The only real point here is: Wil you maybe in some future do short handed long distance sailing? If no, sell the Aries
. If yes, don't sell!
Old fashioned boat designs quite often can stay decently well on course by just fixing the helm
and balancing the sails
. More contemporary designs and multis will rarely do that usefully. Thus short handed long distance boating
is very dependent upon some kind of self steering
for both comfort and safety
. It's at least as useful as an extra crew member
, due to it's lack of fatigue.
Vane and auto pilot are not competing rivals, they are two different tools to perform this very important task. They each have their pros and cons. I'd say you can mostly do just fine on most types of sailing with a good AP, but a vane will, as attested by others above, give you reliability
that is in a totally different league. If you fly an airplane with one engine and it stops, it is bad news. If you have only one, you want the most reliable there is. You'd prefer a backup or ability to repair it while flying and before hitting ground. Your self steering
has that type of role. Vanes are very simple. Simplicity is a beautiful thing when reliability is important. "Two objects will fail twice as often as one object." "An object you don't have, will not fail."
The self steering
I know best is an electro hydraulic internal AP (directly mounted into the hydraulic steering
system of the boat). It has run nicely for tens of thousands of miles in a cat that loads it heavily, and uses acceptable amounts of juice. But it has failed at times, and is too complicated to fix "while flying", although it is fixable by onboard means. (This is a top quality product.) A number of belt driven or other APs have been tried on that boat, but have never survived for long. They are just too weak and cannot stand continuous offshore
use for a long time. Even the best ones become garbage pretty quickly with this kind of use.
I've used vanes, but not extensively. They generally seem to steer much better than APs when going upwind, (even better than APs controlled by a wind vane) and the opposite when going downwind. They seem to work better on monos than cats, but this should be mostly related to poor adaption on the cats I've seen it on.
Summing it up: For coastal cruising, an AP is a comfort item, and most anything will do. For long distance offshore
sailing, self steering MUST be reliable and easily repairable. Preferably more than one system should be mounted. Normal electric
APs are not strong enough for all vessels, but may do better on smaller well balanced monos. You can definitely do any kind of sailing without the vane, but the vane will most likely be a huge bonus at times. Saying it's nothing more than "salty and romantic" is just plain wrong.