I just logged 1500 km and 33 days cruising on my Valiant. Lots of important stuff learned, but I want to discuss a particular interest of mine, that of sailboat self steering
. Even though I am in favor of such a system, I will try to be as non biased as possible. I have read all the classics on self steering
, so I didn't come into this blindly. And I have a dogged determination to make things work, often to the exasperation of people sailing with me.
I covered over 400km of offshore
(where the coast guard determines offshore
starts) crossed numerous straits, banks and areas of rapid current
changes. The sailing ranged from Class 1-2 on up to near gale. (30+ knots) From thick fog
to clear sunny days. From motoring on mirror waters to 6 ft wind
waves. Swells, although present in the Pacific, never were a problem. Approximately 20 % of the time I was solo, and 50% of the rest I was one of two people on board, with the other a beginner in sailing. So I did all of the sailing 70 % of the time. I did not have a windvane
, and my steering
was stiff enough that a electronic autopilot
was ineffective. So these observations are from someone who had to make the boat steer by itself in order to keep his sanity.
Want to make self steering
work? Do the following:
1. Get a boat that balances. Making the center of effort close to the center of resistance, through reefing, letting sails
in and out and having a good design for sailing cannot be underestimated. With a constant wind
in a constant direction, with the sea state remaining the same, I could often leave the wheel
(not locked btw) for 5-10 minutes before a correction needed to be made. My longest time that the boat balanced and sailed herself was over 3 hours, but more often than not my wind would gust, or let down, the swells would change or some other subtle change, and the boat would head
off in a new direction. (often still balanced).
2. Tiller to sheet steering works. And its various variations work. The idea is to establish a tension on the sheets
that steers the boat straight. If the tension increases, have the steering mechanism point the boat back to the course where tension is less. If tension drops off, have a elastic steer the boat back to the course with proper tension. Easy to explain but much harder to get a large boat on heading xx so that it will arrive at your waypoint with you refreshed from not being on the wheel
With a small boat (such as my Compac) sheet to tiller is easy because of the forces on the sheets
are not that much. With the Valiant, the sails
overpower the self steering rather easily and she heads up into the wind. I have had success by using smaller sails (reefed main and staysail) to steer, allowing the yankee to pull all it wants. BTW, this system steering the boat in a motorsailing mode too, you need enough wind to fill a sail.
This system, although an improvement over just balancing the boat, needs occasional help too. It will steer with the wind at certain angles, although it does not seem to like wind abeam. Close to the bow and stern and can set this system and have it work consistently for a few hours at a time. Because of all the things I was sailing around, and the wind changes, this is all I wanted it for anyway. A great backup to your wind vane
systems that only costs a few dollars.
I believe the wind vane
and the electronic to the wind vane is probably much better than these systems, however like learning
to crawl before you walk, they are definety worth learning
in case you have to get a little rest and are soloing without a vane for some reason. They saved my bacon on a few solo passages this summer.