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Old 21-01-2018, 09:30   #1
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Downwind Self-Steering Woes

What are people's favorite self-steering options for downwind runs?

On my last downwind passage, I sailed wing on wing the entire way, but wasn't really happy with the amount of weaving my Navik wind vane had me doing, especially with moderate following seas. Perhaps the apparent wind was just too light, or maybe I need to be more patient. Instead though, I resorted to my tiller pilot for all 4 days. I'd rather not have to do this though, as it increases my power demands, and is more likely to fail. It also won't prevent a gybe when the wind suddenly changes, which happened a few times.

I've been researching sheet-to-tiller steering as an option too, but I can't wrap my head around how this would go with seas constantly rolling the boat side to side.
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Old 21-01-2018, 09:43   #2
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Forget the sheet to tiller idea. In lighter winds make sure the lines running to the tiller are a bit loose so you have very little friction. Consider fabricating a larger lighter weight vane for light winds. Corrugated plastic material that is used for smaller signs is not a bad choice as it's super light and reasonably strong. You can also experiment with the angle of the vane to reduce the see sawing. I also used to fly a fairly long ribbon, around 4 feet off the rear of the vane and this would help it excite the vane in really light stuff. And finally even when everything is working as good as it can your going to get some movement back and forth but hopefully these ideas can help you. R
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Old 21-01-2018, 10:09   #3
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Good suggestions. I thought about making a larger vane, it would be very simple. I'll see what I can scrounge up.

I'll also get screen caps of my course with and without the windvane, so you can get an idea of what kind of weaving I was dealing with. I think it was much more than normal compared to other points of sail, where I've always used my wind vane happily.
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Old 21-01-2018, 10:16   #4
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

A wedge shaped vane, ie a small angle triangle in the top view, is significantly more effective than the typical flat vane. If you make a framework out of aluminum tube and cover it with fabric you will have a very light weight and very effecitive wind vane.
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Old 21-01-2018, 10:29   #5
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Your little Albin could give you a rolly ride in medium seas ddw. If you make a larger vane and you get it balanced well, well it will improve things. When your going downwind in larger seas but lighter winds it's always a challenge for even the best windvane because every time your boat rolls the vane goes in the opposite direction which is totally normally even if your sitting still. The water paddle wants to move with the boat as well but because the water is much more resistant the big issue will be the windvane itself, it needs to be desensitized when the boat rolls...On long ocean crossings when I got into those conditions I rigged up really light bungee cords or elastic that allowed the vane to be blown to one side or the other but had just enough support to stop it from flapping back and forth when the boat was rolling. What this did was reduced the input to the tiller and kept a straighter course. The boat could still roll but the vane wasn't sending the tiller side to side. Not sure if that makes any sense to you. R
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Old 21-01-2018, 10:38   #6
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

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A wedge shaped vane, ie a small angle triangle in the top view, is significantly more effective than the typical flat vane. If you make a framework out of aluminum tube and cover it with fabric you will have a very light weight and very effecitive wind vane.
Mmmm the only time I've seen a wedge shaped wind vane was on a trim tabbed self steering system. I'll admit to being a bit dated on vanes but back in the day I owned several different ones and put thousands of miles on each one of them. Are you aware of any new wind vanes that use a wedge shaped vane that is hinged on the vertical..example Monitor, Airies,Cape Horn, Pacific Plus Windpilot or Hydrovane???
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Old 21-01-2018, 10:39   #7
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Great ideas Robert. Ribbons and bungees … I’m going to try them next season.

Downwind is always a challenge with a vane. Our Aries has the same issues. I do have two sizes of vane which I swap out depending on the conditions, but I’m going to try cutting one out of corrugated plastic. I’ve seen Monitors with this kind of vane, and they seem to work well.
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Old 21-01-2018, 12:11   #8
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Made a light weight light air vane out of corrugated plastic. Plastic came in 4'x8' sheets so had tnem cut me 4 8" x 48" pieces thinking they would be fragile. Still using the original after nearly 3,000 miles steering. Made the vane steer way better in winds under 10 knots.

Used the vane all the way to Hawaii never seeing relative winds greater than 10k, mostly 5-8 knots. Because of the lumpy confused seas, boat slewed a bit but always under control. Made course correction changes once or twice a day to stay on the rhumb line. Made the passage in 15.5 days on my 25' water line boat running wing and wing. Went 10 days or more without touching a thing escept to replace a bent whisker pole. Most boring passage I've made which i won't complain about.
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Old 21-01-2018, 13:06   #9
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Chiming in here because I don't want to lose this thread and I have a new Monitor windvane that I haven't practiced on that much. I love the suggestions!!
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Old 21-01-2018, 13:28   #10
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

Sheet to tiller is rock solid and corrects for any change in course in a fraction of a second even down 1.5m waves. It’s so good the corrections are almost imperceptible to the naked eye if you didn’t see the helm move.

We crossed the whole Atlantic like that after our autopilot broke in Africa and we couldn’t get the parts there. Then we went on for about 2500 miles more along the coast of brazil before repairing, simply because we had gotten so used to it.

It does require human intervention very frequently though; you have to keep adjusting the tension of the line for the faintest changes in wind strength, which in our case was about every 10 minutes but that sure as hell beat steering by hand.

So if you already have a wind vane I see no reason to change. I just wanted to dissipate the notion that you shouldn’t even consider sheet to tiller should an emergency ever arise.
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Old 21-01-2018, 15:55   #11
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

You might want to check out the twizzle rig for downwind sailing:

https://www.google.com/search?q=twiz...nt=firefox-b-1
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Old 21-01-2018, 16:24   #12
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

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Sheet to tiller is rock solid and corrects for any change in course in a fraction of a second even down 1.5m waves. It’s so good the corrections are almost imperceptible to the naked eye if you didn’t see the helm move.

We crossed the whole Atlantic like that after our autopilot broke in Africa and we couldn’t get the parts there. Then we went on for about 2500 miles more along the coast of brazil before repairing, simply because we had gotten so used to it.

It does require human intervention very frequently though; you have to keep adjusting the tension of the line for the faintest changes in wind strength, which in our case was about every 10 minutes but that sure as hell beat steering by hand.

So if you already have a wind vane I see no reason to change. I just wanted to dissipate the notion that you shouldn’t even consider sheet to tiller should an emergency ever arise.
It's certainly better than nothing but I don't want to advise a sailor to use this method rather than adjusting his windvane properly because there really is no comparison. Back in the day the sheet to tiller was the only steering available in the early yachts and with their super full keels the system did work, to some degree as some folks made it around the world using your suggestion. Sounds like you had a less than wonderful experience hand steering. I can relate, 2 weeks hand steering between Hawaii and BC when both my cheapie autoplots failed also left me with less than fond memories.
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Old 21-01-2018, 16:42   #13
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

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You might want to check out the twizzle rig for downwind sailing:

https://www.google.com/search?q=twiz...nt=firefox-b-1
I hadn't heard that name before but this is the twin headsail rig that John Letcher shows in his book "Self Steering for Sailing Craft." If it were me I'd certainly consider this for your boat... and yes there may be... will be... some rolling if your boat is like mine downwind, with no main up to balance it.
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Old 21-01-2018, 19:16   #14
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

The double headsail rig is certainly the easiest on the steering system as there is next to zero helm but it does have the byproduct of rolling your guts out on some of the earlier designs. In really light air it's faster than a spinnaker because on the open ocean there is always a swell and the boat accelerates when going down the swell which kills the apparent wind and the chute collapses and then fills suddenly when it starts going up the backside of the next swell. It's hard on gear and if your double headsail rig is furler board flat it doesn't lose as much speed as a chute. Another little trick is to double reef your main and put it dead center and sheeted hard. As the boat rolls it acts a bit like an airbrake when the boat rolls side to side and helps reduce the severity of the roll. Try it in those conditions and you'll notice the difference.
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Old 21-01-2018, 22:18   #15
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Re: Downwind Self-Steering Woes

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It's certainly better than nothing but I don't want to advise a sailor to use this method rather than adjusting his windvane properly because there really is no comparison. Back in the day the sheet to tiller was the only steering available in the early yachts and with their super full keels the system did work, to some degree as some folks made it around the world using your suggestion. Sounds like you had a less than wonderful experience hand steering. I can relate, 2 weeks hand steering between Hawaii and BC when both my cheapie autoplots failed also left me with less than fond memories.
Well we didn’t hand steer at all except the first day and the 6 h motoring through the dolldrums. That was my point. And we did it on a modern 2001 fin keel Beneteau. You could have saved yourself those “less than fond” memories!
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