Voyager Nat Warren-White, currently crossing the South Atlantic, from South Africa and en route to St. Helena, aboard his Montevideo 43 center cockpit cutter Bahati, sent this tidbit about the joys of a good wind vane autopilot and the troubles of another boat who didn’t have one.
“We are about 1/2 way en route from SA to St Helena and making reasonable time. I guess we may get there early next week now if conditions stay the same. The So Atlantic high is huge right now and causing lots of clouds and little wind…not what we expected! Anyway, we are away from the coast and the seas have settled so we are having a comfortable sail…wing on wing with the Monitor doing great work.
“We were on the net with about six other boats yesterday morning and one of them came up saying they’d lost their auto pilot in the night….hydraulic steering….ram type system…no backup wind vane or extra pilot either. So, they were faced with 10 days of hand steering or turn back to Namibia, about two days away. We offered to meet them, as we were only about 60nm behind, and hand-off our old Autohelm 3000 autopilot which they could easily attach to their wheel with the right pieces… which we have. Initially they said “yes please!” but then when they realized they’d have to slow down and wait for us they decided to keep going and then heave-to if they got too tired to maintain the two hrs on and two off hand steering schedule they’re facing….an older husband and wife couple on their last long passage…and she’s “had it”!
“Interestingly, I heard them tell someone else on the radio this morning that they had owned a wind vane but sold it in South Africa because: “we never used it”! This is the story we so often hear…people don’t appreciate their wind vanes until they lose their power hungry high maintenance auto pilots and then they learn to appreciate their simple, cheap and most effective wind sytems. In this case they never gave it a chance…”shame”, as the So Africans like to say!
“We finally did rendezvous with the other boat – it was from Quebec, and passed-off the Autohelm 3000….floated it across in a ditch bag….quite a scene! They were very grateful…and hopefully will be able to hook it up to their wheel and get a break from all the hand-steering. Meanwhile, out Monitor wind vane is doing yeoman’s service now sailing dead downwind wing on wing…wonderful invention!”