Our #1 SAFETY PRIORITY (Autopilot or Windvane) — Sailing Uma


Which is safer – Autopilot or a Windvane??

So today, while the wind is blowing like mad outside we’re going to have a lengthy overdue conversation regarding our self-steering system, however a lot more specifically concerning our wind vane and our BNG auto-pilot. As you might possibly recognize, we have both systems on board –  the mechanical wind vane off the back as well as our push button, hydraulic autopilot ram below the cabin storage locker and we’ve tons of remarks asking which we like better and how we use them over the past couple of years.

So today we’re gonna go over all of it.

So, 6 years earlier, when we acquired our boat, it came with an auto-pilot system. It was a Ray Marine wheel pilot, which suggested there was a belt drive on our real helm and also a really tiny little electric motor that would guide the boat. We nicknamed it squeaky, however as we discovered once we launched and also we in fact began sailing , that system did not work out whatsoever.

It was seriously underpowered for our boat, every little gust or puff of wind and it would skip and the belt would slide. We needed to sail extremely, really underpowered, particularly at night, but that was not the worst of it. It also randomly decided to go into standby setting in either in 10 seconds or in 10 minutes or in 10 hrs. So it was really, extremely undependable, what’s taking place in below all right. Unfortunately, auto-pilot didn’t maintain course.

You know waiting for the autopilot to stop working because it would stop working silently and you wouldn’t know until your sails started flogging and you look like ‘god it’s on standby again’… yeah, it would be. Flap and the boat is starting to go like what is going on and yeah the autopilot went to sleep .

I just decided to take a nap, so lots of issues. We were sailing to windward into the Caribbean and our boat balances very well to windward.

We would just sort of lock the helm off and the boat would sail for three or four minutes. We got very, very good at hand, steering and learning how to balance our boat.

The first thing we did when we made it to Curacao was investing in a wind vane. For short, we all pretty much refer to them as wind vanes, and we have spoken to quite a few people who have installed different versions on their boat.

There are a great deal of different sorts of wind vane out there. Some do a job better than others.

The wind vane that we chose to install is called a Cape Horn.  They’re made by a company in Quebec, Canada and the simplicity and the ease of use and just how well they work made the decision to install one on our boat super easy. Back when we installed our wind vane we put out two different videos highlighting the install and going into a lot more detail about the specifics of our wind vanes.

We did the second half with the windvane and we finished a second navigation of the Caribbean made it back to Florida, as we were ready to upgrade all of our electronics, including installing a BNG hydraulic autopilot system and just like the wind vane. 

Lets begin with the hydraulic autopilot system that we have on board.  It’s incorporated and networked right into our whole BNG system, so it gets information from the compass as well as water speed and wind speed and also wind angle, and also we can establish waypoints on the chart plotter and also it will steer our boat towards them, so the whole system is extremely well networked and integrated together and with a basic push of a button at the helm it engages and also the boat guiding itself, which we absolutely love.

We found ourselves using it the most when we’re on a approach to a marina or harbor and also we’re like dropping the sails or, if we’re attempting to navigate some very narrow cuts. As well as we know it’s going to steer a flawlessly straight line or guide specifically to a waypoint that we set as well as because it’s simply both people sailing the watercraft having that type of 3rd team participant to take over the helm.

When one of us needs to catch the drone and the other one needs to fly to join into the boat, so there’s a lot of use cases for our hydraulic system that might not be normal for a typical cruising boat. With just the two of us on board, it’s so nice to have a third crew member that we can just immediately hand the hand the helm over to and it just takes over and keeps the boat on course, while we’re off doing something else, yeah, it does have a few cons, and one of which is the fact that it’s a very complex system and the second one is that it does use, even though, if it’s efficient, it does use some power.  Yeah I think that’s probably its biggest con is the fact that there’s digital circuit boards and hydraulic oil and bearings to grease and yeah there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of things that can go wrong.

Tell you how much power it consumes because it varies so much our boat balances pretty well and we don’t normally use the hydraulic autopilot in big heavy, sloppy offshore conditions. Overall, I would say in a 24 hour sail it might use 500 watt hours, maybe.

If it’s kind of hefty or the boat’s a bit out of balance or the sea is kind of sloppy, I would certainly say I would certainly claim at most: it would certainly use one kilowatt hour in 24 hr, it’s really, really reliable. It’s not something that we stress over like. Oh, we need to shut the autopilot off due to the fact that our batteries are low, yeah , it’s it’s not something that we worry about. It’s not just the fact that it consumes power too, is the fact that it is an electronic system attached to the boat. So if something happens and all of our electronic devices blow out like you know batteries, something like that, after that the auto-pilot won’t work right, which is why it’s great that we also have the wind vane, absolutely that is all mechanical and does not utilize any type of power which segway to the wind vin Cape Horn, now cape, oh yep, Norway, not k, porn okay, so among our favorite quotes goes something such as this.

He has achieved perfection not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away and the Cape Horn, wind vane is a perfect example of exactly that. It’s well designed it’s custom, fit for every single boat that it’s uh installed on, which makes it very personalized to your own boat.

I think pretty much every other windvane out. You adjust, so it fits on your boat, but it’s the same wind vane and it’s the same pendulum for every boat that you put it on.

Just seem complicated, they’re, big they’re kind of ugly they’re they’re, a lot of extra parts hanging off the back here, yeah there’s a lot of points of failures out there, but just the fact that it’s beautiful isn’t the only uh pro of the wind vein. Looking at the wave and working and we’re wondering, how does it know what to do, we can feel Uma start to come up a wave or you can feel a puff of wind, and you look back and like the wind veins already over, where it’s supposed to be and the helm’s already where it’s supposed to be we’re like how did it know there was a gust coming like it’s so weird that it like it’s smarter than our BNG system in some ways, and I think this is a big.

I think that’s probably one of the cons of the Cape Horn would be if the wind gusts, probably more than like five to ten knots, I would say like if the winds, if the wind’s going from 15 to 20 from the same direction, wind vane is gonna be awesome if the wind’s going from 10 to 20 or 10 to 25, the boat’s gonna be all over the place yeah. It definitely needs some consistent wind for it to be very accurate, which is why it works so well offshore, because the wind just stays the same.

We go from five knots to 30 knots, all the time and the wind angle and the wind all the time too, so we’re normally using our hydraulic, autopilot and uh switching between all the different modes, either heading mode where it just points you at the same compass heading wind mode, where it keeps the wind at the same angle, to the boat or  navigation mode, where it like it, gets us to our way point, no matter what and then we’re adjusting the sails and reefing and doing all the sail management. Um yeah, consistent waves, consistent wind, consistent sail, trim consistent angle.

You know it does phenomenally well, but as soon as the conditions start to vary a lot, it has a bit harder of a time trying to keep up, which I mean makes sense because you’re trimming your sails all the time too exactly and another one is the fact that it does take time to set up as opposed to the autopilot when you just push a button and you go yeah. The first time, maybe two minutes if I have to come down below to like, actually get the vein and bolt it on um.

It is more finicky in its adjustment and setup, but once it’s good, it’s good, it’s good. Once it’s good, it’s good!

It’s great! There is one more disadvantage with the wind vane that is really small because we only had it happen, the Caribbean which is sailing through Sargasso yeah. That’s floating algae uh, since it’s an added pendulum in the water and since it’s going kind of out to the side of the watercraft as well as bent on the opposite that Sargasso algae stuff does get stuck on it. And it will trip the bungee cord because it has a breakaway. If you hit like a log, it’ll just bend the pendulum back and it won’t actually damage anything and there’s bungee cords and there’s a little tether.

We are resetting the wind vane like every few hours, because there’s huge patches of Sargasso out there and we ‘d hit them at night, and it was. It was actually kind of frustrating, whereas if we had the hydraulic at that point in time it steers the actual boat rudder, nothing gets stuck on it and we would have been fine, suddenly got sunny outside yeah.

In our research to find uh what we consider the best windvane, we’ve talked to a lot of people that have different versions of windvanes installed on their boats, including some people that built their own and from what we’ve heard and from what we’ve found most boats do well with windvanes on some points of sail in some conditions and the only windvane that we heard good things about in all points of sail and in all conditions, were the Cape Horn.

Oh, if we’re on like a beam reach, 20 knots, the wind vane works great, but as soon as we’re running downwind or like, or it won’t work in light wind conditions or if it’s heavy seas. It won’t work or if, if we’re pinching like there’s, always a there’s, always like a it works great but everyone that we talked to with the Cape Horn, sung its praises and we’re we’re hitching our we’re hitching our wagon to that train, because we have aside from aside from the two sort of cons that we’ve mentioned in the video which are which were the pendulum, can get caught on junk floating in the water.

I ‘D say everything else is fantastic about it. We’ve sailed on all points of sail, all wind conditions… wing on wing with the spinnaker out it works, so that might upset some people who have other wind vanes that have other experience out there on their own boats, but every boat also sails differently. That’s our experience and that’s why we chose the capabilities. That’s why we chose it for our best.

After two years of having both, I know, we’ve get a lot of questions asking which one is actually better, which one should I buy yeah, but the reality is: there’s not really a winner in that scenario, because they really both complement each other. Where one fails, the other one fills in yeah. I think it depends on your sailing area. I would say if you’re crossing an ocean – and you can only choose one wind vane all day – long – don’t even bother with the electronic autopilot um if you’re coastal sailing or Bahamas, Caribbean um, that kind of thing or you plan on doing a lot of motoring like You’re doing the like the great loop or a lot of canals, then hydraulic or autopilot would be much better um. We’re certainly glad that we have both uh, because we do both and we use both and we’re glad we have both, and but I guess that would be our conclusion.

Yes, so I really hope you enjoyed this video guys and don’t forget to give it a thumbs up. If you found this information useful and uh, hopefully the wind will die down soon start and also make sure you check the video description, because we’ll have links to all of our install videos and any other useful information down there about our different systems, we’ll be linking In the video description, yep and with that said, we’ll see you guys next time cheers is this the news should we like awkwardly stack our papers and like oh like, but it’s silence. You can hear we’re saying: you



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