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Old 18-01-2011, 17:10   #1
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Crossing an Ocean without Autohelm / Windvane

We are a crew of 4, due to sail from Cape Town (S Africa) to France. 45' gaff rigged cutter. No autohelm or windvane. We can probably tie the wheel in the trades. Has anyone here any relevent experience that would make life easier for us? (Please don't suggest buying autohelm or fitting windvane!)
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Old 18-01-2011, 17:24   #2
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Look up sheet to tiller steering techniques. Basically needs some shock cord or much better surgical tubing, some lines, blocks and balancing your rig. If you can find "Self-Steering for Sailing Craft" by John S Letcher you'll have a valuable reference.
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Old 18-01-2011, 17:36   #3
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Old 18-01-2011, 17:47   #4
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Many larger traditional boats cross oceans without any form of autopilot or windvane. They do usually have a large crew but it is certainly doable for you.

My suggestion would be to learn how to balance the boat on different points of sail and different wind speeds. The goal is to trim the sails and rudder so that you have a stable system where if the boat starts to get off course, there is a restoring force. For example, on some boats you can leave the main sheeted out more than the jib so if the boat heads up, the main will start to luff first and the jib will make it fall off again. If the boat falls off too far, the jib will be blanketed and it will head back up. Finding this balance can be tricky and varies greatly depending on the boat and conditions but you can probably find it in a lot of conditions.
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Old 18-01-2011, 17:47   #5
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Thanks for the advice! Will try and get that book.
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Old 18-01-2011, 17:51   #6
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Originally Posted by klem View Post
Many larger traditional boats cross oceans without any form of autopilot or windvane. They do usually have a large crew but it is certainly doable for you.

My suggestion would be to learn how to balance the boat on different points of sail and different wind speeds. The goal is to trim the sails and rudder so that you have a stable system where if the boat starts to get off course, there is a restoring force. For example, on some boats you can leave the main sheeted out more than the jib so if the boat heads up, the main will start to luff first and the jib will make it fall off again. If the boat falls off too far, the jib will be blanketed and it will head back up. Finding this balance can be tricky and varies greatly depending on the boat and conditions but you can probably find it in a lot of conditions.
Thanks so much for that valuable advice. Have noted it and will discuss with crew.
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Old 18-01-2011, 18:31   #7
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Someone has to be on watch 24/7 so why not just have the watch handle the wheel? Gives the watch something to do. We hand steered all the way across the Atlantic.
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Old 18-01-2011, 18:39   #8
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Someone has to be on watch 24/7 so why not just have the watch handle the wheel? Gives the watch something to do. We hand steered all the way across the Atlantic.
Thanks for your reply. We also have a wheel, not a tiller, which I ought to have mentioned in my post. How many crew did you have and how did the watches pan out time wise? We are thinking of 4 hour watches in normal conditions, but wonder if that is too long?
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Old 18-01-2011, 18:54   #9
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Three hours on, nine hours off seemed to work best for me. It also means that the person on watch can have company for coffee etc.
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Old 18-01-2011, 18:54   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seamoth View Post
Thanks for your reply. We also have a wheel, not a tiller, which I ought to have mentioned in my post. How many crew did you have and how did the watches pan out time wise? We are thinking of 4 hour watches in normal conditions, but wonder if that is too long?
If your helming I'd cut that to 3 hrs at the wheel.... it gets hard work believe me having wheel steered a boat solo for over 2000 miles dawn till dusk...
6hr watches 2 at a time... one at the helm one stand-by and change after 3hrs... other two sleep chill whatever
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Old 18-01-2011, 19:03   #11
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Thanks for your reply. We also have a wheel, not a tiller, which I ought to have mentioned in my post. How many crew did you have and how did the watches pan out time wise? We are thinking of 4 hour watches in normal conditions, but wonder if that is too long?
We had 4 guys. Did a rotating watch schedule in which basically you are on 3 hours during the day and 2 hours on at night.

The watch schedule was a little complicated in that there were really two sets of watches, one set per two crew. Sorry, it just worked out that way. Never give a bunch of engineers blank paper to work on hobby stuff. BTW, three hours was just long enough.
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Old 18-01-2011, 19:20   #12
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I did the Baja Ha Ha with a crew of five. Two kids who didn't stand watch and three adults. We did three on and three off at night My wife cooked so she only stood one watch the 6 am to 9am. In the day it was 6 on 6 off. The kids and the wife would help out. I did two night watches and my mate did one. The wind was howling and it worked but it wasn't fun. It was really tiring. I swore I would never do a long trip without an AP or Windvane again. My boat tracks really well. You can release the wheel and won't have to grab it for another two or three minutes to get her back on track. Problems I encountered were: 1)You couldn't go below and get a cuppa something hot. 2) It was hard to write down the Lat and Long every hour (I like to do enter it in the log from the GPS). and 3) I had to pee of the stern. In your situation with four crew I would do a 3 on 3 off with two people on watch at night and 6 on 6 off in the day. This allows for a long sleep every day of about 5 hours. I have done a doublehanded delivery with four on four off handsteering but I was much younger then.
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Old 20-01-2011, 20:52   #13
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I have a copy of Lechter's book which I no longer need, since I have a windvane. $20 + shipping from 03060 NH USA.
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Old 20-01-2011, 21:50   #14
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from cape town to the equator you are going to have to hand steer,very difficult to get any boat to steer it self downwind,after the equator boat should steer it self,rope on the windward side to the wheel and elastic to stabalize,close hauled as pressure comes off the helm as the boat luffs up elastic pullls the helm over so vessel falls off,presure comes on the helm,carries on course.................have fun
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Old 20-01-2011, 23:07   #15
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Make a saddle for the steering gear inside the steering box, remove the wheel and install a tiller. Then run a line from the fore staysl boom to windward, down the windward rail then cross to the tiller, wrap the line around the tiller several times. Run surgical tube from the tiller to the lee rail. Play with this until the boat is self steering, and then read books, play games, make love, whatever. Naturally you will need line both sides of the vessel. Shifting over takes all of three or four minutes. this rig steered my schooner for day after day, while we sat in a chair on deck and kept a watch. It actually got boring on the night watches. This is from the Letcher book. Works beautifully as long as you have a long straight keel, which your gaff cutter probably has. Once you get a tiller installed, you will have maybe 30 or 40 bucks in line and blocks, though those are probably in your lockers somewhere already. Of course, you could pay 5 thousand for a vane steering gear, but .....
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