Self Steering on Green Nomad Part 1 – Wind Vane

If I had to steer the boat for any length of time, I would not be sailing. As simple as that. Being tied to a wheel or tiller for hours, come sun or come rain, waves splashing in my face, is not part of the picture for me.

Steering, not my idea of fun!

Green Nomad in Jacaré, Cabedelo, near João Pessoa, Brazil

Since we started sailing and living on board the first Green Nomad in 1996, I must have spent a maximum of 6 hours at the helm or tiller. And this period includes a lot of miles, in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The trip we made on our first Green Nomad

On the first boat we had a hydraulic electronic electronic auto pilot and an Aries wind vane. Now we have a hydraulic electronic auto pilot and a newly acquired Windpilot Pacific wind vane, which prompted me to write this post. We do not have a fridge, AIS, Satphone, but we do have first class self-steering.

The first Green Nomad in Vanuatu, showing the Aries wind vane lifted

Interesting that this same wind vane unit was in my hands in Porto Alegre in 2010, when it was ready to be installed on the Multichine 41 SK Bepaluhê, a boat I developed the CNC kit for and even laid the first plate on top of the structure with our friend Jairo, from Ilha Sul boatyard. Paulo, the owner of Bepaluhê used to ask me opinions about gear to install, and I suggested the Pacific Windplot for him.

Did I feel that this was going to be ours one day?

Now, after Paulo came to Recife and Fernando de Noronha, and realized that for a long while he won’t be doing extended passages, he decided to trade the wind vane with us in exchange for a second hydraulic linear actuator for his electronic auto pilot, which has the same electronic unit as we have on Green Nomad, a superb Furuno.

Our wind vane still mounted on Bepaluhê, another B&G Yacht Design boat, a Multichine 41 SK built in aluminum

Apart from short trips where Marli is happy to steer, Green Nomad goes pretty much by herself. We read, cook, sleep and keep watch, but we do not steer. That is one of the reasons we do not have a wheel, and prefer a tiller, which is simpler, cheaper, more reliable, provides a better connection for a wind vane system and gets completely out of the way when at anchor.

Marli steering the first Green Nomad, as she does not like seeing an S wake!

Me in steering mode!

Even though we have a good electronic auto pilot, we did not consider Green Nomad complete in the steering front until we got our wind vane self-steering.

A new crewmember comes on board!

Relying on electronic auto pilot you are not relying only on the electronic auto pilot unit itself, but you are betting that your electrical system will be intact for the duration of the trip, that solar panels and regulator, or engine and alternator or whichever other charging apparatus you have will not have problems. That is adding several layers of possible problems to the self-steering equation. A lightning strike nearby can put all your electrics out of order.

A very simple and short transmission lines setup. Note the hydraulic ram that is part of the auto pilot, attached to a secondary tiller.

I was recently talking to a friend who owns an Ovni 435 aluminum yacht, and he told me how Hallberg Rassy boatyard’s insistence that he did not need a windvane, that he could have a generator and so charge his batteries to power his electronic auto pilot, made him change his mind and buy another boat.

The Windpilot Pacific model windvane still leaves the access to the cockpit very direct. A perfect match for the Kiribati 36!

I am not disputing that a quality electronic auto pilot will do probably a better job of keeping course (if maintaining an exact compass course is what you are after) even though you have to take the same kind of steps in order to balance the boat by sail trimming that are necessary with a wind vane, if you do not want your drive gear to be operating constantly and under undue stress. But for our style of low budget, no hurry, no stress navigation the wind vane is a better fit.

A detail of the installation. The jam cleats will allow the lines to be regulated for weather or lee helm and for the slack to be easily removed.

We are not trying to convince anybody of the superiority of one system or another, just expressing the joy of having finally acquired our wind vane steering. The feeling of independency that it brings is one of the great thrills of sailing for us. In these modern days you almost cannot do anything that does not need electricity, and sailing under wind power using a wind referenced self-steering device that uses the energy of the boat`s movement, which again comes from the wind, is a very satisfying and in fact tranquilizing feeling. It makes sense for us!

In order for the wind vane self-steering to work satisfactorily the boat has to be well balanced by keeping the sails trimmed for the conditions. This in turn requires that the boat has been well designed for a start, or your job may be impossible. In this point we know that Green Nomad is a good boat, so if the course keeping is bad I have only myself to blame!

A well balanced boat should be easy on the steering device!

We look forward to our next passage, when we will be trying the Pacific for the first time, and learn its nuances and tricks!

Thanks Paulo for selling the unit to us, and thanks Peter Foerthmann, the founder and designer of the Windpilot range, for your support during the installation!

Soon I will write an article about the electronic autopilot fitted on Green Nomad and its hydraulic linear drive, which I put together myself. Hydraulic autopilots do not need to be very expensive!

Click here to learn more about the Kiribati 36