We have aspirations to travel further afield in due course and to do that there are a number of enhancements that we would like to make to Flirtie that will make life aboard more comfortable, quieter and arguably safer than she already is.
One of those enhancements is to install "Wind Vane Steering". For those of you not familiar with the term it is a mechanical form of steering the boat using just the wind. We're actually well versed with some of the design principles that are used and we have installed wind vane steering systems on two of our previous boats the most recent a Plastimo "Navik", sadly now out of production on our Heavenly Twins Catamaran "Camargue" . Prior to this (sometime in the early 80's) we also considered making our own wind vane steering system having sourced and read Bill Belchers book: Wind-Vane Self-Steering: How to Plan and Make Your Own: https://www.amazon.com/Wind-Vane-Self-Steering-Plan-Make-Your/dp/0877421587
once considered the bible on Wind Vane Steering.
There are a number of companies out there today that manufacture wind vane steering systems but many of them just don't lend themselves to being fitted to Flirtie or indeed to many of the modern yachts currently on the market with their full width transom doors.
Wind Pilot: https://www.windpilot.com/
South Atlantic: https://www.south-atlantic.com.ar/index.html
Cape Horn: http://caphorn.com/en/welcome/
Whilst there is an ever growing trend towards using electric autohelms over wind vane steering systems there is the challenge of reliability and power usage. With regard to reliability, today's autohelms are typically far more reliable than they ever used to be and like many other modern electronics - mobile phones and gps etc.... many cruisers just carry a complete replacement that they can call on as necessary. If that was the only consideration then we would have followed suit but power usage is also something that needs to be considered.
For yachts typically of 50 feet + carrying a large bank of batteries to cope with the power draw it isn't really a problem since they have both the space and can carry the additional weight that goes with it. They typically also have a generator and/or a vast amount of surface area to mount solar panels to ensure the batteries are kept charged during the day.
Flirtie on the other hand is just 40 feet and space is at a premium and we would prefer not to carry the additional weight of further batteries if possible. We do have an autohelm and wouldn't be without it but running it for 24hrs a day consumes in excess of 40amps when sailing in relatively calm conditions when it's not working very hard.
Some of you will be aware that advances in battery technology has and continues to move at a rapid rate and today lithium batteries are becoming more readily available and popular in the cruising world.
The technology in these batteries typically means most cruisers can halve the size of their battery banks for the same useable capacity as traditional lead acid batteries . This was certainly something we considered but sadly their price is still significantly more than we are prepared to pay, so hence our continued interest in wind vane steering.
Prior to purchasing Flirtie we shortlisted a few wind vane steering solutions that we thought would work for us. These were the:
Wind Pilot Pacific: https://www.windpilot.com/n/wind/en/prod/paci/
Cape Horn Jade: http://caphorn.com/en/outboard-models/
Scanmar Auto-helm: https://www.scanmarinternational.com/auto-helm-hpl
and that was as far as the research went at the time. In all three cases the steering gear can be removed (with the aid of tools) and stored on deck/below allowing unrestricted access through the transom door to the pontoon/wall when Med moored and when at anchor we can use the bathing platform as intended.
Some of you that are more knowledgable on the subject may say we could also consider the hydrovane mounted off centre but unfortunately because our transom is relatively narrow and we carry a solar arch that would interfere with the vane that rules out this particular option.
With plenty of time on our hands thanks to the pandemic we were reading numerous sailing journals/articles when we came across a new company marketing the "Windy - Windy Self Steering": https://windyselfsteering.com/selfsteering/
What we read we liked!!
In summary it satisfied pretty much all of our requirements:
1) Simple but strongly constructed using marine grade stainless steel and bronze components.
2) German engineered bearings, bushes and bevel gears.
3) Tried and tested with at least one circumnavigation and a number of Atlantic crossings.
4) Designed to be easily removed by undoing a single thumb screw
5) Powerful & very sensitive - (Servo Pendulum). You can read about the design differences here and why wind vane steering makes sense: https://www.yachtingmonthly.com/sailing-skills/windvane-steering-makes-sense-coastal-cruising-66710
6) Custom made to fit various transom styles.
7) Custom made to ensure the wind vane and remote control fall at the appropriate height.
8).... and Cost effective.
After much consideration and after analysing pretty much every detail that was written and presented on the Windy website: https://windyselfsteering.com/selfsteering/
it was time to make contact with the company director "Imre Aljas"!
To be continued.