August 19, 2009
The focus the last few days has been on the self-steering options we are dealing with. For those who are not sailors (or long-distance boaters), you have to understand that steering the boat gets old really, really quickly. Like in 5 minutes or so. For practically ever, sailors have figured out ways to get the boat to steer itself. Perhaps the easiest is attaching the jib sheet to the tiller (oh my, I think I need a glossary of sailing terms on this blog somewhere). When the boat tries to steer a different direction, the sail keeps it on course. There are problems with this, of course, and the efficiency depends on boat design, sail balance, and point of sail. Luckily (??) there are other options today.
Basically we are talking about 2 choices. You can choose an electronic autopilot, which is brainless and steers a compass course and does not care one whit about sail angle or such nonsense. The problem? It chews electricity (power), which is all fine and good if that power is being supplied by your local power company. The local power company in our case is . . . us. We have to generate all electricity we use. Period.
Choice #2 is a wind vane-style steering device. This behemoth of stainless steel steers a constant wind angle, using nary a drop of precious watts nor even a lone granola bar. The problem? Go to sleep on it when there is a wind shift, and you could wind up on the beach.
Problem number x-million is, of course, that neither of these options is particularly inexpensive. I guess if you compare the cost of adding extra bunk space and all the food you’d need to have another person aboard, the costs pale . . . we aren’t going there. No space, sorry.
Last time, we had both options. Electronic for those low-wind times, the times when we were heading into and out of anchorages, the times when a compass course was critical to our well-being. Wind vane for those longer passages, or those glorious sailing days where correct wind angle (and corresponding great sailing) was our goal. So we should be all set, right? One of the benefits with having done all this before is that we still have a fair amount of “stuff” from the last time we went. One of the problems with relying on all that STUFF . . . it’s old, falling apart, and maybe not fit for use anymore.
Well, the electronic autopilot bit the dust when we finally pushed it too hard on a Chesapeake cruise a few years ago. The Monitor (the wind vane) is requiring a little work to get it operational. We had decided to go with a bigger (and new) autopilot and forget messing with the Monitor, then the general wisdom of “spares are critical” made us rethink that. So we decided to remount the Monitor as well. We spent $241 (that dollar is key, don’t you know!) getting it rewelded, and we have some more to do. And at the end of the day, that 30-year-old piece of equipment may well find a home as yard sculpture when we return from this cruise. “Nothing is forever at sea,” said the (hmm) salesman at Scanmar (the manufacturer of these wind vanes). “We can sell you a new one for $3995.”
Here’s hoping the Gulf Stream doesn’t do us in!