Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reggy The Regulator - Windvane Steering

Ocean sailing requires some sort of self steering. In the previous century, the 1960´s and 70´s, home built and jury rigged steering systems dominated. Sheet steering and vane steering to a rudder mounted tab were the most popular forms.

On our first Easy Go, a sloop rigged Grampian 26, sheet steering made life simple. I would rig a small back filled riding sail inside the jib sail, and put a line from it to the tiller. With the addition of a piece of surgical tubing to balance the rig we travelled many miles while the boat steered itself. We could have built a small wind-vane system, however the push pit was already overcrowded and we certainly didn´t need any more weight on the back of the boat. The sheet steering system we used is adaptable to the junk rig and we still keep a version of sheet steering on the latest Easy Go just in case Reggy the Regulator decides to quit working. Our Benford Badger 34 ft junk schooner has an extremely large and well balanced rudder. With a schooner rig we are also able to balance the sail plan quite easily making the load on the steering quite light.

Where did Reggy the Regulator originate and what makes it so special? Reggy, gender neutral, is the result of a few hours work following the excellent plans and descriptions from Bill Belcher´s book, Wind Vane Steering (ISBN 1-877197-00-9). This book was previously published as Yacht Wind Vane Steering and should be considered essential in a yacht´s library. Using the plans for the OGT Mk 1 horizontal wind vane was an easy process. For a cost of less than $25 ($CDN) our new crew member has taken on the task of steering us on our adventures over the past few years. Having guided us in good and bad weather through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada and across the Atlantic as far as the Açores, Gibralter, Morrocco and West Africa before taking us back to the Caribbean. We are totally confident that Reggy will go on for many more miles with minimal repair and maintenance. The vane steers directly via the tiller and has no under water appendages to snag weed, line or other garbage that we frequently come across. The name for Reggy originated while we were stopped at Ville de Gaspe, Quebec, Canada where the local French Canadian residents referred to the vane steering as our "Regulator". Needing a name we decided Reggy was easy to remember and a gift from the great people of this region.

Reggy is constructed from some scrap plywood, mahogany floor underlay, some 1"x3" pine that we had laying around, a few bolts, scuba diving weights and some braided cord to fasten the vane to the tiller. A picture is worth a thousand words. Here´s Reggy...


Reggy is surprisingly simple to build. We built the mounting post by laminating some pieces of pine together and clamping this post to the main sheet horse. Easy Go is a double ender and this location was safer for adjusting the steering, particularly in rough weather.

The fixed platform is attached to the post and the adjustable turntable above with the vane mounted above all. Lines pass through a couple of blocks at the base of the post and through two blocks to attach to the tiller with a couple of adjustable rolling hitches. The lines coming down the front of the post are for remote steering adjustment. The true beauty of this steering system is that the two disks do not need a locking mechanism to maintain the heading. Turning the top disk in small increments allows for infinite adjustment.

Maintenance requires a little white grease on the two wooden bearings that the vane pivots on and that is about all. In more than seven thousand miles wear has been minimal. We have not even replaced the control lines to the tiller! Some important notes to remember to build in the backward tilt of the vane that keeps the vane stable and keeping friction to a minimum b using small control lines on large blocks. We put a layer of plastic, actually some flimsy kitchen ctting boards we found in a dollar store, between the two layers of the turntable to make adjustment easier and keep the disks from wearing on each other.

Bill Belcher indicates that this vane could be built out of aluminum but with the minimal cost in wood and hardware along with the ability to do field repairs anywhere in the world Easy Go´s vane is going to remain in wood. Without a balanced rudder this same vane could be used to control a trim tab on the rear of the rudder or become the driving force for a servo pendulum gear. With this home built gear self steering for long range cruising is available to all cruisers at minimal cost and maximum benefit.

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