Please select your home edition
Lennon Thermalite 728x90 3

Windvane pilots vs electric autopilots: all you need to know

by Global Solo Challenge 8 Jun 07:32 PDT
Hydrovane - Jean Luc Van Den Heede © Christophe Favreau / GGR / PPL

Windvane have made the history of single-handed offshore sailing, electric pilots have evolved and are now the only system on racing boats.

A boat's autopilot is its most expensive electronic component. So it is important to know it well and know how to use it to get the best out of it. However, autopilots have not always been electric, their evolution has required years of refinement. At the dawn of ocean sailing there was nothing but windvane pilots. Being mechanical and not dependent on electricity, they have been the heart of offshore sailing for decades.

However, the windvane pilot has limitations that do not make it ideal in all circumstances. The world of races has therefore given impetus to the development of electric autopilots. At first they were very simple, but a modern autopilots are really very sophisticated. On modern racing boats, windvane pilots are no longer seen, however they still have a large market in the cruisers' world. In this article we try to understand its pros and cons and evolutions over the decades.

Mechanical windvane pilot and electric autopilot

Before electronics invaded our boats, there were only mechanical autopilots. A mechanical autopilot is called a windvane pilot. In English they are called windvanes or windpilots. Their story is very fascinating, before a commercial version was produced they were all self-built. At the first edition of the OSTAR in 1960 all competitors had one of their own engineering.

The windvane pilot

When Francis Chichester completed his first sailing circumnavigation in 1967 he became a hero. Sailing with a sextant and a windvane on the stern of Gipsy Moth IV he became a legend. The following year the Golden Globe started, the first non-stop round-the-world race. Robin Knox-Johnston became the first man to complete a non-stop sailing circumnavigation. Bernard Moitessier was also at the start and his photos with the sextant in hand made history. His boat was also equipped with a self-built system.

The principle of operation of the windvane pilot

The operation of a windvane pilot is more complex than you think. These systems too have evolved over time trying various solutions. There are effectively two methods, one that uses a servo-pendulum blade (e.g. Monitor) and one that drives a secondary boat rudder (e.g. Hydrovane). The sail, or blade, of the windvane rudder certainly cannot have the strength to steer a large boat of many tons and in such cases those pilots that use a secondary rudder need a twin pilot installation. On a servo-pendulum system the small oscillations of the blade are trasformed into a force sufficient to steer the boat but work best with tillers rather than wheels and their installation is not always possible.

To do this, the airblade is connected to a blade immersed in the water that looks like a rudder. However, it must be immediately clarified that this blade does not act as a rudder on servo-pendulum windpilots, it is so only on winvanes like the Hydrovane. On servo-pendulum systems, the blade is mounted on a vertical tube with a fulcrum point and can swing from left to right.

On a Hydrovane or auxiliary rudder system the rudder steers the boat and does not oscillate. On servo-pendulum systems what makes the blade swing is the airblade, causing it to rotate slightly, but this does not alter the course of the boat, as the pendulum is connected then to the boats rudder. On auxiliary rudder the same rotation turns the auxiliary rudder to steer the boat directly being independent of the boat's rudder. The airblade is adjusted to a certain angle to the wind and remains vertical in the absence of other forces.

When the wind instead of flowing along the axis of the blade hits it sideways, it knocks it down on one side. The airblade in the air has a counterweight, so even a little air is enough for this to happen.

Read the full article here...

Related Articles

Global Solo Challenge: Pasquale, gentleman sailor
Pasquale De Gregorio embodies a dream, that of racing the most extreme solo race Pasquale De Gregorio is one of the closest sailors to all lovers of the sea and sailing. Pasquale is an example, he had to conquer the sea, he was not born near it, it was love at first sight, which lasted a lifetime. Posted today at 9:42 am
Sail changes on an offshore racing boat
Sail crossover is a term used to refer to a boat's combination of sails for all conditions Sail crossover is a term used to refer to a boat's combination of sails for all conditions. Each sail has a range of use, beyond which a smaller sail will replace it. Posted on 18 Sep
Global Solo Challenge welcomes 35th entry
For François Gouin, sailing is an incredible school of life François Gouin from Pornic in France is the 35th entry in the Global Solo Challenge with his Pogo 40S Kawan3, a first generation Class40 (Finot-Conq) built in 2008 by Structures. Posted on 15 Sep
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede interview
An in-depth analysis of solo sailing and of the problems to be faced such as food and sleep A long interview with Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, the last seadog, the man of records and the "long route" who talks to us about the mother of all non-stop solo circumnavigations. Posted on 13 Sep
32nd entry for the Global Solo Challenge
The momentum of the event continues to grow The momentum of the Global Solo Challenge (GSC) continues to grow. Organisers are delighted to announce that the 32nd entry is also the 3rd Australian skipper, with a 50+ foot performance boat, who at this stage wishes to remain anonymous. Posted on 6 Sep
Global Solo Challenge: What is an AIS?
An essential instrument for safety on a sailing boat The acronym AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. It is used by ships, pleasure boats and traffic control stations. The system allows information on the position of nearby ships and shore stations to be exchanged electronically. Posted on 4 Sep
Global Solo Challenge: Radar on sailboats
Making the most of it and using it safely The word radar is an acronym coined by the US Navy at the beginning of World War II with the meaning of "Radio Detection And Ranging". Its application for military purposes has spread over time, also finding diffusion in the civil field in aviation. Posted on 28 Aug
How to optimise route based on weather predictions
Optimising the route: understanding the problem to be solved. One recurring question among the novice offshore sailor is how to optimise your route when sailing. The practice is known among sailors with the French name of Routage or the English name of Weather routing. Posted on 23 Aug
Solving problems with inboard diesel engines
Some of the more common issues seen with sailboat engines To fully understand the operation of the inboard engine of a sailboat, you need to study at least the basic principles. Refer to the many resources available online, a short google search will bring up many results. Posted on 21 Aug
How to make the most of wind maps and grib files
Understanding the limitations, from the Global Solo Challenge Wind maps derived from grib files are nothing more than one of the possible representations of the development of the meteorological situation. Posted on 18 Aug
Rooster 2020 - Impact BA - FOOTERGet My Boat 2021 FOOTERC-Tech 2021 SnuffAir 728x90 BOTTOM