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Old 10-08-2005, 05:50 AM   #21
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About 30 years ago, after sailing a self-built cutter from California to Alaska via Hawaii, John Letcher wrote Self-Steering for Sailing Craft (published by International Marine, I think). In it he described how to test a boat for steering 'stability' and outlined how, assuming a balanced hull, one can use small lines and surgical tubing (total cost only a few dollars, even today) to allow the boat to self-steer. The basic concept is to use the tension of the jib or main sheet (depending on point of sail) to steer the boat.

Now we fast forward to today's sailing environment: It looks like the Steersman idea, no doubt full of engineering triumph and machine shop wizardry, wants to be the U.S. Defense Department version of Letcher's approach. It also struck me as much harder to use and infinitely more expensive.

I followed Letcher's instructions for measuring hull/steering 'stability' on our first boat, a Swedish-built Vega 27 sloop. It was a great boat and it showed itself to be relatively well balanced. I then used Letcher's 'line and tubing' techniques and self-steered the boat out to the islands offshore from Southern California on a vacation cruise. It was a successful and cheap way to steer, altho' it required a fair amount of attention to get tensions set just right for a given wind strength.

Stephen, are you familiar with this approach? I'd forgotten about it until reading Richard's post and it might be a good trick to have in your bag...along with a bit of surgical tubing. <g>

Jack
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Old 10-09-2005, 04:06 PM   #22
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Hi Jack

I think you are a bit harsh on the guy who developed the Steersman. I have read John Letchers book. It seems to me that with his version of sheet to tiller steering you set the jib, then set the self steering, which upsets the jib setting, so you have to go back and re-set the jib, which upsets the tiller setting, so you have to re-adjust that etc.

I would say that the Steersman overcomes this. Am I wrong?

Richard C
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Old 10-09-2005, 08:54 PM   #23
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Richard, I can only tell you that based on my experience with Letcher's 'sheet to tiller' method, you are incorrect in your assumption. For a given point of sail, I would tension the tubing on the 'upwind' side of the tiller (opposing the natural weather helm of the boat) and, assuming a bit of practice to gain familiarity, that was it. When sailing off the wind, I recall we shifted to using mainsheet tension (our mainsheet was in the cockpit, as is true on many smaller boats), since it's a more reliable sensing source of offwind sail trim. Lines attached to both sides of the tiller (the opposing, fixed line prevented too much tiller travel) were easily adjusted using jam cleats. Constant changing of tubing tension was not required; what did require tubing tension adjustment is wind strength (which changes the amount of weather helm) and point of sail (changing course). If memory serves, in typical sailing wind strengths (5-20 kts, which is the wind band where I used this method), course holding for our boat was only slightly less effective with this method than when we now use our servo-oar wind vane on a larger boat.

John was a young, poor grad of Cal Tech and, in the 'necessity is the mother of invention' mold, he built his 26' cutter because he wanted to go sailing but couldn't afford to buy a boat. Similarly, he had no crew nor money for a windvane but needed reliable steering offshore since he was singlehanding, and so he invented (or at least, perfected) the sheet-to-tiller method. Typical of his engineering background, he used & recommended surgical tubing because, after some testing, he found it offered the most linearity in tension vs. length. This whole story, it seems to me, reflects the self-sufficiency, ingenuity, resourcefulness and simple/cheap/effective problem solving that IMO used to be more representative of the 'cruising mindset' than we see today. Instead - again, IMO - the common tendency today is to look for a heavily engineered, off-the-shelf, plug-in solution and of course shell out a good deal of money, as a result. Steersman seems to fit that mold...and appears especially overwrought in an engineering sense. Perhaps that explains my reaction to that product (you'll notice my my comment was not directed to the person).

Jack
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Old 10-10-2005, 01:41 PM   #24
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Hi Guys,

Yes Jack, I do know of the surgical tubing aproach to self-steering. I am sure it works, although I have not tried it myself. I think it would require such a lot of setting up and trimming that it is not really the solution I am looking for. What I am looking for is a reliable system, using established methods and sufficiently robust to stand up to ocean cruising which I could build myself.

Maybe that is too tall an order. At the moment, when single handing or when the entire crew needs a short break from steering I just conect the Autohelm, but that is not a solution for bluewater cruising.

I suppose the bottom line is that I will just have to dig deep into my pockets and come up with the cash and buy something. Cruisers seem to have a love - hate relationship to self-steering. Whilst almost all agree that it is a necessary piece of kit opinions are very divided as to the best system.

I do really apreciate all the good information though - without it I would not, for example, consider the Navik gear. Now that is pretty high on my list.

As always, many thanks // Stephen
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Old 10-12-2005, 04:24 AM   #25
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Hi Nausikaa

I quite agree with you. Look for a professionally made product.

I read somewhere recently that single handed yachtsmen were asked what item on board would they could least do without. Answers were expected to be things like GPS, radio etc but the top answer was in fact steering.

If you think about it, if you can't steer, you don't go anywhere. For everything else you can improvise, substitute, invent etc. but there is no substitute for the boat steering system. If you are sailing short handed then self steering becomes a very important part of that.

If the self steering doesn't work, then you get tired from too many hours at the helm, and that's when mistakes happen, and we all know how unforgiving the ocean is to mistakes.

Good luck to you

Richard C
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Old 10-12-2005, 07:14 PM   #26
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Stepehn, I think I failed to make clear the intent of my recommendation: I don't mean to suggest you opt for the simple tubing/line choice over a servo-oar windvane system. But I do believe it is a mistake to expect that installing a good quality vane eliminates potential vane failures. E.g. I've seen 4 Monitor failures (all of them broken mounts) despite this being a generally well thought design. Any servo oar strut can be bent by a collision with flotsam. I even met one livid American skipper in Horta, Azores who's entire servo oar assembly fell off mid-passge; she'd failed to rig a safety line.

Insofar as your plans are concerned, I meant to recommend you include some tubing & small stuff and, as time permits, experiment with it. Contrary to your (untried) assumption, I think you'll find it does not take "a lot of setting up and trimming" but, even if it did, that's still much less than steering full-time should the windvane fail for some reason.

Jack
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Old 10-13-2005, 05:11 PM   #27
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Dear Jack and Richard,

Once again, many thanks for the comments. The Vega is a nice boat – a bit cramped compared to today’s standards but I don’t think that a disadvantage. I like the interior of a boat to be compact otherwise it is difficult to get a good hold on something solid when being chucked around by at sea. Less space means less of a fall!

Yes, I have read about Letcher’s concept, although I have not tried it. Maybe I should? As you say, once the boat is balanced, and for the sake of a few bucks, then self-steering can be a reality. September’s YM or PBO had an article about a modernized version of the concept. I am just a little concerned though that the set up of the gear when changing from one ‘course’ (apparent wind direction) to another will be a little finicky and that, if the wind force alters the balance in the system (tension on the surgical tubing) will need adjusting.

Come next season, I will give it a try and see how it works out.

I have been gathering information on the Navik gear and see that Rob Macfarlane recommended it fore boats under 30’ at a speech he gave at the Single-handed Sailing Society in San Francisco in 2002.

What I will do is to try rigging the ‘Letcher’ type of self-steering. The exercise in really balancing the boat will only have positive effects anyway. If it works – fine. If not, I will build a rough and ready version of the Miranda gear using just about any available material just to try it out. Again, it should not cost much as I will be able to fabricate it from material I already have, except for the bearings. I will try and get PTFE bearings made. In fact, given a block of PTFE (where can I get that I wonder), I should be able to turn the bearings on a lathe myself. If the Miranda gear works well then great but if, as I suspect, it is a hinder in heavy weather due to the shear size of the ‘sail’ then it will be scrapped and I will dig deeply into my reserves and go for the Navik gear.

I’ll keep the forum posted as to my success or lack of it as the case may be.

Cheers // Stephen
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Old 12-21-2006, 07:17 AM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Converted Post'
Originally posted by Seafarer

Take a look at the Cape Horn system. No wimpy bits, no jungle-gymn, and a 28,000 mile or one circumnavigation warranty!
Seafarer,'

do you have any personal experience with the Cape Horn system? If so, would you please share them with me/us?

I am presently contemplating ordering a Cape Horn for my Kaskelot doubleender "Salt" to better handle two-hand races. You can check the boat at http://www.reiss.wordpress.com - there is a blog post regarding the Cape Horn system, you might want to give some comments there.

Thanks, Espen
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