When it was too dark to look for the dinghy any longer I tried to make Gipsy Moth sail herself so that I could have some sleep. She pigheadedly refused to settle on any of the courses I chose. Finally I gave in to her, furled the mainsail, made the tiller fast and waited to see what she would do. She swung round on to a south-south-west heading and stayed on it, jibbing along at half a knot. This was taking her right into the main shipping lane, but I switched on all my navigation lights and slept soundly till dawn. I had lost my dinghy, but I certainly gained plenty of experience that night.
I was hampered in my trials by having no self-steering gear until 5 May, only five weeks before the start of the race. It was clear that no yacht without a self-steering gear could have a chance against yachts equipped with them. One of the rules of the race was that no yacht could use an automatic pilot – or any other gear – driven by electricity or any other form of power. We were allowed only wind-powered or hand-operated gear.
Atlantic Map Airports Photo Gallery
I had been thinking about self-steering gear from the start, and I had talked it over with an old friend, Allen Wheeler, who was at school with me at The Old Ride, and who is now a celebrated boffin or aviation consultant. He said, You must have a modern self-steering device operated by an air-driven propeller. This was to be like a windmill at the stern of the boat. It would be kept facing into wind by a wind vane, and it would wind up a cord attached to the tiller to pull it one way or the other if the boat’s heading changed relative to the wind.
This sounded marvellous, and I was stuffed full of hope. Presently Allen said that he had not enough time to make it work. By now I was so intrigued with the idea that I took it over myself. I niggled away at the design until I had a model in Meccano working satisfactorily. I showed this to another friend, Dingle Bell of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, and he was enthusiastic about it. He said that Sperry’s would make it for me, and pay me a royalty if it turned out to be a popular design and suitable for all yachts. It was not until March that their engineers came to the conclusion that it would need a minimum of 7mph of wind to actuate it. My hopes were shattered; half my sailing would be done with less than that wind strength. And so in March, after I returned from visiting Vence to get my lung checked up by Jean Mattei, I was stuck with the task of getting myself a self-steering gear with only three months in which to design, to build, and to practise sailing with it.
Every Sunday morning I took a bus to Kensington Gardens where I watched the model yachts being sailed across the Round Pond. I reckoned that if a model yacht can be sailed across the Round Pond without a helmsman, then my yacht could be sailed across the Atlantic in the same way. I bought an excellent book on model yacht sailing, and incidentally learned a lot about ocean racing from it though I dare say the author would be surprised to hear it. My new design was in principle a wind vane, which would always weathercock into wind. In fact it was a mast which could rotate in a socket at the stern of the yacht, with a flat sail instead of a metal vane. As soon as the yacht was sailing to my satisfaction I would lock the vane to the tiller. If the yacht came up into wind, the vane would be moved round with the yacht, and the wind would press on the side of it. This would pull on the tiller until the yacht had been steered back on to its original heading, when the vane would be weathercocked again, and do no work as long as the yacht kept on its original heading. The model yacht book told me that the area of the vane must be four and a half times that of the rudder, and so I designed my vane sail to be 45-square feet. The chief problem in design was to make all the parts, the stays, and the spars, strong enough to stand up to a gale, or even a storm, without being so heavy that it would require too much wind to weathercock the vane. I cannot describe how ugly it looked on the beautiful Gipsy Moth.