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Old 29-01-2014, 15:34   #1
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Short Distance Windvane?

Hi Friends,
I have read many threads on the advantages and disadvantages
of Autopilot Vs Windvane but really couldn't get a grasp on my question,
The Plan:
Year 1, Winter 2015, I plan on cruising the Bahamas and maybe down to
the DR
Year 2, Winter 2016, Maybe as far south as Trinidad
Year 3, More of the same
(Homebase in Fla)
Each cruise to be about 4 months.
I am researching boats now for a summer 2014 purchase and have gotten some great advice and focus here. So Here's the question:
Should I be looking to outfit with a Windvane or Autopilot for the relatively short distance hops? There are boats out there outfitted with one or the other and there doesn't seem to be a big price differential. My personal
preference is that I like to keep things as simple and battery free as I can.
In my other life in Television I have gotten hosed so many times by
a "Blown Board" that I would like to be more mechanical and less electronic
in this endeavor I'm looking at 30 - 32' boats (used)

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Old 29-01-2014, 15:54   #2
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

The best answer is to have both. If I had to choose between one or the other I'd go with a quality vane.

We sail the Great Lakes. Our longest hops are two to three days. Mostly we're anchoring every night, going from 10 to 50 nm each day. We use our Aries for these short hops. Once it's rigged it's easy to use. Not quite as easy as an an auto, but no big deal. So yes, we use it for short distances.

Why go fast, when you can go slow.
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Old 29-01-2014, 16:04   #3
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

One factor to consider is who is going to steer if there is no wind. Ok if you have crew but even then not great as the attraction of helming wears off very quickly. A windvane is no use if there is no wind.....unless you go for both. I have a Hydrovane which is the best bit of kit ever fitted to the boat. Works away holding a far better course than any human helm could and consumes no beer or whiskey - ideal. If no wind it doesn't work of course so then I hook up a tiller pilot which works by driving the Hydrovane rudder until the wind returns and as the engine will be running the battery is not being drained. I have never had much luck with electronic autopilots - all have failed and had to be repaired so I carry two and would never rely on one as my only form of self steering. Nice to have when they work but don't count on it.
Fair winds and tides.
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Old 29-01-2014, 17:22   #4
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

Get a good windvane and a cheap tiller pilot (even if the boat is wheel steered).

In really light winds downwind or when motoring hook the tiller pilot up in place of the wind paddle of the vane gear. This decreases the load the tiller pilot sees and it will last longer. If the winds pick up and you delay changing back to the paddle, you won't be overloading the pilot.

If you wanted to get fancy you could get a push-pull cable and mount the tiller pilot in a lazarette out of the spray and water.
A house is but a boat so poorly built and so firmly run aground no one would think to try and refloat it.
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Old 29-01-2014, 17:34   #5
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

You did not mention if your trips are going to be solo or not. If they are, say, more than half the time, then a wind vane is hugely helpful. You can essentially set it and then busy yourself with other tasks or even sit and read so long as you take a look around at prudent intervals.

If you're not, then a wind vane may be overkill. They are fairly expensive, and since they increase the LOA of your boat some marinas will charge extra if it bumps you up to a larger slip.

It also depends on where you're sailing. If you're taking short hops around the Bahamas then you really don't need a wind vane, even solo. My advice would be to buy the boat, use it, and if you end up saying "Gee, I really wish I had a wind vane." go out and get one. You might never find yourself thinking you need it.

I actually think that autopilots are almost mandatory. Motoring your boat is boring enough, and having to steer it the entire time yourself can get old pretty quickly if you're going a longer distance. Autopilots are also handy when leaving a harbor or motoring towards a waypoint, even if it's not that far off (again, provided you're keeping a good watch on traffic). If I were going to pick one of the two, I'd pick an autopilot for the simple fact that it's more versatile.
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Old 29-01-2014, 17:50   #6
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

For what it's worth, in that size range, over those distances, I just don't see how you can justify the MUCH more expensive wind vane over an inexpensive, used tiller pilot or wheel pilot. Have covered most of that cruising ground with autopilot or tiller pilots, and never missed having a wind vane at all.
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Old 29-01-2014, 17:59   #7
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

We have a proven and trustworthy electric autopilot. It will probably work perfectly for another 20 years. But I will never trust it as it depends on battery power and that's just another big variable. So in your situation I would go for wind vane, and if the budget permits, add the cheapo tiller pilot to control the wind vane in lighter air, as per the previous excellent suggestion.

As an adjunct to this, I would note that the absence of self steering in light air would be less of a concern to me than in strong winds when I feel self steering might be critical when changing sails under pressure or dealing with problems on deck.

Very funny Scotty, now beam down my clothes.
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Old 29-01-2014, 18:37   #8
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

If you do decide on a vane, the Norvane is an excellent choice for a smallish boat. Very good quality and robust, but lighter and half the price of a Monitor or Hydrovane. That said, the reputation of a hydrovane cannot be beat and is also relatively light. If I had had the 6Gs it wouldve been hard to say no to the hydro.

I also have a small autopilot for motoring conditions.

FWIW, YMMV and all that
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Old 29-01-2014, 19:23   #9
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

There self steering vanes on both my boats have done almost all the steering when the sails are up. Have just recently gotten an autopilot which steers the boat the other 5% of the time. Short tacking out to open areas, daysailing, any time the boat is moving under sail, the vanes steer. Really don't understand why people think self steering vanes are only for long passages.
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Old 29-01-2014, 21:04   #10
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

Well a good case can be made for either choice but in my opinion for short hops and local sailing I would stick with a decent autopilot. If your crossing oceans I really like having a vane.
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Old 30-01-2014, 00:58   #11
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

Most of the passages from the Bahamas to Trinidad are day time with only a few over-nighters. Nothing longer unless you plan on skipping lots of islands for a "non-stop."
So I would suggest a reliable electric autopilot as a top priority - something like the Robertson.
I have both electric/hydraulic autopilot and a windvane (Cape Horn) and over a decade in the Caribbean - never - used the windvane. It takes considerable time and trouble to set it up correctly and of course wind to make it work. The passages are just too short to make using the windvane practical versus an electric autopilot.

That said, a windvane can make a great emergency steering system if properly rigged, in case your electric power craps out or your steering systems malfunctions. But again we never had cause to use ours - so we sold it.
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Old 31-01-2014, 06:15   #12
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Re: Short Distance Windvane?

Originally Posted by robert sailor View Post
Well a good case can be made for either choice but in my opinion for short hops and local sailing I would stick with a decent autopilot. If your crossing oceans I really like having a vane.
The beauty of an autopilot is that it's so easy to use and equally easy to uncouple. You can engage it just by pressing a button while you go rig the fenders and dock lines and it will do just fine in all but big following seas where almost all of them struggle. As with any electronic device, it can fail but I've found that boat electronics have gotten SO much more reliable in recent years that it's really not a worry. I've had 2 trouble free Raymarine autopliots, one that mounted on the wheel and one was a below decks type. I had the below decks one for 11 years (and it was 6 years old when I got it) and never had an issue with it except the hand held remote stopped working. I've never had a wind vane but would want one before I headed out for an ocean crossing though. For anything short of that I think I'd opt for the ease of use and flexibility of an electronic autopilot.

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wind, windvane

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