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Old 11-08-2015, 07:53   #31
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Depends on you! I sail as much as I can and use the windvane 95% of the time. I dislike and mistrust the amount of tech that an autopilot relies on, not just the unit itself but the entire charging and electrical storage system gets stressed. But there is no doubting the simplicity of use and apparent reliability of the better quality autopilots, if properly installed and looked after. For the record I've killed 2 tillerpilots and 3 windvanes. Both autopilots are still dead (water ingress) all 3 windvanes where fixed. One at sea, two in small ports by a welder. The Norvane looks nice (in the photo's). Very much like the flemming units and they work well.
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Old 12-08-2015, 02:46   #32
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Hi,
I have circumnavigated with both an Aries windvane and a Raytheon autopilot attached to the quadrant on the rudder stock beneath decks. Hardly used the Aries and thus sold it last year.

I found with the autopilot, so long as I balanced the sails - not difficult or onerous (as you would also seek to ensure with a windvane), it handled the boat (masthead sloop rig) very well indeed and in fact the unit "learned" as it got used to my boat which is a 42 ft rudder on a full skeg and vertical twin keel type.

With regards to the electricity utilised by the unit, I found, though having no actual figures, that it was minimal, providing of course, that my sails were balanced. The wind generator, combined with a single panel, 120 watt solar panel, handled everything.

I'm a cruising sailor and, like most seem to be, can be rather lazy on an extended ocean voyage with regards to adjusting the Aries and tweeking the sails. Perhaps it was me but I found that the Aries windvane never seemed to steer as straight a course as the autopilot but tended to wander a little across the course.

I also liked that the autopilot was connected to, and driven by, the waypoints setup in my Garmin GPS (1998 vintage, but recently replaced), however, I never continued to a next waypoint without accepting the course change. I neglected to enter a waypoint from my penciled list into the GPS on a trip around the coast of Turkey once and was about to take a shortcut across a rocky peninsular.

As my ex and I were forced to hand steer across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Sydney 20 years ago due to a new autopilot failing three days out, I carry a spare which steers via a belt drive attached to rhe ship's wheel. So far, never needed it excepting after a lightning strike.

My two cents worth,
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Old 12-08-2015, 03:06   #33
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

I'm with Peter (above) and Zee. I use a Simrad/B&G electric over hydraulic AP, fitted directly to the quadrant. It can steer a course (compass), to a waypoint (or route) and to wind angle. I use steer to wind quite a bit if going to weather. There are alarms for wind shifts, off course etc. The pilot has steered 10s of thousands of miles, including single handed long distance races.
Remember that electronic pilots is what the Vendee Globe boats use. IMO wind vanes are like sextants - they work, but they have been superseded! Each to their own, of course :-)
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Old 12-08-2015, 09:42   #34
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

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Originally Posted by Neptune's Gear View Post
Remember that electronic pilots is what the Vendee Globe boats use...
Well, no vane would come close to being able to steer an Open 60, anyway, seems a bit like pointing out that F1 cars don't carry spare tires...

;-)

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Originally Posted by Neptune's Gear View Post
IMO wind vanes are like sextants - they work, but they have been superseded! Each to their own, of course :-)
Still, there may be times when it sure can be handy to have both available... I've had my vane "supersede" my AP when it failed enroute to Bermuda, but I've yet to experience the opposite...

And although it was not the cause of my AP going dark in that particular instance, it's amazing how one little ol' lightning strike can inform one's perspective going forward, re the reliance upon gear that only functions as long as electrons keep flowing...

;-)

Having said that, if I could only have one or the other, I'd rather go with an AP, and a couple of spares... For the type of sailing I do, an AP still has far greater overall utility, as long as it keeps ticking... ;-)
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Old 13-08-2015, 08:52   #35
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Windvane vs. autipilot

Other considerations aside I know of one person that directly compared autopilot to self-steering performance and found self-steering to be faster overall. Even though the boat wasn't following the rhumb line and was traveling extra distance it was maintaining best speed through the water by following wind shifts which more than made up for the extra distance.
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Old 13-08-2015, 09:17   #36
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

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Other considerations aside I know of one person that directly compared autopilot to self-steering performance and found self-steering to be faster overall. Even though the boat wasn't following the rhumb line and was traveling extra distance it was maintaining best speed through the water by following wind shifts which more than made up for the extra distance.
You're probably thinking of Tony Gooch, right?

Windvane, Autopilot, steering systems

One thing should be noted, however, about this comparison he made over a dozen years ago... His AP was only set up to steer a compass course, and not networked into his wind instrumentation as many folks now have the capability of doing. I'm guessing the results may have been slightly different, had his AP been programmed to steer to wind, as well...
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Old 13-08-2015, 09:40   #37
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Eisberg View Post
You're probably thinking of Tony Gooch, right?

Windvane, Autopilot, steering systems

One thing should be noted, however, about this comparison he made over a dozen years ago... His AP was only set up to steer a compass course, and not networked into his wind instrumentation as many folks now have the capability of doing. I'm guessing the results may have been slightly different, had his AP been programmed to steer to wind, as well...

No, Andy Evans on Foolish Muse from about 7 or 8 years ago.

Yes there are autopilots that "network" with wind sensors but as I recall they are the larger more expensive models. Such a model with the additional wind sensor and "network" would push costs up to near what a windvane would be.

When you are constrained by budget and can afford either a windvane or the higher end autopilot then you have to choose between the more durable windvane or the autopilot that can still steer the boat when motoring. That choice will depend on personal preference, intended use of boat and cruising grounds.


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Old 13-08-2015, 14:55   #38
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Very many (most?) Autopilots have wind steering ability now. For example ALL Navico models except the very basic tillerpilot IIRC. Certainly those found on most offshore yachts. Durability? Also a debateable point... Wind vanes require checks and maintenance as well. Modern (esp hydraulic) AP's are extremely reliable.
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Old 13-08-2015, 20:12   #39
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

I believe the OP is asking about long passages in a 28 foot boat. Most owners of 28 foot boats dont have buckets full of money. That probably means the choice of one or the other. Most small boats dont have independent charging systems, or if they do, a wireing failure can ruin it all anyway. A small boat (28 foot) is not likely to carry enough crew to hand steer without major fatigue becoming a factor. A small boat is not likely to have redundant battery systems, so a simple thing like a bad cell in a battery can make your whole electrical system toast. I have crossed oceans with and without vanes (only with a crew of 3 without a vane) and would always put a vane above an autopilot for passages (both if you can afford it) and find the trust in electrical systems to be much more dependent on your skill, and spare parts, and luck. Too many cruises are ruined by being too dependent on electrons. Just my opinion from 30+K miles of sailing. ______Grant.
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Old 13-08-2015, 22:18   #40
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Grant, you beat me to it.
A
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Old 14-08-2015, 10:34   #41
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

(ANOTHER REASON!!!) I am going to repeat something I posted a while back. A year or so ago, I bought a bunch of South Pacific charts from a CF member. He and wife and 2 small girls had cruised the west coast from Canada to Mexico, and were headed for the Marquesas. 2 or 3 days out, their autopilot packed up and they returned to Mexico. After waiting many weeks for parts they again departed for the Marquesas. 2 or 3 days out their autopilot packed up again, only this time they figured out why. The SSB blasted the autopilot. They promised to keep up with a net, and it killed the autopilot a second time. They returned to Mexico, and again waited on parts. It was getting late in the season, so they gave up and went north (back to Canada). These folks, and their 2 kids missed the chance of a lifetime to sail across an ocean, and visit places that few people on this earth will ever get to visit. They put their faith in electronics that were unrepairable at sea. These folks had plenty of power and used a good old fashioned towing generator, but one little glitch and the cruise of a lifetime was ruined. With a small crew, self steering is an absolute need (especially with children) and for crossing oceans a vane is more reliable, and if it gives trouble is more likely to be fixed at sea. I am not opposed to having an autopilot, but if you are a small crew and anything in the chain of electrons gives up, you will learn what bone jarring fatigue is all about. Much less likely with something mechanical. Just another of my opinions.______Grant.
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Old 20-08-2015, 23:20   #42
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Sailed the coast of CA and Mexico in my 26' Pearson Ariel with only a ST2000 Autohelm. It worked wonderfully until it quit, at 2am, at Point Concpetion, with 25 knots and lightning (which never happens in CA!). I hand steered the next 12-14 hours until I made Avila. I was constantly awakened by my head hitting the tiller as I slumped over.

I was out of cash before leaving, thus couldn't afford a vane. I had a lead on a Sayes Rig, but I called the factory and they told me installing it on my boat would be like putting a 300hp engine in a lawnmower. Overkill.

I would have like to have had both, but I wanted to go, so I went with what I had. Again, it performed amazingly well and steered well in 35 knots. Just keep your sails balanced (as with any system) and they work great. But redundancy is a good thing too.
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Old 26-08-2015, 15:49   #43
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

Most of the points, good and bad re windvane vs autopilot have already been made but as a user of both, I'll jump in anyway.

To those who say they use a windvane 99% of the time, I congratulate you, and wish I had that experience. We spend much our our time coastal cruising in the Sea of Cortez, and find that local/land conditions affect the wind patterns substantially and frequently enough that the windvane cannot be relied on without constant fiddling. Under these conditions we rely heavily on the autopilot.

We do note that learning to properly use a windvane also forces one to properly balance your sailplan to the conditions. Indeed, I have found that the windvane is often as good as an indicator of an out of balance sail trim as is the weather helm. It is really nice to find that sweet spot where the windvance is working the boat with almost no perceptible effort.

Along those lines, if one can effectively balance the boat, than even an under-rated autopilot can very effectively steer the boat. We ran our 28000+ (loaded) pound Valiant for years with a Raymarine wheel spinner rated for 16000 pounds with no problems at all.

Conversely, an autpilot is an easy way to become lazy about sail trim, with a possible result that the unit can become over-stressed leading to possible failures.

Finally, especially with a nicely balanced boat, the electrical load the autopilot imposes on the boat can be quite tolerable. We have electric refer/freezer, autopilot, chartplotter, stereo and watermaker, and on a good sunny day we can keep up with all with about 250 watts of solar, completing the day with full batteries.
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Old 27-08-2015, 20:47   #44
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

I have both, they have advantages and disadvantages but if forced I'd choose wind vane steering. Unless you really don't maintain it at all its far less likely to fail. Electronics always fail at the least convinient time.

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Old 28-08-2015, 13:49   #45
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Re: Windvane vs. autipilot

As I wrote, the answer to the question of auto versus windvane has already been made for you, you just need to determine what type of boat you have and what type of sailing you do. If the majority of your sailing is long trips with few tacks, and if you don't have an ultralight, then a wind vane is fine. If you head out of the harbour every day and need to tack 10 times to get to the sailing grounds, or if you have a real sporty boat that will surf down waves at near wind speed, then you'd want an autopilot.

As any long distance sailor will tell you, autopilots are insanely noisy, but great for quick maneuvres. Wind vanes are beautifully quiet and really efficient for long passages.

And if you are handy, there are plans available to make your own wind vane - really cool.

But no matter what, either of them will fail for one reason or another, so you'd darned well better know how to self steer with just a piece of surgical tubing.
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