I just have to tell you how happy we are with our new best friend. That would be our Cape Horn Varuna windvane. We bought this thing a long time ago when the Westsail Owners’ Association managed to get a great rate on a group buy. Then, it sat in the box for close to a year before we were in a position to actually install it. I mounted the unit when we were in the yard in Newport back in 2009. The very few times I attempted to use it, I had problems. The steering oar is set up to break away if it hits an obstruction. Normally, when not in use, the oar rides upright out of the water as it’s been on Siempre Sabado almost since day one. The problem was that when I’d try to lower the oar while we were tooling along at 4 or 5 knots, I’d always lose control and it would just drop down into the water. Well, going from a dead stop to hitting the water at 4-5 knots is apparently a lot like hitting an obstruction. The paddle would come loose and trail behind the boat by its safety line. The unit is mounted so low and is out away from the stern far enough that putting it back on while underway was way too difficult. I’d just fish it back on board and tie it to the upright mounting tube. When we’d get somewhere and stop, I’d reattach it only to have the same thing happen again the next time. Got to use it for a very short time once just out of Ensenada but I didn’t know what I was doing and I had shortened the control lines too much. And then, the paddle came off.
Determined to get some use out of this expensive piece of equipment, I tightened the shock cords set-up that holds the oar to the mechanism. Then I re-read the installation instructions, bought some new line and re-rigged it correctly. This time out, I was determined to use it.
Our first full day underway between La Paz and Mazatlán, I got my chance to try it out. The weather was pretty calm with winds of about 5-7 knots and gently rolling seas. I slowed the boat down and then carefully lowered the oar into the water with a boat hook. Oops. First try was a bust since I had lowered it the wrong direction, causing the control lines to wrap around the horizontal tube. I carefully raised the oar again and lowered it on the correct side. So far, so good. I then aimed the vane so that it was dead into the wind, hooked the control lines to the tiller and disengaged the autopilot. Hey! It’s actually steering the boat! It was yawing either side of the rhumb line a little more than I cared for so I tightened up the line that restricts the yaw a bit. Doesn’t track quite as straight as the autopilot but it tracks pretty darn straight and doesn’t use any electricity doing it.
That night and the next day, we found out just what a great piece of machinery it is. The seas were in a nasty mood. Not the kind of conditions that my Simrad TP-32 autopilot had signed up to work under. I’ve seen it before in these conditions: it gets really hard to keep on course and the pilot is always one step behind and finally just gives an alarm and essentially throws in the towel. Then it’s hand-steering for us. Not so with the windvane. It just kept on steering no matter what was thrown at it. Light winds: no sweat; moderate wind: nothing to it; flat seas: easy-peasy; rough seas: so what? We didn’t get to test it in heavy winds and really big seas (thank goodness) but I have no worries that it’ll handle them just fine.
I didn’t really appreciate what a tough job it had until I relieved it of duty as we approached our anchorage. I took over the helm and found that it was really hard to keep the boat on course. It took a lot of force to work that tiller against the prevailing conditions. The windvane had been making it look easy. Now I really wish I’d have gotten it together enough to have it to rely on when we were coming down the US coast. That first night out of Newport, when we had to hand-steer, would have been SO much easier.
Anyway, here’s to our newest bestest friend.