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Old 02-01-2013, 01:56   #16
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We have both, but honestly - we relied on the autopilot 90 percent of the time. It steered the boat wonderfully and we didn't have to worry about power as we had an effective Duo Gen. We thought our hydro vane would be used more but we went with what was easier.
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Old 02-01-2013, 02:02   #17
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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We have both, but honestly - we relied on the autopilot 90 percent of the time. It steered the boat wonderfully and we didn't have to worry about power as we had an effective Duo Gen. We thought our hydro vane would be used more but we went with what was easier.
I think the difference here is that if/when your autopilot packs in, if you're in the middle of an ocean, you don't have to hand steer the rest of the way entirely.

To me, that's worth the multi thousands of dollars that a wind vane costs. For a short handed crew there is nothing worse than non-stop watch rotations at the helm for days or weeks.

Maybe for the cost of the windvane you can afford multiple spares of autopilots; that's certainly one idea. Just whatever anyone does make sure you've got a reliable way for the boat to be steered while people rest and sleep.
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Old 02-01-2013, 07:46   #18
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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Originally Posted by S/V Alchemy View Post

The autopilot (Raymarine) tore off its mounts (5/8" as I remember). Both were repairable, but we had to hand-steer for a few hours.
That isn't an issue with AP's in general - just an installation issue on your boat specifically. Many people (and boat manufacturers) severely underestimate the forces involved with the AP drive and do not provide sufficient mounting points. Windvanes could equally have insufficient installation scantlings.

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Originally Posted by S/V Alchemy View Post
Sailing to a waypoint with winds clocking 45 degrees over a few hours (a not atypical scenario) under AP, you could gradually have decreased trim on your sail set, leading to lower speeds, chafe and possibly worse damage. Wind vanes require, if not attention, a certain level of vigilance and awareness of the boat's course vis-a-vis the wind.
I don't see how not paying attention to the boat's trim, course and attitude is an issue with AP's in general. Again, I see this as an example of how things operate on your boat specifically and not on boats with AP's in general. I would bet that people with AP's are just as aware of their navigation and operation environment as those with windvanes.

Even if one wished to never pay attention to sail trim, AP's can be set in windvane mode just like, well, windvanes. Even better, many AP's can sound an alarm if the wind moves outside a preset angle.

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Old 02-01-2013, 07:54   #19
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

Connie and I depended on our wind vane on our Colvin because we did not have the power saving modle APs available today !! our old chain style AP came off of a fishing boat and usd Huge amounts of power! ya almost had to either run the engine or a genny to supply it !! No solar back then, (at least for us broke folks ) So our Vane did it for us !! to day we use a Ap that a common car battery could run for 2 or 3 days without charging !! the 4 solar panels on our new to us ketch run it and our electronics with out any engine input so far ! Altho in some ways we miss our old vane, but the AP works so well I don't miss it enough to spend the big boats bucks it takes to have one for a 51 ft boat !! So put us down on the AP list !! See folks, even us old timers can learn new tricks !!!
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Old 02-01-2013, 08:23   #20
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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That's not really a fair sampling group in my mind. They're prepping boats for a specific trip, loading up on equipment, and setting off.
Im not interested in an Anchor thread, but Id dont agree, ARC crossings are a big 3-4 weeks at sea crossing, one of the couple of big trips likely on a circumnavigation, many of the boats are RTW or at least going further afield. Im not sure what you are comparing them with.

The fact is the stats speak for themselves,

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And honestly why in the world would you want to steer to a compass in terrible weather? Just put a heading alarm on if you're concerned with the wind changing that much: most any gps has that sitting right next to the anchor alarm. Or just glance at the compass.
Well APs steer to wind or HDG and respond to yaw etc. I dont follow your heavy weather comments, In very heavy weather, you end up hand steering because the biggest challenge is finding a safe path through the waves. Something neither a windvane or a AP can do. Below that if I can sail a course then its AP mode.

Ive never seen a windvane outperform a modern autopilot.

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Old 02-01-2013, 09:40   #21
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

What are the most common failures on modern autopilots? I was thinking of getting spares, but not sure if that means buying an entire second system, or just a few consumable items. At just 14,900 pounds loaded, we are well below the max 22,000 for our system.

We currently have:

Raymarine X10 Computer
Raymarine linear drive
Raymarine s6002 head unit
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Old 02-01-2013, 10:18   #22
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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I would have to disagree having sailed with both.

A good autopilot with a rate gyro will always outperform a wind vane in heavy weather , simply because a wind wave can only sense the wind direction, whereas the pilot can sense boat movement

Electricity demand is only an issue of you don't have any, if you have a thought out system , its absolutely no problem. I have crossed the Atlantic a couple of times on virtually continuous autopilot use. No problems with electricity.

Modern properly sized , properly installed autopilots are extremely reliable , In several crossing we had no pilot failures , even though we carried a spare Ram , its was never needed


I would not agree that wind vanes are relatively simple, some have specialised parts and custom fixtures.

The decreasing use such vanes in groups like the ARC show the increasing reliability of modern pilots and power generation strategies. 10 years ago vanes were common in the ARC. , now they are a rarity.
Always happy to agree to disagree Dave. As I said, I have both on my boat, and am pleased that I do. If I was forced to choose only one, I'd go with the vane, but I don't have to choose.

In my experience, my vane (an Aries) performs better in higher wind and lumpy sea conditions than my X-5GP. The vane responds to boat motion b/c this shifts the relative position of the vane. The AP does the same with the gyro-compass. In lower winds the AP wins. As the wind cranks up, the vane comes into its own. If I had a stouter AP this might be different. I don't have the option of installing a Ram (no quadrant on my boat), so the answer depends, in part, on the boat and where you are sailing.

As for ease of maintenance, for me a purely mechanical system is simpler than an electro-mechanical option. But they both need maintenance and support. To each his own...
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Old 02-01-2013, 10:38   #23
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

I'd buy a windvane then go looking for a boat to put it on. Have 5 figure mileage under me with a windvane sailing 99% of the time. Only maintenance issues were handled with simple hand tools and a jack knife and were extremely limited. On my current boat as with the last, engage the vane as soon as as I leave the marina and don't disconnect it till I'm reentering the marina. I just don't hand steer.

Have the added luxury of an X5 A/P on my current boat that i use under power but have found it useless under sail. The motor stalls out when boat speed exceeds about 4 knots. Have ditched the wheel steering so will see if the X5 tiller pilot does a better job. On both boats, if there was enough wind to sail, the vane would steer the boat.

Having said the above. Windvanes work best with the direct connection of the vane to a tiller if it's a pendulum servo type. Will work with a wheel but the inertia in a wheel could hurt the low wind steering performance. Still, have heard good reports from boats as large as 50' with a pendulum servo system working on a wheel.

One thing that is not mentioned with autopilots is their voracious appetite for electrons. In addition to the A/P, you'll need serious generating capacity and a large battery bank that can more than equal the cost of the A/P.
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Old 02-01-2013, 11:05   #24
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

Of the previous 25 posts 8 people think you should have wind vane, 4 people say no, and one person has one but doesnt use it. The other posts were.... Ummmm well the normal arguments.

So one would think that in a cruising anchorage there would be that ratio of boats with wind vanes.

Taking a look out the door ( and its Key West mooring field so is that cruiserville?) there are 50 sailing boats and only one (1) with what looks like a wind vane... Ad that wind vane looks dismantled.

In the Caribbean there may be a few more but not 10% of boats. In the Pacific and the furtherest reaches of cruising boat you might find 10% but only the old boats.

I have ever only seen one or two with a wind vane on a swim platform.

So instead of going and buying something that costs MORE than an autopilot I would seriously wonder why you should if most, 90% don't have one a wind vane.

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Old 02-01-2013, 11:35   #25
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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Originally Posted by funjohnson View Post
What are the most common failures on modern autopilots? I was thinking of getting spares, but not sure if that means buying an entire second system, or just a few consumable items. At just 14,900 pounds loaded, we are well below the max 22,000 for our system.

We currently have:

Raymarine X10 Computer
Raymarine linear drive
Raymarine s6002 head unit
The course computer is the first to go! I replaced my old Type 100 unit last year with a new X10 (and I'm a lot closer to the max that you) last year. The old unit had been going bad for 2 years and other than a beeping from the rotary drive unit that was making me a little crazy was steering the boat just fine still. Even when I got to the point of replacing it it was working 95% of the time but I could tell it was getting worst.
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Old 02-01-2013, 11:39   #26
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

First, you need an autopilot. Second, if you plan long offshore passages you might want a windvane. If you have to chose between t he two, I would definitely go AP.
You didnt give much info, but If you are fairly new to cruising, just get an AP and get acquainted with cruising. IF you decide to go on long trips accross the pacific etc, you'll likely find a cruiser along the way who will sell you a windvane at a bargain price! I've installed 3 Monitor windvanes on boats "prepping for blu water" and probably spent more time installing than using.... but I never crossed the pacific.
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Old 02-01-2013, 11:42   #27
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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Originally Posted by funjohnson View Post
What are the most common failures on modern autopilots? I was thinking of getting spares, but not sure if that means buying an entire second system, or just a few consumable items. At just 14,900 pounds loaded, we are well below the max 22,000 for our system.

We currently have:

Raymarine X10 Computer
Raymarine linear drive
Raymarine s6002 head unit
I've had a B&G hydraulic, two Alpha 3000's, Two Auto helms. No failures in any. (the autohelm 5000 wasnt used long though and the other was a simple tillerpilot)
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Old 02-01-2013, 11:44   #28
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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One thing that is not mentioned with autopilots is their voracious appetite for electrons. In addition to the A/P, you'll need serious generating capacity and a large battery bank that can more than equal the cost of the A/P.

It depends on a lot of things. My unit normal only draws an average of 2-3 amps near as I can tell and only when it is moving the rudder. If I go below and watch my battery monitor I can barely tell when it operates

The boat type makes a big difference. On my boat with a deep fin keel and balanced spade rudder I normally only run the AP on a response level of 2 out of 10. It still is steering way straighter than I could and once the sails are balanced it barely has to do any steering at all most of time.

Meanwhile someone who sails with me crewed on a full keel boat with a barn door rudder last year. Due to bad fuel they had to turn off their AP because it was using so much power (the boat was smaller than mine).

So if you have a heavy boat, with an unbalanced rudder, operating at a high response level to hold the tightest course, and you don't keep your sails trimmed; then yes you are going to be sucking some serious power.
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Old 02-01-2013, 12:02   #29
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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I've had a B&G hydraulic, two Alpha 3000's, Two Auto helms. No failures in any. (the autohelm 5000 wasnt used long though and the other was a simple tillerpilot)
I bought a hydraulic Simrad HLD350 linear drive with the intent of swapping that for the 6 month old Raymarine linear drive, but may hold off if the linear drives aren't typically weak points. We are a modern fin keel/spade rudder, and when I tried the emergency tiller, very little force was needed to keep the boat on course. If most people don't have problems with the Raymarine drive, I'll just save the glass work and sell the Simrad unit.
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Old 02-01-2013, 16:29   #30
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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In my experience, my vane (an Aries) performs better in higher wind and lumpy sea conditions than my X-5GP.
Mike, you simply cannot compare an Aries vane to a X5 AP. The X5 is nowhere near the same playing field as windvanes and below deck pilots. If you were comparing the Aries to a below deck Simrad or Raymarine or etc, then your experiences would be more valid. Most boats going offshore would not be relying on an X5 as a primary AP.

Or at least they shouldn't be...

I would be interested in if any of those posting that their vane out-performs an AP have ever actually used a modern NKE, B&G or Simrad system. These steer better in almost all conditions better than I can, and definitely better than me in rough conditions. I don't have as high regard for Raymarine's abilities, but still have a hard time believing that their current AP's perform no better, or worse, than a windvane.

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