emergency tiller):
    1. A Monitor windvane https://www.scanmarinternational.com...r-windvance-hp
    2. A Pelagic controller and spare https://pelagicautopilot.com with ram
    3. A CPT autopilot http://cptautopilot.com
    4. An E-Rudder https://www.scanmarinternational.com/m-rud

    Next up is a ram for the emergency tiller as a back-up to the back-ups.
    Last edited by GBR3068; 08-17-2022 at 05:29 PM.

  4. #4
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    Feb 2022
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    SF Bay Area
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    @Todd 2213
    Thanks; that's actually the wheel autopilot that I have (controller is older than in the link -- probably 10+ years older, but same Raymarine make, designed for this wheel actuator, which is new). It is very handy, but nothing about it gives even the remote sense that one would trust it in serious conditions, or while sleeping, or that it would run without trouble for three solid weeks. It also struggles seriously to keep the boat on track downwind in even the small waves in the bay late afternoons.

    Hence my interest in either a more substantial below-deck autopilot connected to the quadrant (possibly tricky due to lack of boat being designed for it, and rack & pinion drive) or a windvane. I had not thought about the difficulty of access if it breaks, but on my boat it would be quite tricky to get the quadrant in even in the best of circumstances. Think I might have to go in through the aft cockpit locker... maybe an argument for a windvane.

    @GBR3068
    Also thanks! The CPT Autopilot looks more robust than the Raymarine EV100; I may well go there if the Raymarine breaks on me, and maybe the answer is "windvane and better (CPT) wheel pilot."
    Like you, I would get a tiller autopilot for any windvane emergency tiller, and have heard good things about Pelagic. However, my budget however does not allow both a windvane and a ram; curious if anyone will recommend a belowdecks/ram instead of the windvane.
    Last edited by NATBF; 08-16-2022 at 07:38 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Posts
    38

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    I also have an Ericson 34-2 (Kalia) sailing out of Sausalito. It has the more standard cable and sheave steering to a quadrant not rack and pinion. I also have a Monitor windvane and a Raymarine wheel pilot. I use the autopilot for motoring in and out of the dock and the windvane for everything else. I joined the SSS 20 years ago and on previous boats, I have completed somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 nm in the north and south Pacific all with a windvane including two SHTPs (16 days 8 hours and 16 days 12 hours respectively middle of the pack performance both times).

    I love the experience of balancing the sails and setting the vane and watching the boat sail herself. I challenge myself to use as few electrons as possible with all my boat systems. Usually, I can run for days offshore on two 50 watt solar panels no engine recharge required. It’s the reason that many cruising sailors select their windvane as the most important single piece of gear on board.

    Ken Roper (aka The General) who holds the record for the most SHTPs completed (13? 14?) used to say that he loved racing a boat using a windvane because they always oscillated 20 to 30 degrees on their course as they hunted the wind. He was right of course. However, if you’re not in a hurry to get there, so what? Enjoy the ride with no electrons necessary.

    For this year’s SH Farallones race, I rounded the island around 4pm and set the vane on a beam reach at 60 degrees magnetic and headed for the gate. While I did see 30 degrees and 90 degrees on the compass for short periods, the vane steered the whole way back in 15 to 20 knots with the boat doing 6 and 7 knots for four hours. Looking at the GPS track, it was spot on the navigation line I originally set at the island.

    I disagree with your statement that autopilots and windvanes cost about the same amount. The first question you should ask someone who is in love with autopilots is “How many autopilots do you carry onboard?” No one who goes offshore gets away with just one autopilot given their propensity to fail at just the wrong time. So add up all the replacement autopilots and spares and then compare it to a used windvane. I bought a 20 year old Monitor six months ago on Craigslist (the newer design in good condition) for $1,800 and added an emergency rudder to meet the SHTP standards.


    As far as the comparison between the Monitor and the Hydrovane, I have used both and they are both well designed and constructed essential gear for ocean passages. I am partial to the Monitor for two reasons. Monitor uses the boat’s rudder to steer as opposed the Hydrovane where the boat’s rudder is locked off and the force for steering the boat comes from only the Hydrovane paddle which is always much smaller than the boat’s rudder. That said, Hydrovane performs very well by all accounts with this system. In addition, I like the ease of flipping the Monitor paddle out of the water when not in use. Doing the same with Hydrovane is often not possible when away from the dock.

    If you want to try out sailing on a boat like yours with a windvane on San Francisco Bay, send me your contact info and we can set up a time to test it out.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Posts
    3,103

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    I have a Navik and a much smaller boat. Gotta say, though, that this forum and the generous people who populate it never fail to impress. Even remotely :-)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
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    Many thanks @Grace ; that is an amazing (& hugely appreciated) offer! I have sent my contact info in a PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    San Francisco
    Posts
    106

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    To do Hawaii SH... you need two robust steering systems. So vane+pelagic, two pelagics, and so on. Under powered tiller pilots don't count. Over half the racers will have at least one of their pilots get cranky or outright die (vanes break too). If you go with two pilots you need two power sources... such as engine and solar, engine and generator, engine and hydrogenerator.

    The alternative is be very young and not sleep for days.

    Note the around the world folks often carry 5 pilots... lets see that means on average 5k miles per pilot which sounds right (I got 10k out of a pilot but that was the exception and not the average).

    Yes two ways to steer and two power sources is pricey... sigh.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Posts
    444

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    I second Jim's point about multiple self-steering devices: they break, as a singlehander looking at Hawaii you need backup + spare parts. If the self-steering goes out entirely then the trip becomes an extremely difficult psychological adventure to go aft and handsteer for another five hours before you heave to and park so you can get some more sleep.

    If you go with all-electric pilots then they need protection - as in a below-decks installation for the drive and keep the controller head out of the sun and spray. I use remotes to operate the pilot, this keeps the pilot itself in pristine condition and its buttons are likely to still work after I've trod on the remote and crunched it.

    If you use a hydraulic drive unit and carry a wind vane be aware back-driving the hydraulic ram adds drag to the steering; that drag will make the wind vane less effective. If the hydraulic drive goes out entirely and you're using the wind vane only, work out a way to disconnect the drive entirely from the steering system (often just a bolt you have to undo to separate the drive from a small tiller arm mounted on the rudder stock).

    I have yet to make a 2000+ mile passage on a single pilot installation - something usually goes wrong, I switch to another steering system, repair the pilot, then switch back. Sometimes one system can be out for a day or two while I figure it out, the alternative steering should be robust and not a twinkie alternative (<- shades of Mike Jefferson there).

    My boat is slightly larger at 45', I carry 4 below-decks pilots (3 entirely installed and can switch among them by throwing a couple of breakers), 4 backup rams/pumps/motors + other spares to keep them going. I also have a Monitor wind vane, that's the failsafe backup if I lose the electrics/batteries/charging circuits. I also rather enjoy the Monitor as it is silent and follows the wind around and I don't have to trim sails all that often. The Monitor has it's own bag of spares + breakaway tubes + air vanes; wind vanes break down too and need repairing. For the race to Hawaii the electric pilots are great, for the return trip the wind vane is wonderful.

    - rob/beetle

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    Location
    SF Bay Area
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    I went out on Kalia today, which was unbelievably helpful, and immensely generous of the owner. So now I've seen both a Monitor in action and a SSS-setup boat, both of which were extremely educational.

    tiger beetle's comment about spares and failures is apropos: the Monitor experienced a failure, which the owner proceeded to fix forthwith using a well-stocked spares kit, manual, etc. A better demonstration of why one carries spares (and printed manuals, and the knowledge and tools to use them) could probably not have been had if it had been planned ahead of time.

    @JimQuanci (and tiger beetle): would a Hydrovane with a Pelagic tiller pilot (to run the hydrovane if the windvane part breaks) count as "two autopilots" in your book, or do you envision a more serious wheel pilot than my Raymarine EV100, perhaps something like the CPT that GBR3068 mentioned, on the assumption the entire windvane system might fail?

    I'm going to spend some time thinking about the Monitor vs Hydrovane, but will probably go with one of the other. Given how well it seemed to work, and how easy it seemed to use, I'm inclined to go with a vane rather than a belowdecks electronic/ram one.

    Thanks again, all.

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