Category Archives: Part

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.


2015-09-14 · 21:42

Bow light LED hack


Before you install LED bulbs in your fittings please consider carefully how they might affect the colour and visibility arcs of your lights and the insurance of your boat. Please check MGN 393 Navigation light units: maintenance and the use of new technology light sources, such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), as navigation lights on SOLAS and non-SOLAS vessels and also I suggest Warning not to use LED bulbs in filament bulb navigation lights from PBO.

My battery ran very low after my 32 hour passage from Rye to the Breskens. The main power draws were the tiller pilot, the VHF, and the navigation lights. The lights were the worst, drawing over 2A by the ammeter. I had incandescent bulbs that came with the boat: 10W in the stern and 25W in the bow, so they ought to be drawing 2.9A.

The chandlery in Willemstad had a cool white (6000K) replacement for the stern bulb, but nothing suitable for the bow. If you put a 6000K LED behind the usual green plastic filter then it shows up as blue. The only solution I’ve seen for this is to use an expensive bi-colour LED bulb.

But the chandlery also had warm white (2500K) domestic LEDs with brightness equivalent to 25W. They ought to give the correct colour, and they were much cheaper. The only problem was the fitting.

Time for a quick hack with the soldering iron!


I soldered some copper flex into the feet of the LED bulb.


The spring contacts to the bulb unscrew and come out, leaving holes for the flex.


The unscrewed contacts have a convenient hole drilled down the centre. I threaded the flex through these holes.


Then I just reassembled and tested the bow light.


It showed the correct shades of green and red, as you’d expect, since the incandescent bulb would also be at about 2500K.

I taped the spring contacts to the old bulb and put it in the spares box along with the old stern bulb.  Nothing was destroyed by this hack and it’s easy to put things back as they were if necessary.

The current draw for the LED bow and stern lamps was about 200mA, less than a tenth of the incandescent bulbs.

1 Comment

Filed under lights, Repairs and Modifications

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!


Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, self steering

Radio mast bubbles

Before I set out on my Netherlands cruise I bought a main VHF radio for Tammy Norie. I got by all last year using a handheld Icom IC-M1Euro V (and very good it is) but I did notice the lack of range and the inability to talk to nearby boats, even though I was always able to get in touch with the coastguard. I was also thinking about AIS. When I want to sleep offshore I’d really like an alarm if a ship comes near. But I’m also reluctant to load Tammy Norie up with gadgets, in spite (or perhaps because of) my technical background.

AIS is also mentioned in Wild Song’s Final Reckoning as “possibly the greatest safety device of modern times”.

Then I found the Standard Horizon GX2200. This radio kills three birds with one stone. It’s a VHF, but it also contains an independent GPS, and it can receive and interpret AIS signals and warn of approaching shipping. Since it’s a DSC radio it can also buzz the radios of approaching ships even if they’re not listening on channel 16. This not only gives me a wake-up call if there’s a ship approaching, but a way of talking to them to make sure they’ve seen me. An extra GPS is welcome, of course.

I bought the unit not long before setting off for the Netherlands and tested it on board with the antenna in the cabin. I also thought about how to fit the antenna to the masthead and run the cable to the radio.

I noticed that the masthead had four tapped holes, but when I tried to fit screws into them I found that they were slightly smaller than 5mm and quite a bit larger than 4mm. Probably some imperial size. So my first step was to tap them to 5mm. I’d bought a small scrap of stainless steel strip from Percy M See in Fareham, and cut holes and sawed it into shape using the dock pilings at Rye as a workbench. This held the antenna nicely a little way from the forward side of the mast.

I could have just dangled the VHF cable down the inside of Tammy’s mast, it being a simple tube, but I realised that it would rattle around. Indeed, Marco on Stern was complaining about his cable doing exactly that. So I thought about ways to pad the cable. I also thought about buoyancy.

The top section of the mast weighs about 30kg. A quick calculation gave its interior volume as about 40 litres. If it were completely sealed, it would float! That was not likely to be possible, but I did think about packing it with closed cell foam, or air-filled bags. Then I realised I could use bubble wrap. It wouldn’t enclose the entire volume, but it would displace a lot of water, and delay water ingress, so that if I ever did drop the mast overboard I’d have a lot more time to deal with it. And if Tammy ever turned on her side or even turtle for any length of time it would help her to right herself.

I’d seen rolls of bubble wrap for sale at B&Q, but it turned out that Mum and Dad had a great big roll of it going unused in the attic. I’d stuffed it aboard Tammy Norie before leaving for the Netherlands.

The first step was to remove the mast.  I used the low tide and high wall in the harbour at Rye to lift the mast using (appropriately) the mast lift.  Soon it was lying on the grass next to the boules pitch.



At this point a chap turned up and started asking questions about what I was doing and about Tammy Norie. He was Mike McCarthy, a local sailor with a wealth of experience and stories, who was maintaining his own boat not far away. He offered to help.

I visited Rye DIY, just along the street from Tammy’s berth, and bought two 3m lengths of domestic cable conduit. I joined them with duct tape. It was quite easy to arrange the bubble wrap around the conduit in a long helix and shove the whole thing up the mast.  The conduit helped keep the whole thing stiff.




We then caught hold of the top end of the conduit through the hole at the top of the mast and threaded the VHF cable and a bit of mousing string through for good measure.  The mast went back down to the boat and we threaded the cable through the existing hole in the bottom section. I caught hold of it using a tool I’d made for fishing things out of CUYC Kestrel’s mast years earlier. I say “tool” but it was just a bit of bent coat hanger that I’d kept hold of.

By this time it was dark. Furthermore, a pair of enterprising gulls had broken into Mike’s shopping bag and eaten his dinner. We went and bought fish and chips and ate them aboard while swapping sailing stories. A great time was had by all!

The next day there was torrential rain and thunder as weather fronts passed overhead.


This was a good thing, as it signalled the change in wind direction I’d need to depart for the Netherlands.  I used the opportunity to finish the interior wiring and install the radio. It worked well, and picked up AIS signals from ships out in the English Channel some way away.

Here’s a picture of the masthead with the antenna in place, taken later in the trip.


Now, what I’m not telling you is some of the mistakes we made.  We had several attempts at threading mousing string through the mast.  My first string was some nylon orange stuff that had come with the boat, dangled through the mast while still attached using some washers. This got snagged and broke. I tried with it again but it got worse. Then I bought some smooth string from Rye DIY and threaded that. Initially we pushed the conduit over the string and spent ages shaking it through using a weight made of a piece of wire. After getting the conduit and bubble wrap into the mast another friendly local then pulled the mouse out of the conduit, thinking this was somehow helping. Poor guy — he was very embarrassed. But eventually I realised that it was easy to push the thick VHF cable through the conduit anyway, so the mouse wasn’t really needed. We optimistically shoved the bubble-wrapped conduit up the mast and found that we could retrieve the end through the hold and just push the cable through. All of this mucking about took several hours.

Some of the stories that Mike and I swapped that evening involved people not telling the whole truth about how difficult jobs are on boats, but instead presenting a fait accomplis as if it were all easy and they knew what they were doing all along. It’s rarely so! Mike told me about a magazine article that described several weeks of faff and mistakes as an easy weekend job. I won’t name any names, but just be sure to take those articles with a pinch of salt. Sailors have plenty of salt available, after all.


Filed under antenna, instruments, mast, radio, Repairs and Modifications

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, Logs, self steering