Monday, April 06, 2020

The real advantage of DIY...

Something I'm not looking forward to, some religious death cult news, and an impressive show of stupidity...

The other day, someone interested in finding a used Auto-Helm self-steering gear dropped me a line asking if I knew of any for sale at a reasonable price. As I didn't know of any I suggested that, as the Auto-Helm is a very simple design, he might be a whole lot better off just building a reasonable facsimile and I sent him several links to sites that had information on the subject.

His response was that he wanted something better than a cobbled-together DIY wind vane and he'd just have to swallow the price tag of $5250 to have the needful piece of mind.

That's a lot of money.

Since then I've been thinking a lot about the whole DIY thing and the common opinion/misconception that DIY somehow results in a less than good result.

Which got me thinking about building a clone of the Auto-Helm and how or why the build might result in a lesser product. The first part of that equation is as the Auto-Helm is a very good, solid and very simple design. The idea that it is too difficult to build is silly and only a tyro-on-steroids could screw it up as there's really no rocket science involved. Or, to put it another way, you'd really have to be pretty useless to screw it up.

The second part of the mix is that the materials needed to build such a beast are pretty cheap. You'd be hard-pressed to be able to spend more on materials than $500 and, with a bit of savvy shopping, you could pretty easily do it for about half that.

This means that if you have an IQ above room temperature, are not a total tyro, and don't pay silly stupid money for needful materials, you can save around $5000 on a just-as-good-as an Auto-Helm self-steering gear.

Sounds like a win/win to me.

So far so good but there's another factor of DIY that comes in to play here as DIY gives one the opportunity to build something that is actually superior to what you can buy.

Take the Auto-Helm as an example. It's a very good, solid, and very simple design that is somewhat long in the tooth. For instance, the foils (rudder and trimtab) are a bit crude and could easily be improved by adopting a NACA foil. Another easy to improve upgrade to the Auto-Helm would be the use of Dyneema vane-to-trimtab control lines which would be stronger with less friction than the stainless wire. Lastly, the Auto-Helm is a beast weight-wise and a bit of thoughtful weight reduction during construction would be no bad thing either. It wouldn't surprise me either if you'd find some other improvements as well.

Truth be told, any of those improvements would result in a better self-steering gear than the standard Auto-Helm on the market so it's not like the only reason you go the DIY route is just about money.

Then again, you can do a whole lot elsewhere on your boat with that extra $5K in your pocket.

Just saying.

Listening to Letters to Cleo

So it goes...