Windswept, dishevelled and weary
we brought the boat back to port
having tested the new wind-vane steering gear,
making sure it works as it ought.
The day was cold and misty
til we tied up against the pontoon,
then the sun smiled down on us briefly;
but went in again all too soon.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For the non-sailors amongst my readers, in simple terms, a wind-vane steering gear is a clever gadget to enable the boat to steer itself. It is fixed to the back of the boat and consists of a wind-vane sticking up in the air with a secondary rudder down in the water. The pressure of the wind pushing on the vane operates the rudder in the water and by means of a system of strings an pulleys attached to the steering wheel or in our case, tiller, causes the wheel (or tiller) to adjust the main rudder.

The system is used by single-handed sailors to allow time for sleep, preparing meals etc. and is useful on long passages to relive the time spent at the helm. It is not usually used for playing around in the river as we did to test it.

My husband has always been fascinated by this steering system and spent yesterday, a lovely warm and sunny day, fixing it temporarily to the boat so that we could test it…today…a cold and misty day…. He is now removing it again to make a few adjustments and will fix it permanently when the boat is hauled out for the winter.

We do have an electronic ‘autopilot’ but this can be unreliable when used for long periods, cannot cope well with rough conditions and needs auxiliary power. The wind-vane system on the other hand uses the wind, which is free, it copes well in rough conditions but doesn’t work well when there is no wind!

The next step will be to fix up the autopilot to the system so that in combination we can get the benefit of the autopilot’s link to the GPS while the autopilot only needs to operate the lighter wind-vane, which in turn will operate the heavier boat rudder – at least that’s how I, a non-engineer, understand it!

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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