Swan 46

“As for my experience with the Hydrovane – I’d have to say that it is one of the best pieces of equipment I have on the boat.”

From: Christopher Johnson
Reply-To: Christopher Johnson
To: Charles __________
Subject: Re: Hydrovane Self-steering
Date: Fri, 6 Aug 2004 14:52:46 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Charles,

In and of itself, the Hydrovane is a wonderful machine. It’s a, fundamentally simple design that is well engineered and well built, with numerous mounting options. If you can inspect one up close, you’ll see what I mean.

As for my experience with the Hydrovane – I’d have to say that it is one of the best pieces of equipment I have on the boat. I have an ’84 Swan 46 that I have sailed perhaps 25k nm on, from the Caribbean to the Chesapeake, and from California to NZ. In these past ten years the Hydrovane has required almost no maintenance, yet has provided countless hours of dependable service. I have often sailed short-handed because of my confidence in this “third crew member”.

I believe that at 49′ you are at the upper limit of the machine’s capability. However, to really get optimal performance – no matter what size boat you are on – you have to be able to balance your boat out well. The Hydrovane merely tips the scale this way or that, so to speak. If the boat is over canvassed, or the sails not trimmed properly, then the Hydrovane will have a hard time compensating, especially in a larger boat. A key control factor seems to be the offset of the main rudder to steer the boat a bit leeward to compensate for the boat’s tendency to head up as it hits small bursts of speed.

IF THE BOAT IS WELL BALANCED, the Hydrovane will work in practically all points of sail, and all wind speeds. I have used it in light air with a spinnaker, and fully reefed in 40 kts of wind in the Southern Ocean. The conditions that challenge it occur when the wind velocity is changing frequently, or when there are significant and sudden wind shifts. But this is probably true with all wind vane steering units. Dead down wind in light air can be tricky as the apparent wind is so low, and provides little energy to turn the rudder.

That said, the other features I like about the Hydrovane is that it can immediately function as an emergency rudder, and it is also easy to add a small tiller autopilot for motoring in calms, and to have as a backup to another mechanical unit you may have.

If you have any more specific questions, let me know. I have no complaints whatsoever with this product. It is a great thing that John Curry and family have become involved making access to information and parts more easily available than ever.

All the best, and good luck with your planning – it’s all well worth it.

Christopher Johnson
Owner of a Swan 46 (20 tons)
Sausilito, CA
(currently in New Zealand)