The first time I used a vane self-steering gear in anger was back in the early 1980s, aboard my newly purchased UFO 34 cruiser-racer whilst delivering her home from Scotland through the Irish Sea.
Fitted with a then state-of-the-art Aries vane, we had strong tailwinds for much of the way, which the vane handled fairly well, impressive because the UFO was an early IOR design and a known handful downwind.
But when the wind eased, the vane really began to struggle, failing to respond quickly enough to hold a course, and in the end we had to take over by hand.
Over the next few weeks we tried everything to sort this out, with the aid of the late Nick Franklin, designer and builder of the Aries.
We cleaned all of the bearings, added a lump of plasticine to the counterweight, and even tried attaching elastic cord to help the vane recover, all to no avail.
Finally, during a last despairing chat with Nick the main culprit emerged. “You haven’t by any chance painted the blade?” queried Nick, and immediately the penny dropped—the previous owners had painted the plywood blade with several coats of gloss, and added an attractive logo on both sides at the top—and this was enough to unbalance the blade to the extent that it wouldn’t recover to vertical quickly and smoothly.
So here are 11 more things we have learned about our vane gear over the years: