Sunday, November 18, 2012

Redundant Sailboat Systems

Aries windvane mounted on the stern of Whispering Jesse
Sailors know the importance of having spare parts on board in the event of equipment failures that can be readily fixed. With more complex equipment, such as GPS units, sailors will typically have two or more units on board. This redundancy is largely driven by the need for safety. If you are far out to sea, depending for your navigation needs on your one-and-only handheld Garmin GPS, and it fails, then you are lost--or at least considerably less certain of exactly where you are.

It is with a sense for the importance of redundancy that I approach my sailboat's many systems. I have two VHF radios, three GPS units, two emergency beacons, and multiples of other equipment, including auto-pilots. My boat, a 1980 Valiant 40 that I purchased in May 2010, came with an Aries windvane and a Raymarine electronic auto-pilot. The windvane was bolted to the stern, but the Raymarine unit was still in its box--it had never been installed. As part of an extensive refit, the Raymarine unit was installed, and the Aries windvane was removed for hull work and then reinstalled. During the delivery trips (it took two) to get the boat to its current location in Savannah, Georgia, back in September and October 2011, the Raymarine auto-pilot proved itself to be invaluable, almost like having an extra crew member. The Aries windvane proved itself to be stuck. It is supposed to be hinged so that its trim rudder can be kicked up out of the water when not in use, but we could not get the locking mechanism to release. So we never even bothered to try out the system as a fallback for the Raymarine auto-pilot.

In the many months since those delivery trips, I have thought often about the Aries windvane and what to do about it. Instead of trying to fix it, I have decided to remove it. If it was working, it would be good to have as a redundant auto-pilot system, but I am willing to forego that option and steer manually when I need to. While I am out in Savannah this coming week, removing the Aries windvane will be near the top of my lengthy list of boat projects. I am thinking it may be easier to work on the hinge and get it to release with the mechanism resting on dry ground rather than hanging off the back of the boat. If I can get it to release, I will try to sell the whole Aries windvane system, including the original documentation, and put the proceeds toward a new Garmin chartplotter. If you know anyone who would be interested in a complete, working Aries windvane, please send me an email message. There's a link in my Blogger profile, which you can get to by clicking my photo under About Me.

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