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Old 21-09-2013, 13:29   #1
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Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

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.
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Old 21-09-2013, 13:53   #2
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

The wind vane for normal sailing and the electronic to the vane head for motoring is very popular over here it uses less amps as the vane is so powerful,great system.
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Old 21-09-2013, 14:04   #3
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

I'm going to assume that your 3 hours of self steering was done hard on the wind??
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Old 21-09-2013, 14:17   #4
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Newt,

On our first Insatiable, there was a nylon rudder bearing near the bottom of the shaft. It swelled from the sea water making it difficult to hand steer, and we had to ream it out to get enough clearance for the rudder shaft to turn easily. I don't know if your boat also has a nylon bearing, but if it does, lighter steering is definitely a possibility,for next haulout time..

Good on your sheet-to-tiller steering. We sailed that way on the Yankee 30 on the way from Kauai to Sanfrancisco, for over two weeks. It wasn't perfect, but it was a heck of a lot better than no self steering at all! (The tiller pilot died on the 3rd day out of Hanalei.)

Ann
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Old 21-09-2013, 15:03   #5
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Quote:
Originally Posted by robert sailor View Post
I'm going to assume that your 3 hours of self steering was done hard on the wind??
No it wasn't. It was off the wind by more than 45 degrees. The jib and main were balanced and sailed without any input from the rudder. You can balance your system in almost any track that you are making headway. The problem is that one of the variables change (wind, sea state, center of resistance in the boat) and you are unbalanced again.
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Old 21-09-2013, 16:10   #6
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

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You can balance your system in almost any track that you are making headway.


Especially if you have a ketch. Double especially if you have a ketch with roller furling on all sails like mine! Add the rudder angle indicator at both helms, and my autopilot barely has to work.
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Old 21-09-2013, 17:51   #7
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

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Originally Posted by Ann T. Cate View Post
Newt,

On our first Insatiable, there was a nylon rudder bearing near the bottom of the shaft. It swelled from the sea water making it difficult to hand steer, and we had to ream it out to get enough clearance for the rudder shaft to turn easily. I don't know if your boat also has a nylon bearing, but if it does, lighter steering is definitely a possibility,for next haulout time..

Good on your sheet-to-tiller steering. We sailed that way on the Yankee 30 on the way from Kauai to Sanfrancisco, for over two weeks. It wasn't perfect, but it was a heck of a lot better than no self steering at all! (The tiller pilot died on the 3rd day out of Hanalei.)

Ann
Hi Ann...Not sure you are correct on "Nylon". It drinks water and swells incredibly. More often Delrin or (if you're filthy rich) Norlon or Torlon is used. Even those have slight swelling. Generally, I give Delrin (Acetal resin) .005" clearance per inch of diameter to allow for water absorption. Delrin AF can be set up a little tighter as it has Teflon (PTFE) in it and absorbs less moisture.

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No it wasn't. It was off the wind by more than 45 degrees. The jib and main were balanced and sailed without any input from the rudder. You can balance your system in almost any track that you are making headway. The problem is that one of the variables change (wind, sea state, center of resistance in the boat) and you are unbalanced again.
Newt. Get a windvane and put yourself outta your misery. I have a sailomat and have had a Monitor and Aries in the past. The work fairly at 5 knots and great 10 and over. Under 5 I use my autohelm 4000. Usually because I'm motoring. You can get a good used Monitor for under $2500.
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Old 21-09-2013, 21:40   #8
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

CS, I believe the windvane is the next addition (after solar, inverter and water gen off my prop) I just want to be able to do it all ways. What can I say. Which of your 3 windvanes did you like the most and why?
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Old 21-09-2013, 22:07   #9
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Newt, not sure exactly what you mean but off the wind 45 degrees is to me the same as hard on the wind. What did I miss?
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Old 21-09-2013, 22:18   #10
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

robert, my Valiant sails right on 30 degrees off the wind. 45 is much different, but I can balance it at 90 , 120 or even 180 for periods of time. The issue is not balancing the sails at a particular sail point, but that as soon as something changes the forces on the boat change the direction of sailing to someplace new. It wanders, usually within 15 minutes or so. Sheet to tiller is better, and I am hoping that the windvane is better still. Why I consider balancing the boat so important is that it makes any corrections to the course easier. I think it is the foundation on which everything should build on.
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Old 21-09-2013, 22:44   #11
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

My question is why is your steering "stiff".

Maybe that should be tackled first?
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Old 22-09-2013, 06:29   #12
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Actually, I am tackling that. I have her on the hard right now, and going through the system. The gland packing of the rudder, the quadrant steering, etc. I should say the wheel works fine, it is just steering from an emergency tiller to the electronic tiller control is too hard for the equiptment. More on that when I see if I can decrease the friction in the system.
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Old 22-09-2013, 07:58   #13
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Newt, you are talking apparent wind angles and I was talking true but I get what your saying. Yes a self steering vane will work very well on your boat. I've owned several over the years and they all worked well.
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Old 22-09-2013, 08:47   #14
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Quote:
Originally Posted by s/v Beth View Post
CS, I believe the windvane is the next addition (after solar, inverter and water gen off my prop) I just want to be able to do it all ways. What can I say. Which of your 3 windvanes did you like the most and why?
Hi Newt...Keep in mind that every boat is different. Mine has hydraulic steering which the "experts" say a windvane cannot be hooked to. What I did was change my emergency tiller into a permanent tiller in conjunction with the wheel and then put a by-pass valve in the system withing hands reach. You can see the full story on my blog but pictures below. IMHO, it is always better running a windvane set up independent to a tiller rather than running everything through the fiction of the wheel steering and all of it's components (pulleys, cables, chain). If your emegency tiller head terminates at your deck, then the hook up is nothing more than a 2 foot tiller for the vane. This method eliminates all the lines associated with vane steering running into the cockpit to the wheel and is much more sensitive without all the friction.
As to brand, I currently have a Sailomat 600. IMHO, it was his best design. I say his and not theirs because he is a one man show. For that reason I do not recommend Sailomat. He is near impossible to contact. Unless you're a machinist as I am, parts will be very difficult to get and expensive. My Monitor was an ancient one and cobbled together with welds and patches. That said, after an inexpensive rebuild kit, worked flawlessly. The Sailomat, kicks up out of the way is is less likely to be hit like the Monitor. But the Monitor has excellent factory support. Like I said earlier, you can buy a used one at half the price. I think just as long as it is a servo/pendulum type, you can't go wrong. I've seen the Cape Horn but it seems spindly to me.
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Old 27-09-2013, 20:18   #15
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Re: Lessons learned in Sailboat self steering.

Two weeks ago I helped a couple sail their V40 from Victoria to San Diego with one brief stop. We had two days of 25 to 30 on the nose and two days of 25 to 35 on the tail. Monitor did all the steering and worked quite well even though it was the first time we had used it ( I know, we shuold have practiced). I don't think you can go wrong with one on a Valiant. The steering on this boat was also quite stiff and I don't think that helped. Mine is not tight at all so I would look into that.
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