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.
point of a wind vane steering gear is to provide feedback to the rudder
the boat can remain at a set angle to the wind, 'in the groove'.
This will not be a steady
compass course but a
constant point of sail.
First you sail the boat on
the desired compass
Then you trim and balance
the sails for this
Once the boat is trimmed
the vane is set and the gear
engaged to steer the boat on that point of sail.
So how does it work?
There are numerous variations
to the mechanics of the
linkages types of vane etc but they all work on the same basic
The vane is set so that it
feathering when the boat is in her
variation to this angle to the wind will cause the vane to rotate.
The linkages then transmit
this rotation to the rudder in
such a way as to bring the boat back on the desired heading.
With the boat back on its
correct heading the vane and
thus the rudder will return to its original position.
In theory the vane could be
mounted anywhere where the
wind across it is unobstructed.
However it has somehow to be
connected to the rudder by
some form of mechanical linkage, so the most logical position for it is
And it is the linkage which
When the boat drifts off the
wind the vane will rotate or flip with the wind, this movement then
transmitted to the rudder as a turn in the opposite
Rather than use the usual
plywood panel I made a wooden
frame to support a sailcloth vane.
My vane like the rest of the
boat is still very much a
work in progress and the present vane really needs to be larger, I
together from off cuts and leftover bit of sailcloth.
However, creating it to look
like a small mizzen sail has
the added advantage of fitting it into the overall look of the boat.
Also the light weight needs
less of a
My main fear from using a
trim-tab was how it would be
affected when motoring astern.
The usual advice is to have a
locking device to center
the tab, but I know from experience how easy it is to forget something
that until it is too late.
So what I have done is attack
the tab with enough
clearance between it and the trailing edge of the rudder to allow it to
through 360 degrees.
This type of trim-tab also
seems to work best where there
is an angle between the axis of the rudder and tab pivots and if the
sited where these cross.
Because the trim-tab turns in
the same direction as the
vane the linkage is direct.
The only provision needed is a
method of allowing the
vane to be set according to the wind direction.
I used a disc of a Tufnol like
material which was
relatively easy to shape yet is hard wearing, I have heard of someone
a bicycle drive cog to good effect.
The latch is just a piece of
metal hinged so that its own
weight causes it to engage and it is controlled with a simple
"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 am perfectly aware that the majority of Wooden Boat aficionados are sensible folk. However, I need to point out that I am an amateur wooden boat enthusiast simply writing in order to try to help other amateur wooden boat enthusiasts. And while I take every care to ensure that the information in DIY Wood Boat.com is correct, anyone acting on the information on this website does so at their own risk.