For some strange reason, most cruising sailors profoundly dislike steering by hand. The prospect of spending hour after hour at the helm used to deter most people from long-distance cruising. This is undoubtly the main reason why, until relatively recently, the number of sailing boats venturing far afield was very small indeed. However, all that changed with the advent of automatic pilots specifically built for yachts plus the development of efficient wind operated self-steering devices. Suddenly, the chore of hand-steering was a thing of the past and long ocean passages could be a pleasure - even on yachts with the smallest of crews. Having made one circumnavigation of over 70,000 miles with an Aries and another of some 40,000 miles with a Hydrovane, I could not be accused of exaggeration if I state unreservedly that one of the most important pieces of equipment on any cruising yacht is a wind-operated self-steering gear.
Unfortunately, and surprisingly, this view is not shared by many cruising sailors. This is primarily because as most of us have grown up with technology around us, we tend to take the push-button mentality with us to sea. Steering a given course is easy to achieve by setting a compass course and pushing a button on the autopilot, and, nowadays, this is what most sailors prefer to do. It is usually on the first morning with flat batteries that the love-affair with their favourite toy comes to an abrupt end. Having been forced to listen to countless heart-rending stories on this very theme at the end of the ARC or similar trans-ocean rally, I managed to persuade Peter Forthmann to come to Las Palmas before the start of the ARC to talk to our participants about the pros and cons of self-steering. His talks and workshops became an instant success, not only because he knows this subject better than anyone else in the world, bus also because he always speaks generically about both wind-operated self-steering gears and electronic autopilots. He never tried to sell his own products and, in this way, enjoyed the interest and confidence of his audience.
I am therefore pleased, not only that he took my advice to write this long-overdue book, but also that he managed to do it so fairly and objectively by giving all his competitors an equal opportunity to make their products known. All existing systems are described in the following pages, allowing the reader to make up his own mind. Many sailors agree that Peter's Windpilot is currently the best gear available. Being both the inventor and manufacturer of this ingenious device, Peter has indeed shown that his name should stand alongside those of his great precursors: Blondie Hasler, Marcel Gianoli, Nick Franklin. This book confirms Peter Forthmann's standing as the world authority on wind-operated self-steering gears.
Whoever would have thought that the world could change so much in a single generation?
Yachts which were so recently state of the art are suddenly dated, their technology surpassed. The range of instrumentation and equipment available to the sailor has expanded beyond all belief; on-board GPS, EPIRB, INMARSAT, chart plotter, radar, and Internet access are now all but taken for granted. The market for nautical books has also been very fertile. Every topic has been explored, every hitherto mysterious subject laid bare. Hard to believe, then, that the scheme of this book has been neglected for a hole generation!
A book on self-steering systems has long been overdue. That, at least, was the feeling of Jimmy Cornell, whose encouragement finally convinced me to take up my pen. It was a decision not lightly taken, for there can hardly be a more sensitive topic for a manufacturer of windvane steering systems. But, equally, there can hardly be a better one, since few topics in sailing are as logical and intuitive. All self-steering systems rely on the same physical principles; here there is no wizardry and no impenetrable mire of theory.
This book, I hope, will cut through the tangle of conflicting opinions and contradictory hearsay surrounding the subject of self-steering. If it saves you the disappointment of a self-steering failure and the exhaustion of hours at the helm in cold, dark and stormy seas, it will have achieved its aim. If it exposes gaps in your understanding, or flaws in your own self-steering solution, take heart; it is far better to see your mistakes now, safe in harbour, than half way across the ocean. Once at sea you must live with the hand you have dealt yourself; cold comfort as with heavy arms and tired eyes you turn the wheel once more and stare of into the distance wishing that you did not still have such a long , long way to go ...
I would like to give particular thanks to the following people: Jimmy Cornell, whose words ,you sit down and start writing' I can still hear today! Jorg Peter Kusserow, my friend and business partner without whose illustrations this book would be a great deal poorer. Chris Sandison, who found a way to translate my language in yours. Janet Murphy of Adlard Coles Nautical, who kept on smiling as the mountain of paper continued to rise.
And a final thanks to you the reader, if you find this book leaves you wiser as to how to make your sailing easier - without staying ashore.
Peter Christian Forthmann
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