Tag Archives: Westsail 32

Winter Diversions

Contrary to the predictions, this winter hasn’t been as bad as last year. I’d heard that we were in for either more snow than last year or less snow but colder temps. I’d say it’s been warmer (for the most part) with a lot less snow. Last winter the majority of the Great Lakes was covered in ice. This year we’ve had far less ice coverage, which makes me a little sad because a lot of ice coverage means a lot less evaporation during the winter months. And that, of course, means more water during the summer months!

Here’s something a little interesting. I visited the Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard to see what Huron/Michigan are doing. Things are looking good! The last time Lake Michigan reached this level was in 1998.

The red portion indicates forecasted water levels advanced six months.

The red portion indicates forecasted water levels advanced six months.

And here’s all of the Great Lakes’ levels:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.58.33 PM

So what’s happening on the boat front? Not much. I removed Ariel’s two forestays (and furlers) in preparation for replacing some of the rigging. The plan is to replace the bobstay, headstay, staysail stay, backstay, and cap shrouds. Then next winter I guess we’ll replace the lowers and intermediates, since replacing all of it at once is just too expensive.

Anyway, that’s the big project for this season. Fortunately, she’s looking good and just about ready to go. She’s got a newer jib and a brand spanking new staysail. Her main is hanging in there, but might be replaced in the next year or so.

Like a lot of northern sailors (I suspect), I sail vicariously during the winter months through a few blogs and YouTube channels. Here are two blogs: A couple sailing their Westsail 32 out of Louisiana for points south (Sundowner Sails Again), and another couple sailing their Cape Dory 30 (Sea Changes). Check them out – you might be glad you did.

Self-Steering without an Autopilot

By David VanDenburgh Sr.

We were a week out of Hawaii heading for San Francisco and both our autopilot and our backup autopilot had packed it in. We tried a fix but upon opening the case found the gears ground to powder. It looked like someone would need to steer all the way home (about three or four weeks). I figured this would be the perfect time to see if I could make Pygmalion (a Westsail 32) steer herself.

When the wind is forward of the beam, self-steering is not too hard to achieve (at least not in a full-keel cruising boat – those of you with fin-keeled flat-bottom modified racers are on your own!). To accomplish it, you have to understand the forces involved.

First, put the boat on course and hold her there. Then tinker with sheets until the helm is well balanced – just a touch of weather helm. The principle here is to move the center of effort and the center of resistance very close to one another, with the center of effort just slightly aft of the center of resistance. The center of effort is moved aft by easing headsails and hardening the mainsail (on a sloop or cutter) and/or the mizzen (on a ketch or yawl). Conversely, the center of effort is moved forward by hardening the headsails and easing the main (and/or mizzen). (There’s not much you can do to move the center of resistance unless you want to move stores around and rebalance your boat.)

If the wind were steady in force and direction, all you would need is a light bungee cord to hold the tiller or wheel against the slight tendency of the boat to head up, but of course the wind is not steady. Puffs will cause the boat to heel which will cause her to want to head up (stretching the bungee cord). Lulls will let her stand up which will cause her to want to head down (as the bungee cord pulls the tiller up). Fortunately you can take advantage of your boat’s reaction to heeling.

What you want to do is translate the extra tension on a sail created by a puff into a force that pulls the tiller/wheel in a direction that will head the boat downwind a little to resist the tendency to round up. Conversely, you want to translate the reduced tension on a sail during a lull into a force that turns the tiller/wheel in a direction that will head the boat upwind a little to resist the tendency to head off.

There are a number of ways to do this, but the easiest way is to tie a line into a headsail sheet with a rolling hitch (or taut line hitch) and bring it to the tiller (through a block or two) so that increased tension in that line will pull the tiller up and resist the tendency of the boat to head up. This force will probably need to be balanced with a bungee cord pulling in the opposite direction. In a puff, the boat heels and wants to round up into the wind, but the increased pressure on the sail pulls harder on the sheet and therefore on the self-steerer line tied into the sheet, which pulls the tiller up and resists the tendency to round up into the wind. When the puff eases, the bungee cord pulls the tiller down, heading the boat a bit off the wind. It takes tinkering to get it right.

Using this rig, we were able to get Pygmalion to steer herself for hundreds of miles at a time, setting us free from the tiller and reducing fatigue.

Captain Dave and his son, me, on the day of Pygmalion's departure from SF bound for Honolulu.

Captain Dave and his son, me, on the day of Pygmalion’s departure from SF bound for Honolulu.

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