The first windvane steering system

The first windvane steering system, rather ironically, was installed on a motorboat. Frenchman Marin Marie used an oversized windvane connected to the rudder by lines to steer the 14 m / 46 ft motor yacht Arielle during his spectacular 18-day single-handed crossing from New York to Le Havre in 1936. His windvane steering system is now on display at the Musée de la Marine in Port Louis.

British sailor Ian Major took Buttercup single-handed from Europe to the Antilles in 1955 using a small windvane to control a trim tab mounted on the main rudder. This was the most common system in the early days of windvane steering. It was also in 1955 when Englishman Michael Henderson fitted a personal creation, nick-named "Harriet, the third hand", to his famous 17-footer Mick the Miller. His approach was to centre the main rudder and use the windvane to move a small, additional rudder blade. The system was a complete success and was able to handle more than half the steering duties. Bernard Moitessier also chose a trim tab for Marie Thérèse II in 1957, and used a simplified version of the same system on Joshua from 1965 onwards. In this second version, the windvane was fastened directly to the shaft of the trim tab.

The starting gun of the first OSTAR (Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race) in Plymouth on the 11 June 1960 signalled the real beginning of the windvane steering era. Without some form of self-steering, none of the five participants - Frances Chichester, Blondie Hasler, David Lewis, Valentine Howells and Jean Lacombe, could have reached the finish.

Frances Chichester's first windvane gear, christened "Miranda", consisted of an oversized

windvane (almost 4 m / 43 ft 2 ) and a 12 kg / 26,5 lb counterweight, and was connected directly to the tiller via lines and turning blocks. However, the giant windvane turned out to have anarchic tendencies, and Chichester was soon contemplating a change to the windvane/rudder proportions.

Aboard Jester, Blondie Hasler was using the first servo-pendulum gear with differential gearing. David Lewis and Valentine Howells both used simple trim tab systems driven directly by a windvane. Jean Lacombe used a trim tab gear, developed jointly with Marcel Gianoli, which had a variable transmission ratio.

Pendulum Servo Gear
Hasler servo-pendulum system on an S & S 30

Hasler and Gianoli, an Englishman and a Frenchman, were to play a significant role in the development of windvane steering systems. The principles they established are still used today, and we will consider both their systems later on.

The second OSTAR was held in 1964. Once again all the competitors used windvane steering systems, six of them opting for servo-pendulum gears built by HASLER, who had already undertaken a small production run. Windvane steering gears were virtually standard equipment for the 1966 and 1970 Round Britain Races as well, for electric autopilots were still banned.

The field for the 1972 OSTAR was so large that the organisers had to set an entry cap of 100 boats for the 1976 race. Electric autopilots were allowed, but could not be powered by inboard motors or generators. By now, many of the participants were using professionally built windvane steering gears. There were 12 from HASLER, 10 from ATOMS, 6 from ARIES, 4 from GUNNING, 2 from QME, 2 electric, 2 auxiliary rudder gears, 2 from QUARTERMASTER and 1 HASLER trim tab.

The rise of the great solo and short-handed blue water races, none of which would have been feasible without the windvane gear, stimulated the professional development and construction of a wide range of different systems in England, France, Italy and Germany. The early pioneers are still familiar names: HASLER, ARIES, ATOMS, GUNNING, QME and WINDPILOT.

Several factors contributed to the rapid spread of windvane steering systems, in particular the economic miracle of the post-war years, the increasing number of series-built sailing boats and the shift in boat-building away from one-at-a-time construction in wood towards mass-production with modern materials. Sailing was no longer a sport for obsessive loners or the elite, and its popularity was growing.

The first companies producing professionally designed and built windvane steering systems appeared in Britain, France and Germany in 1968, and soon after in the Netherlands. Windvane steering systems and the year they were launched:


Blondie Hasler



Marcel Gianoli



John Adam



Pete Beard



Nick Franklin



Henri Brun



Derek Daniels








Was this article helpful?

0 0
How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

How To Have A Perfect Boating Experience

Lets start by identifying what exactly certain boats are. Sometimes the terminology can get lost on beginners, so well look at some of the most common boats and what theyre called. These boats are exactly what the name implies. They are meant to be used for fishing. Most fishing boats are powered by outboard motors, and many also have a trolling motor mounted on the bow. Bass boats can be made of aluminium or fibreglass.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment