Category Archives: Constructing the Hebridean

The Trials of my Hebridean

I have finally edited the video footage of my various trials of my Hebridean self steering system during and after my Netherlands cruise. This is a system I built over two weeks in July. Here’s the result.

Here are a few things I mention in the video that are worth repeating.

  • When I set off, my Hebridean was not complete and I had no experience with wind vanes.
  • This is a story about my Hebridean on my boat.
  • Very small boats and junk rigs may require mods to the plans.
  • I should have spent more time experimenting with the bungee.
  • Don’t copy me until you have tried the system according to the plans.

Thank you everyone for your help and support with this project. Special thanks to John Fleming for showing great patience when dealing with me. Paul Thompson for keen technical insight. And Stephen Crowther for useful observations and support.

I’m sure the story’s not over yet, but part one is complete.

9 Comments

2015-09-14 · 21:42

Why I can’t review the Hebridean

I’ve had a number of people pressing me for an overall opinion of the Hebridean wind vane self steering system.  I can understand why — people out there are reading my experiences and trying to decide whether to go with it.

I’m afraid I can’t give you a review, and here are a few reasons:

  • I have no experience with other wind vanes.
  • I have only constructed one Hebridean, possibly badly.
  • I have only used my Hebridean for a couple of weeks on one small junk-rigged boat.

This site is a blog of my experiences. The intention is to share what happens to me in the hope that it’s useful to others. Writing it is a good exercise for me and helps me interpret my own experiences. I also gain a lot of helpful feedback from other people. My writing about the Hebridean is an account of what’s happened to me. I hope it helps you, but it’s not intended a guide to choosing a system.

Here are a few things I can definitely say.

  • The Hebridean took me two solid weeks and over 100 hours to build, using a small workshop.
  • The Hebridean has cost me around GBP 600 including the plans, the kit, materials, fittings, and tools. (I’ll see if I can get exact accounts together at some point.)
  • I found the plans and instructions quite difficult to follow in places.
  • John Fleming is patient, helpful, and responsive.

My last word for now is this: I’m not a person who will stick with something just because I started it. If I believed it made sense to switch to another system I would do so. The Hebridean is a unique opportunity to build your own, based on John Fleming’s hard work on the design, and gain both the satisfaction of building, and the ability to maintain and repair your own system.

I’m sticking with it. And if you want a review, you’ll need to wait a year or two!

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Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, self steering

Replacing the pendulum on the Hebridean

After spending a good 100 hours constructing my Hebridean wind vane I grew quite frustrated when it started to go wrong, especially after such initially promising results. However, after some very useful comments from readers I set about constructing a temporary replacement pendulum.

I started out with some 18mm plywood and a couple of hardwood blocks bought from the local Hubo.

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I didn’t glue the blocks to the plywood, instead using four big stainless steel screws through each, being careful to offset them slightly so they didn’t clash.

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Then I marked off 9mm from each side of the leading and trailing edges, sharpened my plane, and set about adding a 45° bevel to the leading and trailing edges.  The plywood makes this easy to get right since it has a built-in gradient.

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I noticed there was a slight curve in my plywood, but hoped that removing the pendulum balance cut-out would prevent this being an issue. I was expecting to have to add some balance later.

I put on a few coats of Cuprinol Ultimate to help keep the water out.

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I was deliberately doing all the work in Tammy Norie’s cockpit, to see what it was like. Well, this is what the cockpit was like, anyway.

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I attached the pintles and mounted the pendulum onto the Hebridean frame.

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Later that day I sailed from Harlingen to Den Oevre. Actually, I mostly motorsailed due to adverse wind and current, and the need to make the weather window in the North Sea. But I did spend about an hour trying out the Hebridean on various upwind courses in what was about a force 3 or 4.

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It seemed to work really well. With the linkage disconnected the pendulum was stable and would return to the centre position. With the linkage connected and the vane in place, but no tiller connection, the vane behaved itself very well. Attaching it to the tiller worked just fine and the boat steered nicely. There was no obvious lack of sensitivity, though truly light wind tests have yet to come.

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After picking up Martin Roberts at Den Oevre and motoring out past Den Helder we reached our departure point, and I set up the Hebridean for downwind.

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It worked well, and continued to work for the entire 36-hours that followed, taking us across the North Sea. For the second half of the trip it was set to a dead downwind course and took us through some pretty big and steep wave conditions.

The only problems were with the control line setup. I’d used some simple twine to attach various blocks and eyes on a trial basis, and these chafed through after 24 hours of continuous action. This put us off course temporarily on a couple of occasions but nothing serious went wrong.

We didn’t disconnect the Hebridean until we had to cross the infamous bar on the river Deben, and I lifted it off completely when we put in to Tide Mill yacht haven. Looking at it then, it was clear that the plywood had curved further, but unlike the original pendulum this didn’t cause any noticeable problems.

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I spent a lot of time wondering about all this and discussing it with my crew.  We went over all the suggestions, John Fleming’s instructions, and John’s feedback during the journey.

Our theory is this: John mentions that he expect instability that is dampened when the Hebridean is connected to the tiller.  The thing is, the Coromandel has a small rudder and a very light tiller.  We suspect that it’s simply not providing the damping that John expects, so that the pendulum flips out.  Added to that, my pendulum seemed to develop a clockwise bias, and that made it always flip out in one direction almost immediately, overwhelming the vane.  The simple unbalanced pendulum doesn’t require damping to stay in line, so it behaves much better on my little boat.

It might also be insensitive and fail in light winds, but it seemed to be doing the job in F3.  I’ll know more when I try it out around the East Coast this month.

Anyway, I think we have discovered something important about the Hebridean and my boat, making the whole thing much more feasible for my Jester Challenge attempt.  I now believe it can be made to work. And I’ve also proved I can repair it in the cockpit!

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Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, Netherlands Cruise 2015, Repairs and Modifications, self steering

A temporary pendulum

I’ve recently written about my problems with my Hebridean wind vane self steering gear that I built last month. I can’t link very easily from this mobile app so scroll to find it!

I’m currently in harbour at Harlingen in the Netherlands. There’s a weather window that could get me home tomorrow. So I’m following plan B and building a simple temporary pendulum.

I have some 18mm ply from a friendly local shop and a couple of hardwood blocks for bracing. I plan to have no cut-out for balance, since that didn’t work well on the old pendulum, contributing to the eventual breakdown of the whole system. I can change this if necessary.


I’ll plane some simple bevels into the leading and trailing edges. Something I should be able to get symmetrical even working here on this dock.

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Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, Logs, Netherlands Cruise 2015, self steering

Serious problems with my Hebridean

Note: This is not a review of the Hebridean design. This is an account of problems I was facing with my Hebridean, on my boat, with limited experience and flaws introduced during my construction. If you’re looking for a review of the Hebridean, please see my article “Why I can’t review the Hebridean.”

I’ve now had a couple of weeks with my Hebridean in a wide variety of conditions.

I’m afraid my Hebridean is not working consistently for me and in its current state I can’t rely on it enough for my attempt on the Jester Challenge in May.These are the main problems.

1. Once the pendulum is off centre it overwhelms the vane, pushing it over and steering the boat off course and sometimes round in circles. I have tried up to six washers under the pendulum brackets to move the balance forward, but this has not helped. The pendulum is nowhere near balanced.

2. Over time the pendulum has developed a strong tendency to twist clockwise, so that my Hebridean is always at its maximum position steering the boat to port. This had become so bad that it overwhelms the vane even in a force 5 wind. I requires considerable strength from my hand to bring it back in to line. With the linkage disconnected you can feel the twist. It must have warped. It’s not possible for me to see or correct or compensate for the fault while aboard. I need to be able to fix faults while cruising.

3. The 15° of course correction is not enough. Perhaps because of my boat’s 6m length or junk rig, I often have to apply 45° corrections by hand when the waves reach any height. My Hebridean doesn’t seen able to keep up, and waves overwhelm it, especially when wind and wave are on the quarter.

4. I have to climb over the tiller, control lines, sheeting system and stand or sit in an exposed and precarious place to change course. Some kind or remote control is essential for bad weather sailing on my boat.

5. It’s very big and heavy. On my small boat it’s very difficult to mount and dismount my Hebridean while under way. It certainly requires both hands and climbing over the tiller and past the sheeting system onto some high lockers. Doing this in a swell is exhausting. During my trip it’s also lead to a fair amount of bloodshed as I caught my skin on the various bolts. It would be impossible in heavy weather.

I have video showing the pendulum problems but I can’t edit or post it while sailing. As it is I’m typing all of this on my iPhone.

I’m not sure what I can do to correct these problems. I’d welcome your suggestions.

My only thoughts so far are to scrap the frame and pendulum, rebuild the frame at 50% to 75% of the size out of lighter material (perhaps aluminium tube?) and design a balanced pendulum out of something that cannot warp, such as aluminium plate. I’m trying to think how I can adapt the worm gear idea at the moment to provide safe controls.

But since I can’t now take a big chunk of time off work to make another Hebridean I may end up buying another system. That would be a great shame and I’m not yet willing to accept defeat.

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Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, Logs, self steering

Constructing the Hebridean day 13

I’m in the final stages of my project to construct a Hebridean wind vane self steering system. I brought the pendulum home to Cambridge so that I could work on shaping it into the computer-generated profile recommended by John Fleming in his plans.

You may recall that earlier I made a template from the plans out of a piece of thin plywood.

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I also experimented with using a router to get the basic shape of the profile, then planing to finish the job.

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I would have continued with this technique, but I don’t have a router or any other suitable power tools in Cambridge.  I did look in to using a CNC router at Makespace to get a perfect profile, but in the end I just went to Mackays and bought a plane and sharpening stone (things I wanted anyway) and did the job by hand on my dining room table.

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I started by getting the bottom end of the pendulum into the correct shape.  This end is going to be cut off since the pendulum is way too long for Tammy Norie, so I could afford to get into practice.  I applied greatest pressure with the plane at this point and eased off towards the top, so that less wood was removed.  I then moved up the pendulum, using the template as a guide.  This gradually copied the shape from the bottom end up along the whole plank.

To fine tune the shape, I used a marker pen to mark where the template was touching the surface.  It was then easy to plane away the mark and take another look.  This gradually corrected the profile over the whole pendulum.

I did about three hours of planing last night and another two this morning, followed by about 30 minutes of sanding, with this result.

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It’s very close.  There are some minor wobbles that I’ll correct, but I think the job is done.  So I’d say allow six hours for planing your pendulum.

I had to sharpen the plane about once per hour, and especially when it was new. This video on how to sharpen a plane was very helpful, and allowed me to get a very good cutting edge.

I’m also left with about a third-of-a-plank’s worth of oak shavings!

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Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, Equipment, Repairs and Modifications, self steering

Constructing the Hebridean day 12

This past weekend I sailed from Fareham to Emsworth and back with a friend from Cambridge, and while aboard (and under way!) I assembled and attached the incomplete pendulum and was able to test some aspects of the Hebridean wind vane self steering gear that I have been constructing since last Monday.

Before setting out, I finished making and attaching the counterweights. These balance the vane and push rods so that wind pressure is able to twist the pendulum. John Fleming’s plans involve creating counterweights by setting lead shot in polyester resin. But Dad has a better idea. He found a couple of old doorknobs and we filled them with lead instead.

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I tapped 10mm threads into the handles, then tapped 6mm threads into some 10mm threaded rod, so that the counterweights could be bolted to 6mm threaded rod on the Hebridean.  This also allows for some adjustment in their position with lock nuts.

I attached the upper counterweight to the vane and fiddled with it until the vane just returned to vertical.  It’s then that I found out exactly what the “grub screw” is for.  It tilts the upper counterweight arm so that you can get the vane vertical.

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The lower counterweight balances the push rod mechanism.  You need to detach the vane and pendulum, but hang the pendulum push rod so that you get the right weight.

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You then position the lower counterweight until the main push rod moves up and down with minimal force.

With these things done, I took the frame and pendulum aboard Tammy Norie. While underway I attached the pendulum sides and hinges.  Drilling oak with a little hand drill is slow going, especially when the helm is tacking every few minutes!

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The results were very satisfying. I was able to get the pendulum into the water while under way and see how it moved the whole gear when twisted.

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This kind of testing also revealed problems.  I left the end of the extension proud of the trunk, to keep that end of the cross-lap joint strong.  Unfortunately, it clashes with the mount and prevents the pendulum being fully lifted out of the water.  I’ll need to trim it down.

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There’s another issue with the pivot and mount.  I made the mount as a sandwich (as recommended) but this means that the split pins keeping the pivot in the mount clash with the sides, preventing the Hebridean from rotating.  I’m not sure what John intended here.  I notice that his boat has the mount in a different orientation so perhaps he didn’t notice this problem.

Later on I was able to attach the whole push rod linkage to the pendulum.  Once that was done it was possible to steer the Hebridean by wiggling the vane counterweight rod.

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I even have a video of this bit!

Unfortunately, this last test was taken just before we had to moor up, so I didn’t have time to test using actual wind. As it was we only just got unloaded before the tide dried out Tammy. We even had to push the rowing boat through the mud to get home.

I’ve taken the pendulum back home to Cambridge to shape it at home when I’m home from work.

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Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, Equipment, Repairs and Modifications, self steering