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the dream of dawn

Venerable Sailomat 3040 for Venerable Sailboat

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Every proper cruising boat needs a windvane self-steering gear. Right? This is one of those things I thought I'd go full-mad-scientist on, some time in the future when other needs were taken care of. Those things are expensive, but plenty of people have successfully brewed up their own. However... I noticed this old Sailomat unit - it its day, the "Cadillac of Windvanes," gathering dust in the back corner of a local marine consignment store. For years. But the price was a bit too much to justify and my "need" for one a bit too remote. Eventually, the owners decided to liquidate the store inventory and go cruising themselves. When I was in there, picking up my junk that they couldn't sell, I mentioned the Sailomat. They mentioned a fraction of the current asking price. I reached for my wallet. I scurried out to the parking lot with it, before they could change their minds. They ushered me out the door, before I could change my mind.

From page 12 of the manual: "The SAILOMAT installation could be done in a couple of hours by any handy yachtsman." Ruh Roh... I've been at it for a couple of years. Not continuously, of course. The first order of business was to disassemble, clean, and lubricate everything. Strange... the housing seemed to be full of sand and pea gravel. Hmm... actually hardened salt crystals. Previous owners weren't big on rinsing their toys after use, apparently. Dozens of tiny roller bearings had to be kept track of. But once cleaned up and lubricated, all of the parts seemed to operate correctly, with no obvious worn pieces. A few spots of corrosion though, where stainless fasteners were used in the cast aluminum.

Next, the auxiliary rudder and the servo-oar needed some work. I spent a couple of weeks stripping-off decades of other people's clashing and weird ideas of paint, until I had bare fiberglass. Then I used some insulation foam and West System stuff to repair the broken tip and chipped fins. And a couple of weeks trying to fair my work reasonably well and slap on a few coats of IP2000. Then finished it off with some rustoleum. Also painted the housing to match Arcturus.
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This week I make the leap of actually mating the unit to Arcturus. (I think I'll call her "Veronica.") I moved the boarding ladder to starboard and drilled a bunch of new holes in the boat. Hmm... it's not actually easy to figure out exactly what is "vertical" in this set-up, since everything is curved and sloped. Finally, I made it perpendicular to the chord of the transom at the backstay. Hey, presto, in this configuration, the auxiliary rudder ends up perfectly parallel to the main rudder. (As far as I can till with my big T-square) Like it was planned that way! Sorry for the complex background in the photo. (Yes, time for Spring Cleaning.) I'm not sure what's special about that angle, but it's worth noting that the boat and the windvane were manufactured at approximately the same time.
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Backing plates were made from pieces of fiberglass left over from previous projects that involved cutting access hatches in the liner. With some thickened epoxy to try to fill the gap due to hull curvature. The intermediate mounting bracket did not come to me, so I made a prototype copy of the proper dimensions. Prototype 2 will be machined more carefully, and if all seems cool, I'll take it to the machine shop and have them weld up a solid unit. By mounting the Sailomat while the boat is on the hard, I was able to fiddle around and align all the foils perfectly* when in the neutral position. You wouldn't be able to do that while the boat was floating. (Pic doesn't look quite perfect because the wind was actually moving the servo-oar around at the time.) It's supposed to work even if it's not centered, but this gives me a good feeling. Hopefully it won't cause some sort of destructive harmonic effect!
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So now it all comes off again, so I can peel off the old lettering, touch-up scratches, repair old holes, and properly caulk everything. I'll probably leave the brackets in place, but store Veronica in the garage, after "sea trials" and until an actual cruise happens. Also need to fix those dings in Archie's rudder and grease-up the tube.

*For a certain definition of "perfect."

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  1. Loren Beach's Avatar
    More info:

    I recall that at least one Olson 34 used a later model of that vane to solo race to Hawaii.
  2. Geoff W.'s Avatar
    The blue paint looks really great, and helps offset some of the general "sh*t on the stern" necessary evil of the vane. Nice work.
  3. Afrakes's Avatar
    Glad to see an older piece of machinery brought back to life with the use of some good old "seat of the pants" figuring out and elbow grease. A trait that I fear is getting rarer and rarer.
  4. sgwright67's Avatar
    Well done! It looks really sharp, and I'll be interested in how it works.
  5. Christian Williams's Avatar
    The late-model Sailomat design has changed, but wind-vane sailing techniques haven't.

    More on that topic here:
  6. toddster's Avatar
    While Dr. Stellan Knöös (Sailomat USA) was one of the duo that designed the 3040, he declined to provide any support for it. (I only asked to purchase a copy of the manual.) I'm sure he'd like to sell an up-to-date new unit instead. Actually, I find it pretty amazing that he's still doing business after all these years. Somewhere, I read that when the original company split up, the rights to the model 3040 went with the other guys, so I suppose it's possible that he's legally constrained from 3040-related business. A descendant of that other branch of the company appears to still exist in the UK, but they no longer have anything to do with sailboats. Inquiries in on-line forums lead me to another member who provided photos of the manual pages.
  7. Christian Williams's Avatar
    Well, I think it is more that there was trouble with the old castings and the aux rudder capability, hence the change to plate aluminum. Not to say your rig isn't fine for local use.
  8. ignacio's Avatar
    I did the same as you: Disassembly, cleaning, re-grease, change fasteners, repaint. I paid Mr. Stellan Knoos a visit in La Jolla and came away with an extra rudder, break-away safety tube, and various internal components. He's got spare parts for the 3040 (and later models) in his garage. To me, the Achilles heel is a plastic ball/socket linkage inside the housing, for which Stellan gave me a machined brass replacement. I also fabricated a spare servo oar and spare blades from polycarbonate sheet. The auxiliary rudder design puts big loads on the transom, which led me to install a 3/8" thick, 24" x 24" sheet of G10 as a backing plate.

    If you haven't already, I'd suggest reading Naomi James' circumnavigation account using the Sailomat 3040.

    Here's a short video taken while I was headed from Monterey to Morro Bay in 2015:
    Updated 04-08-2019 at 06:08 PM by ignacio
  9. toddster's Avatar
    I have seen mention of Naomi James’ problems in the course of researching the 3040, but have not read her book to date. I wonder if some of her troubles might have something to do with her boat being much larger than the 3040 was designed for? My boat, on the other hand, is at the small end of the range.

    I did get a spare set of break-away couplings with the unit. And in addition to the backing plates, I’m planning to glass in a pair of stringers across the transom. Access and interference from the chainplate are slowing this measure however. It’s in the “not required for launch” category for now.

    Veronica is a little bit different from most of the other 3040’s seen in Google searches (but there are others like her out there) or in the manual. Main differences are in the air vane and counter-weight. But also some differences in the casting, lubrication points, etc. I don’t know if this means she’s an early model or a late model. The serial number is 749. If this means the 9th unit produced in 1974, she’s a very early model. If it means the 749th unit (were there that many?) she’s a very late model. The “74” is stamped much deeper than the “9,” if that means anything.
  10. Christian Williams's Avatar
    Looks like the next design series was in the early 80s.

    More here:
  11. ignacio's Avatar
    A little more info: The main housing on my Sailomat 3040 has number 334 stamped on it, and the sales and installation correspondence I have are all dated April and May 1979. The stamp itself looks uniformly applied.
    Updated 06-19-2019 at 03:51 PM by ignacio
  12. toddster's Avatar
    Thanks. It seems like the exact meaning of the serial number may remain a mystery. Various sources put the production dates of the 3040 as 1974 - 1981. (Or sometimes 1976 - 1981). If they were on #334 in 1979, I'm not sure how they ever got to #749. A few units produced after that were apparently sold as "Stayer" brand from England.

    I got a lot of technical and comparative information about these Windvanes from "Self-Steering Under Sail" by Peter Förthmann. (I'd forgotten that he mentions the rudder angle, pondered above, was to provide yaw-damping.) Just now, when I was looking for the link, I found this other more colorful version of the history.

    The boat is still in the farmyard. Windvane untested. Contingencies and non-boating matters competing for my time and cash. I did leave the whole thing mounted for several weeks, through some fairly spirited weather. With the control lines unattached, it freely moved with the wind. IDK why one would ever do this normally, but I wanted to put the mechanism to a bit of test. The only adverse thing that happened was that the little stainless ball-fitting at the end of the push-rod unscrewed itself and disconnected. Not difficult to replace, in the workshop, but it would be a royal pain to try to do that while hanging over the end of the transom at sea. But I suppose there would be no reason for that to ever happen in actual use - the control lines would prevent the vane from rotating repeatedly through 360°.