Category Archives: self steering

Maintaining the Hebridean

Last summer I noticed a few problems with my Hebridean self-steering gear. This post is a (belated) log of the things I did to fix it up, and may be of interest to other Hebridean owners.

The first problem I noticed was that the Hebridean’s trunk could collide with the fairleads I put in the mount to allow the steering lines to cross over (described in this video). This is a simple error of planning on my part, but at some point there’d clearly been enough force on the pendulum to split the mount.



This problem will go away when I turn the mounting blocks upside-down (described below) but in the meantime it’s a fairly simple job to glue the mount back together. I also have quite a bit of spare oak planking from the Hebridean construction that I can use to replace it if necessary.


You can’t have too many clamps!

The mount itself has developed a distinct curve. I’m not sure what’s caused this. There may have been a collision with my boat when I wasn’t around, or there may be some systematic pressure on one direction.


The curve has affected the mounting bolts too.


I haven’t done anything to fix this curve yet.  It doesn’t affect operation.

A much more serious problem is that the carbon push rod that connects the wind vane to the pendulum had split at both ends and come unglued from the plugs that attach it to the rest of the linkage.


This is much less likely to be a problem with the later versions of the Hebridean, as John Fleming is now using cross-woven carbon tubes and supplies ferrules for the ends of the rods, as seen in this photograph of Emmelène’s mark 2 Hebridean.


I fixed this using epoxy to re-attach the tubes, and then adding a whipping to keep the tube ends together.


I noticed that the top of the push rod was colliding with the turret tube at the extremes of movement, and this may have contributed to the splitting. This was easily fixed with a few washers, but it does show that it pays to watch all the parts of your self-steering gear as it operates.


A much less serious problem is the mascot. I bought a “pen topper” in the form of an RNLI lifeboatman’s head from an RNLI shop, and he’s been sitting on the end of the vane’s connecting rod for some years. For some reason, local birds have decided to eat his face!


Unfortunately, this item isn’t in the RNLI shop any more, so I’m on the look out for a new mascot.

Here’s a problem I have not yet fixed. The weight of the Hebridean rests on a pin that keeps it floating on the blocks that are clamped by the mount. This forms a bearing that wears at the pin when the Hebridean is steering. A few months of use and the pin looks like this:


Emmelène‘s Hebridean has a two-part solution for this. Firstly, he has a HDPE washer between the pin and the blocks. (HDPE is what plastic milk cartons and chopping boards are made of.) This more or less eliminates the wear. But an extra clever thing is that his blocks are mounted upside-down from Tammy’s, so that the top edge protrudes from the mount, making room for the washer. Here’s Tammy Norie’s mount (during fitting).


And here’s Emmelène’s mount.


Simple and effective. I’ll be copying this arrangement on Tammy. It will also eliminate the collision between the Hebridean’s trunk and the fairleads that caused the mount to split.

I hope this is of interest, at least to other Hebridean owners. I welcome comments!


Filed under Repairs and Modifications, self steering

The worthy Hebridean

Two years on from building a Hebridean self steering system, I talk about the latest modifications, and show how well the system is working in practice.


2017-09-01 · 19:53

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

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

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