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Old 01-01-2013, 14:32   #1
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Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

I've been going back and forth between a CPT autopilot or simrad pilot but am wondering if a self steering windvane is the better solution. Any ideas
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Old 01-01-2013, 15:00   #2
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Re: Windvane steering? Autopilot or both for offshore cruising

It Depends on what kind of sailing you want to do. We have both, A Cape Horn for the sailing days and a wheel pilot for the calm or less windy days. both have a time and place. though the wind vane is much more fun.
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Old 01-01-2013, 15:04   #3
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Re: Windvane steering? Autopilot or both for offshore cruising

G'Day Graydog,

It really is necessary for you to stop being so secretive and tell us a bit more if we are to give you a meaningful answser:
What boat?
What plans?
Where?
What budget?

Without such info all we can do is make vague generalizations and muddy the water that you float in!

Cheers,

Jim
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Old 01-01-2013, 15:08   #4
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Re: Windvane steering? Autopilot or both for offshore cruising

You need both.
Windvanes are marvellous for long passages. They don't need feeding or sleep and they don't complain.
BUT they don't work too well running before the breeze or in a calm.
We have sailed thousands of miles back and forth across the Pacific using our Fleming wind vane without any problems, but we were glad when motoring to have the autopilot.
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Old 01-01-2013, 15:40   #5
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Re: Windvane steering? Autopilot or both for offshore cruising

For us, the Monitor self-steering wind vane system is great.

We use it on any haul that puts us in open water. (Only my wife and I aboard a 48 ft'er.) "Helma" brought us safely from Mexico to New Zealand and points beyond; she is a highly valued member of our crew.

Takes no battery power...
Connects/disconnects easily with helm...
Easily adjustable after connecting to helm...
Dependable and strong...
Handles waves -big waves -coming from any point...
Has an adapter available for use as emergency rudder...
...(This is a relatively recent development.)
Works in "almost" no wind...
...(But: our experience says not so good with very soft winds from dead astern)
Worked when the winds were in the low 50 knot range...
...(There's a story with that, but what a ride!)

Also, we've disconnected from the rudder our electric/hydraulic autopilot. Didn't use it the past eight years and the hydraulic arm "fought" the wind vane with back-pressure. Just a little, mind you, but there was a noticeable improvement after the disconnection.

Good Sailing, and Happy New Year!
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Old 01-01-2013, 15:44   #6
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I'd have to say having a lot of long distances. I dont see the need for windvanes any more. Not to mention they are awkward to fit to sugar scoop sterns.

Dave
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Old 01-01-2013, 16:11   #7
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

I would never have a wind vane.
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Old 01-01-2013, 16:59   #8
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

Nothing beats a good oversized autopilot. Will steer the boat better than you ever could hope for!
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Old 01-01-2013, 17:35   #9
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

It really depends on boat, cruising grounds, and sailing desires, but in general I'd go with both if you can do it. We have both, and love the combo. And yes, go oversized for the auto.

If I absolutely had to choose I'd go with the vane:
  • Vanes are great for long-distances. No one wants to hand-steer over long distances.
  • They tend to perform better as the wind increases (opposite of electric autos).
  • They demand no electricity.
  • They require minimal (and relatively simple) maintenance skills.
Vanes are not good for tight manoeuvring, or when the wind goes flakey or very light. HOWEVER, these latter conditions will more likely be encountered on coastal hops, which tend to be shorter. If I have to hand-steer, I want it to be as short a time as possible.

Of course, if most of your sailing is going to be shorter coastal hops, then an auto is the way to go.
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Old 01-01-2013, 17:47   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike OReilly
It really depends on boat, cruising grounds, and sailing desires, but in general I'd go with both if you can do it. We have both, and love the combo. And yes, go oversized for the auto.

If I absolutely had to choose I'd go with the vane:
[*]Vanes are great for long-distances. No one wants to hand-steer over long distances.[*]They tend to perform better as the wind increases (opposite of electric autos).[*]They demand no electricity.[*]They require minimal (and relatively simple) maintenance skills.

Vanes are not good for tight manoeuvring, or when the wind goes flakey or very light. HOWEVER, these latter conditions will more likely be encountered on coastal hops, which tend to be shorter. If I have to hand-steer, I want it to be as short a time as possible.

Of course, if most of your sailing is going to be shorter coastal hops, then an auto is the way to go.
I would have to disagree having sailed with both.

Your first point is the same for both vane and autopilot

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.

Dave
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Old 01-01-2013, 18:59   #11
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

Last sea passage I made as crew offshore was Virginia to USVIs, and the vane control line (Spectra) wore through a couple of times.

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.

If we had just one and not the other, it would have been more than a few hours. Clearly, two methods of self-steering were better than one.

Also clear was that while point of sail and low windspeed can affect the ability of the wind vane to hold the course, when the conditions are right, a vane can steer as well as an AP with well-set sails in effect, and as measured over long distances (we were at sea 11 or so days).

Yes, they are becoming rarer, but they have certain advantages APs do not, and some which are less obvious than "they use no electricity" aspect. For one, they can be mated with tiller or wheel pilots and can therefore be "partially automated"; for another, one has to perform periodic adjustments based on new data. 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.

Manual shifting on cars is becoming a rarity, but I would not consider them either an endorsement for the increasing reliability of automatic transmissions in cars nor as necessarily an improvement if you aren't a rally driver. As a sailor, I like options. On my own boat, I have hydraulic steering and will soon have a second, hydraulic-linked AP with inputs from a fluxgate compass and GPS. Great for when the engine's on, and very nice to have. I also have a windvane. Great for when I'm sailing on the ocean and a stretched out "S" course over 24 hours isn't going to make a lot of difference.

They both have their place on the passagemaking cruiser. The coastal cruiser or the daysailer? That's a less compelling case for a windvane, admittedly, but I know from many, many accounts that APs can and do break or otherwise fail to function when needed, and if you get one, get two...or be prepared to hand-steer.

Just my opinion. On my smaller boat, which is just in a Great Lake, I use an ancient tiller pilot under motor, and a piece of bungee cord, a Tiller Tamer, and the weather sheet under sail. Both set ups work well when required, but neither are required often.
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Old 01-01-2013, 20:35   #12
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

i have a cpt autopilot and am very happy with it. we don't do long ocean voyages so i never considered a windvane. for island hopping day or overnight sails an electric autopilot is just easier to deal with.

i like the cpt; it's simple and powerful. steers my 20000 lb cutter with ease. no bells and whistles to worry about. just two knobs to adjust for weather conditions and they quickly become second nature. it's easy to install - did it in an afternoon. easily connects and disconnects from the wheel. best of all, the company is owned by two engineers who answer your call personally.

i think if you compare it to other wheelpilots like the raymarine or simrad you'll see that it is a much sturdier unit - the others are mostly plastic.
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Old 02-01-2013, 00:09   #13
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

I was surprised how many boats cruising the south pacific this season have wind vanes, I would estimate over half. I think for long distance you either need both or 2 electric autopilots (or maybe one really good one). Autopilot's and windvanes are one of the most common breakages it seems and its no so much fun to hand steer for days!
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Old 02-01-2013, 01:38   #14
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Re: Windvane steering? Autopilot or both for offshore cruising

Quote:
Originally Posted by Albro359 View Post
You need both.
Windvanes are marvellous for long passages. They don't need feeding or sleep and they don't complain.
BUT they don't work too well running before the breeze or in a calm.
We have sailed thousands of miles back and forth across the Pacific using our Fleming wind vane without any problems, but we were glad when motoring to have the autopilot.
That about sums it up.

If you're not swimming in money, get an autopilot first. We have an X5 and it's worked out fine for us. The autopilot will work in wind and no-wind, and you can't say the same for the wind vane. Not in any way knocking the vane, but if it's the difference between sailing this year or next, just grab an X5 on sale somewhere and bail.
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Old 02-01-2013, 01:54   #15
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Re: Windvane Steering? Autopilot or Both for Offshore Cruising

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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
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.

Dave
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.

I can count, albeit on one hand, the amount of people who've had to hand steer long distances because of a failed autopilot. I had one fail on me a couple of years ago. In my limited circle of knowledge and friends I know of one guy who had problems with a hydrovane and that's because someone crashed into his stern when they (another boat) drug anchor. Even just reading the threads on here tells a similar story. I can't remember the last time someone posted info about some part of a wind vane failing but autopilots are up there with alternators in terms of service life.

I've got a friend who circumnavigated who just used an X5, but he also started out on a brand new boat. I could see doing a second circumnavigation on a well used wind vane, but anyone with a brain would scrap the autopilot or at least replace all the moving parts before leaving for a trans-oceanic crossing.

There's a lot of deep pocketed sailors out there who run their engines whenever they dip below 6 knots of boat speed. I think that sailing profile and the love of electronics is more at the core of things. It's not like everyone with a sailboat is making the right decisions.

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.
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