Re: Vindvane on a 54?

Bill Kinney

I love windvanes.  They are awesome pieces of mechanical kit.  I have spent many hours on a long ocean passage just watching one, which can be endlessly fascinating to an engineering nerd like me.  There is something very satisfying about working to get the sails trimmed right and the boat in perfect tune and steering itself.  But... other than the entertainment value, there are really only two practical reasons I can think of for having one.

First is the low power usage.  On an Amel this is not an issue.  You can have all the power you need to run an electric autopilot.  The amount of extra energy used by the autopilot over and above what we need to run our fridges and other "routine" stuff is really pretty trivial.

Second reason is the perceived reliability of a windvane over an electric autopilot.  In all of my ocean sailing I have had ONE self-steering system failure that left me needing to change plans for my trip. That was a windvane that cracked an aluminum casting 800 miles out in the Pacific.  By my measure--an admittedly very limited in number of data points--electric auto pilots have been much more reliable.  For much less than the cost of a windvane you can buy a spare linear drive for your autopilot (our boat came to us with a spare) and have a ready to drop in backup for all the mechanical bits in the system.

What we have on Harmonie is an installed linear drive, with a backup in the locker, and an installed chain drive, and two independent autopilot computers each of which can run either drive unit.  Short of a lightning strike taking down all of our electronics, I have confidence we have sufficient redundancies.

As far as I know, for an Amel 54 the only practical option you have for a windvane is a Hydrovane.  If there are no arches, or other obstructions on the stern of the boat, I would bet it would work, but would take quite a bit of fussing to balance the boat well enough to make it reliable. I would enjoy that fussing, not everybody would.

Bill Kinney
SM160, Harmonie
Charleston, SC, USA

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