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The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Hydrovane - Steering Redundancy

Sarah Curry

Beneteau First 405
June 20th, 2022

This is the second of a brief series of advertorials that highlight the products and services offered by a select group of vendors who have supported the Bluewater Cruising Association in 2022 by purchasing advertising in either the BCA Member Directory and/or Currents. This month’s advertorial introduces Currents’ subscribers to Hydrovane. BCA is grateful for their support.

Autopilot Woes Leaving Fiji

With my husband Will at the helm and me with boat hook in hand, we squeezed  Hydroquest out from her wedge between neighboring boats in Vuda Point Marina after an early morning customs check out. We’d fallen in love with Fiji and her people, but after ten days of waiting for this good weather window, we were feeling pressure to continue our journey west.

The wind and waves were light in the lee of Viti Levu, so we motored toward Malolo Passage, close on the heels of three other cruising boats we knew we’d see again soon in Vanuatu. We clicked our below deck autopilot on so we could tend to passage preparation tasks while in protected waters.

Suddenly  Hydroquest was completely off course, the autopilot veering her 10, 45, then 90 degrees to port! No correction. We throttled back to neutral. Was something affecting the compass? Was there an electrical issue? Twenty minutes of troubleshooting and neither cause nor resolution was evident.

Cruising the Mamanucas in Fiji with Hydrovane

Totally Unfazed…

Other than scratching our heads, our reaction was minimal… no, not because we’d been drinking too much kava! Autopilot trouble just wasn’t an issue for us; we rarely relied on the hydraulic autopilot for steering anyway, and certainly never on trade wind passages. For the time being, out came the small Raymarine 1000 Tillerpilot, which we simply hooked on to our Hydrovane’s tiller. We continued along – in a straight line.

We hand steered through the Pass, waving goodbye to kids playing on picturesque Mana Island. Out in open water, the wind filled in as expected. Sails were set, Tillerpilot put away, and soon enough we were screaming along at 7 knots on a close reach with Ernie, our Hydrovane wind vane, handling the all-important job of steering with graceful ease.

Game Changer

I think of this story often. For some sailors, heading off on a 470 nm open ocean passage, autopilot issues at the start would be a game changer. If fully dependent on an autopilot, I can only imagine the frustration of having to head back to port – not only to deal with repairing an autopilot in Fiji, but likely never catching up to some cruising friends and definitely being set back to a new time frame.

Mt Yasur eruption (Vanuatu)

In our case, we were able to confidently continue on our way. We blasted across to Port Resolution in 3 days / 3 nights, and there we witnessed the incredible performance of Volcano Mount Yasur, in the company of our cruising friends. An experience not to be missed!

You may be interested in the diagnosis of our hydraulic autopilot problem. Regrettably I cannot tell you – we never bothered to fix it.

‘3 in 1’ Functions of Wind Vane Self-Steering

1. As a Wind Vane to Steer the Boat 24/7 While Sailing

Crossing the Atlantic with Hydrovane self steering wind vane

Ask experienced bluewater sailors which pieces of gear they value most, and ‘wind vane’ will so often be included in the list. A wind vane self steering system is the backbone to enjoyment of offshore passages: reliable steering, quiet, no power consumption, and the windier it gets, the better a wind vane performs (as opposed to an electronic autopilot).

2. As an Emergency Steering System/Rudder

Tiller to steering emergency rudder

Most wind vanes have some form of emergency rudder, whether it’s an add-on or part of the unit itself. The Hydrovane specifically is not only a back-up rudder ‘ready to go’, but is a completely independent secondary steering system for your boat – in case of main rudder loss, quadrant failure or steering cable breakage. Your boat now has two independent steering systems. See the @hydrovane Instagram for a recent story that highlights this need.

3. Retrofitted as an Electrical Autopilot

Tiller Pilot Retrofit – Beneteau First 405

This third application is often overlooked. The Hydrovane is designed to be connected to a tiller style autopilot for use when motoring or when sailing in very light winds with sloppy seas. Because the Hydrovane rudder is semi balanced, it needs only the smallest (and cheapest) of tiller pilots.

Hydrovane owners, us included, who have done this easy retrofit, report strong preference for the tiller pilot over the expensive below deck autopilots: less noise, less electrical draw, saves the larger unit for a ‘rainy day’ – and a cheap way to have yet another back-up.

Complete steering redundancy is achieved.

Hydrovane International Marine Inc. is a Vancouver-based company, owned and operated by the Curry family of cruisers.  If you are thinking of going offshore, please check us out!


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