History of Aries Vane Gears

 History of the Aries Vane Gear 1964 - 1992 by Nick Franklin, its inventor, designer and manufacturer.

My first experience with a wind Vane Gear was as crew on a small yacht sailing from Norway to the UK across the North Sea. There were three of us on board but being the youngest I was stuck with most of the steering. There was a lot of discussion about wind vanes at this period in the yachting press but none were available commercially so in this case the skipper had made his own. The yacht had an outboard hung rudder and had a trim tab on the trailing edge of the rudder, a system that can work very well indeed.

The trouble was that the vane gear almost worked but not quite. It would hold a course for perhaps ten seconds and then lose it before deviating. After a few hours of fiddling about with it and becoming more exhausted from steering I started to wonder what a good vane gear was worth.

As already mentioned, there was much interest and discussion about vane gears but I felt most of it was of the 'eccentric professor' type such as 'how to build your vane from used bicycle parts for £3' laudable in itself but no good for most sailors.


Humphrey Barton with the third Aries sold 1968 Gibraltar preparing for a transatlantic crossing

In 1964 most interest appeared to be centred on yachts with outboard hung rudders with Trim Tabs or Even Trim Tabs on inboard mounted rudders. I completely discounted this approach as being far too difficult to install.

My intention was to produce a vane gear that would suit all transoms and rudder layouts. Tiller and wheel steering have a mounting system that most owners can fit themselves this was a new concept at the time and simply did not exist. Another unknown factor was whether the same vane gear would be effective on yachts of vastly different sizes, weights, hull designs and steering characteristics that could be accepted. At the outset I rejected all other arrangements in favour of what became known as the 'Pendulum Servo Rudder' design with its sideways hinged rudder pulling ropes which operate the tiller or wheel to steer the vessel. The steering lines have to be lead forward to the helm which could be considered a nuisance but this is quickly forgotten when nobody has to steer anymore!


Nick Franklin at the workshop lathe - 1975

The reason why the Pendulum Servo System works so well is that it only has to develop the same force as the person the person normally steering the vessel which is usually low.

It took several years of trial and error with 'lash ups' on my little 21ft yacht before coming up with something that really worked.
I then set about making the first production Aries as shown elsewhere. Three were built and to test them on larger yachts I simply gave them away. One to a 31ft tiller steered yacht, another to a 60ft wheel steered vessel and the third to my father's 30 ft international Dragon Class Keelboat. All three vanes worked perfectly. To my knowledge this is probably the first time a vane gear had been used to operate wheel steering with a drum for the lines and clutch and freewheel for hand steering.

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