The first time that a wind vane was
used to cross an ocean it was on a
motorboat, or so I'm told.
however, electronic auto
pilots are much more
reliable at holding a course and the power to drive them is not an
most engines are fitted with alternators which constantly produce
However, a wind vane gear is
best solution for a sailing boat and not just because of the power
Wind direction offshore tends
to remain relatively
constant over long periods, but there are always constant minor
In order to keep the sails
drawing at maximum efficiency,
while maintaining a set autopilot course, they would have to be
Wind vanes on the other hand
will slavishly follow any
wind shifts, a good one will often do it better than most humans and do
hour after hour without tiring.
As well as not requiring any
battery power, the windvane
does not have any complex electronics which, will be vulnerable to damp
that are unlikely to be repairable without spare parts.
Many of the simpler vane gears
can usually be repaired or
rebuilt using non-specific parts and lashings.
And you can even build one by
Prior to the development of
windvanes long distance
sailors such as Joshua Slokum and Eric and Susan Hiscock relied on
boat’s natural ability to bold a course.
Others used systems of blocks
and lines between the sails
and the tiller.
One of the most common used
setups for downwind sailing
was using poled out twin headsails, with the sheets lead back to the
that when the pull on one sail increased, the tug on the tiller would
boat back on course.
These methods required the
sails to be set for balance rather than speed, which is fine for the
However, the increased
interest in long distance short
handed racing prompted the development of vane gears.
In the first Singlehanded
Transatlantic Race in 1960 all
five entrants used vane gear.
"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one
truly get into the heart of the wilderness.
All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter." (John
My greatest fear
about using the wind vane is if I should fall overboard and have to
boat merrily sailing away form me.
OK, that can happen without
self steering which is why I
always (well nearly always) clip
on when I'm sailing alone.
I have read suggestions about
trailing a long line with a
float on the end, umm, that’s ok if you are able to swim to it in time
catch it, I’ll stick to my harness and safety-line thanks.
And remember that while a wind
vane might do a great job
of helming your boat it won't keep a lookout, that’s still your
However, I have found that
being relieved of the need to
helm allows me more time to look around.
And on the subject of looking
around don’t forget
that extra bit of gear sticking out of the transom when docking mooring
Also remember that your vane
can only react after the
boat has moved off course, it isn’t able to anticipate the sea
or wind shifts.
If you do need to make an
emergency course change the
wind vane mechanism should be easy to disengage.
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