Contessa 26 Tech Notes

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My Experience with the Auto Steer Wind Vane

By Dennis Dunigan
AutoSteer systems are made by Hydra Engineering in Falmouth, Cornwall, UK. The unit for the Contessa 26 is the trim-tab version. I chose it because:

1. I wanted to eliminate the plumbing shop hanging off the stern
2. I thought that I would lead two scuppers through the transom before heading off shore, and this unit would not interfere with scupper holes.
3. It is one of the lightest units around.
4. It seemed to be the least expensive.
5. It appeared to be simple and bullet-proof.
6. I had seen some boats with JJ Taylor installed Monitor vanes where JJ Taylor had reinforced the transom with ½” plywood that ran practically the whole width of the transom. I thought that I might have trouble reinforcing the transom or putting big enough backing plates on it.

I bought the boat in New Hampshire (USA) and planned to sail it to the Chesapeake, but the gear and the pictures that we later requested were a bit slow in arriving and then the welder went on vacation. Anyway, I ran out of time, didn’t sail it down, and, as of August 2002, haven’t extensively used the unit. These comments and observations are not based on any extensive experience.

1. It’s one of the least expensive units to buy but is probably more expensive and more trouble to install. You need to fabricate a fitting for the top of the rudder as well as a fitting on the stern rail to which you bolt the vane unit. Unless you can do your own welding and metal work, I would not recommend it.
2. It is easy to fasten and unfasten the unit from the metal plate hanging off the stern rail (four bolts) and easy to lift everything over the rail for storage (except that there is little room in a Contessa to store anything).
3. To adjust the unit, you turn the knob on the front right of picture below (lower right photo). This rotates the vane. Simple enough, though it might get old leaning over the stern rail to do this. It does however eliminate a lot of cockpit clutter.
4. During a trip from Oxford, Maryland to Annapolis, Maryland, when the wind was too light to use the unit, I disengaged the connector rod from the rudder head (removed the forward of the two pins) and let this connector rod hang from the vane unit thinking that this would be equivalent to removing the lines of a servo-pendulum unit from the tiller. Big mistake! The round black piece, held in place by the forward pin, unscrewed itself from the connector rod and found its way to the bottom of the bay. Sent letter, pictures, and credit card number to England for replacement parts.
5. If I had to do it over again, I would probably install a Cape Horn just because it would be easier to install, and I would expect it to be better in light air. All vanes work in heavy air. But, again, I haven’t used the unit extensively and it is a beautifully made piece of machinery.

In Peter Hancock’s “Sailing Into Sunshine”, the third of his books about cruising in a CO26, he says that he steered eighty percent of the time with a Quartermaster vane which is just a vane in the air attached to the tiller. I think that any vane would steer a Contessa. I would probably try to make a Quartermaster type of vane if I were handier.

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