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Old 24-11-2009, 15:32   #1
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Steering Systems, Autopilots 'n Windvanes

I just read thru the thread on setting up for single handing and the comments about autopilots being a good idea.

So heres the problem. Sabre Dance has a hydraulic steering system with wheel steering. I'm not really impressed with the hydraulic steering, its got no feedback and I'm used to that from tiller steering. However, it does stay where I put it, so its like a steering lock. The other annoying thing with it is that no matter how much I bleed the system there is always a dead spot in the helm.

Given that the autopilot works off the wheel and a wind vane can be either the type that works the helm or the type with an auxillary rudder, which would be your choice? I would think that the autopilot would tend to hunt a lot, eating power all the time where the auxillary rudder vane would work better as the rudder itself would be rough set on course and the actual minor changes handled by the vane. Is my assessment correct?

There is a possibility that I may change to chain n cable or mechanical steering so I get some feel back. In which case the hunting would be less.

I guess what I'm asking is, if you were only going to buy one type of auto steering system, which would you buy for the hydraulic and which for a C&C or mechanical steering?


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Old 24-11-2009, 16:23   #2
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Just my 2 cents but if I was solo sailing I would look for a purely mechanical system as primary. If you are below you don't want a power failure causing a drama.

If I was crewed with a constant watch kept I would be comfortable with hydraulic and powered autopilot - with plenty of spare parts on board.

You still run the risk of something drastic requiring hand steering to complete a passage but you also have the option to lash the wheel and as you state hydraulic pretty much stays where you point it.

You can dial down the sensitivity of most powered autopilots to reduce hunting.

Having said that hydraulic is definitely more complex than mechanical and simpler is usually better...
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Old 24-11-2009, 16:30   #3
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with hyd steering, the autopilot controls a small dc driven hyd pump that is connected into the hydraulic lines going to your steering cylinder. A rudder sensor tells the "auto brain" what is going on. If you have mechnical steering the dc drive motor is mounted on the wheel (you can hear the unit and I consider it annoying). Where the hyd unit is mounted out of the cockpit (usually close to the hyd cylinder) eliminating noise. I would not replace the hyd system as it is superior to all mech. ones. Most problems with the hyd system is minor weepage of oil around the input shaft , corrected by installing new O rings and seals. Ditto for the slave cylinder (re-pack as needed). On my hynautic system to bleed properly you have to attach a "home made " reservoir to the fill and keep the unit overfilled while spinning the wheel, the idea is to never let the oil level drop low enough, preventing it from sucking air . Made mine out of nipple then hose clamped plastic bottle to it (think funnel).
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Old 24-11-2009, 16:44   #4
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Simrad seems to be a popular unit. Been using my system for 11 years and had to replace o-ring and seal on input shaft . Hardest part was removing wheel but that what pullers are for. On a lot of things I like old school , but i wouldn't exchange my low psi system for cables and pulley's
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Old 24-11-2009, 16:44   #5
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Pendulum Servo systems like the Monitor don't work well attached directly to the wheel with hydraulic steering. There is constant creep of the rudder because of the hydraulic fluid seeping past the seals. You can use a Pendulum Servo if you run the control lines directly to the stub tiller attached to the rudder shaft and add a bypass valve to the Hydraulic steering. You can also go direct to the steering quadrant but you probably don't have one.

That leaves auxiliary rudder systems like the WindPilot Pacific Plus, etc. I've got the WPP+ on my boat and it steers exceptionally well. Only problem is maneuverability un tight spaces. Think this system would actually work better on a fin keel boat.

The problem with Auto Pilots is how long they'll last before they go tits up and feeding them. You have to take along enough spare parts to totally rebuild the sytem 'cause you don't know what will go wrong, just that something will. In any kind of a seaway, autopilots eat up a whole bunch of electrons. You can easily double the cost of the A/P in solar panels, windmills, generators and huge battery banks to keep the juice flowing.

IMHO, you buy the selfsteering system then find a boat to put it on. As a single hander, you cannot make a passage without self steering, and really can't sail much beyond the harbor. You just can't be at the helm and trim the sails, handle the ground tackle, navigate, and simply take a break all at the same time. On my boat, the selfsteering gets engaged as soon as I'm out of the harbor and I don't take the helm again till heading back to the slip.
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Old 24-11-2009, 20:59   #6
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Self steering with auxiliary rudder...

On Boracay (Roberts Offshore 44) I have cable steering so I've decided (unless something better comes up in the next year or so) to go with the Fleming Global Auxiliary Rudder.

I figure I can add a Tiller Pilot for when I'm motoring.
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Old 25-11-2009, 08:39   #7
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Hydraulic auto, strongest you can fit in plus Windpilot Pacific Plus (the one with its own rudder). Beware the Pacific unit does not lift clear of the water, but it performs and is probably best choice for a boat with hydraulic steering.

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Old 25-11-2009, 09:05   #8
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I have a pathological hatred of hydraulic steering, no doubt due to too many failures on various deliverys, but that's just me.
We utilize an auto pilot connected at the rudder quadrant on our cable steering, basically silent and doesn't hunt much once adjusted.
Autopilots have three advantages:
Simpler to use - just push a button.
They work when there's no wind.
Wind vanes frequently don't work well on multihulls.
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Old 08-12-2012, 09:55   #9
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Re: Steering Systems, Autopilots 'n Windvanes

Anyone have experience using a wind vane autopilot on a 42' Whitby Ketch?

One problem I have is that the Mizzen boom sticks about 2 feet over the stern. Can they customize a wind vane system to keep the vane outside the boom radius?
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Old 08-12-2012, 11:38   #10
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Re: Steering Systems, Autopilots 'n Windvanes

You can hang the self steering way out over the stern to clear the boom. Not a big thing other than aesthetics for a pendulum servo vane. A big deal that would have to be engineered properly for an auxillary rudder system, however.

For most boats with a mizzen, you just have to set the wind paddle somewhat in alignment with the fore and aft axis of the boat as you tack. The boom will just lay the vane over as it comes through. Once the mizzen boom swings over onto the new tack, mostly not a problem. If you are hard on the wind and have the mizzen trimmed and even over trimmed, the vane could be an issue. The mizzen is a very inefficient sails hard on the wind and may be best to beat without it. Most boats will self steer hard on the wind in any case and supposedly one of the benefits of a ketch rig. Would want to run with a preventer on the mizzen boom when reaching to keep from accidentally knocking the vane off the Self Steering. That would normally take an extreme gyration of the boat to happen, however.

There may be some inconvenience running a vane and some care needed but should work with the vane mounted against the transom. Off shore, you very seldom tack or maneuver in a way that would make the vane an issue.
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Old 08-12-2012, 12:43   #11
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Re: Steering Systems, Autopilots 'n Windvanes

Peter, my answer is contingent on your plans.

I like hydraulics and have them on my boat. I can live with the "dead helm feel" because I like the "power assist" aspect. Having bypassed the hydraulics (which should be possible with your boat), and steered with a seven-foot tiller bolted to the rudder post top, I realize it's a handful to steer manually.

That said, a windvane is really useful offshore. I have a Voyager windvane, and the general plan is to sail under tiller and vane, and motor under AP. I have seen both fail at sea, where belt dictates suspenders, and I do not consider the "fuss" of setting up the tiller a big deal when looking at multi-hundred NM passages on (customarily in the trades) one tack.

But if you are staying in Lake Ontario, skip the vane and get one more battery. We like both, for different reasons.
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Old 08-12-2012, 12:45   #12
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Re: Steering Systems, Autopilots 'n Windvanes

Oh, darn. Just noticed this is a very old post!
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