How does CapeHorn
compare with MONITOR?


I am often asked at  boat shows how the CapeHorn Self-Steering gear compares with MONITOR. 

I have always avoided commenting performance, as I did not want to lose my precious credibility making statements on matters I have no direct experience of, as all the self-steering gears I have ever used were of my own design.  However, I can quote the words of Guy Stevens, who has experienced both gears ;  On the subject of self-steering gear, here is what he wrote  in a blog in which he commented on the equipment he had used on his boat Pneuma (the bold type is ours) :

"Monitor Windvane - HMMM. This is a tough one to write about. It almost works all of the time. It will only steer the boat if it is underpowered, and trimmed for neutral or a slight bit of lee helm. It has steered for at least 6,000 miles. We use it a lot, and swear at getting everything just the way that it wants so that it will steer. I vacillate a lot on whether I would purchase one again or just put a really good autopilot instead.

It will always be the way it works, steering an S-shaped course; it won't sail the boat if she is perfectly tuned for speed, and if the boat should catch a gust or a wave that pushes her around it won't compensate quickly enough, and requires that you steer the boat back onto the course and then set everything up again. Lots of the cruisers out there have had significant problems with the welds on their units: something that Scanmar has been quick to send replacement parts for in most cases, but it is still a huge hassle waiting for and getting replacement parts through customs in far-off countries. 

In June of 2002 I had the opportunity to take Jemima, a boat with an almost identical underbody, to Pneumas from New Zealand to Tonga. Having just completed the installation of a Cape Horn wind vane on Jemima, we used it extensively on the trip. I found the Cape Horn to be superior in all respects to the Monitor. It was easier to adjust course, steered a straighter course, was less sensitive to balance issues, delivered more power to the steering apparatus, looked neater, and was much simpler in operation and construction.

However, there is more to say about our relative solution to the problem of making a boat seer itself. I generally try to dismiss the matter by saying that being a generation apart, they do not really compare.  The first Hasler gears gears had a vertical axis windvane driving the servo-pendulum he had invented. First generation.  Then  Marcel Gianoli introduced the quasi-horizontal axis vane, soon adopted by all : Monitor, Windpilot, Sailomat, Aries, Navik ... Second generation.  But those gears are an afterthought, an add-on bolted to the transom, steering through lines over the deck to the wheel.  The CapeHorn  'philosophy' is  that a voyaging boat should be made to steer itself with a system which is as much part of the boat as the mast, sails or engine  The CapeHorn self-steering is integrated into the boat and into its steering system.  Third generation.

I happened to pick up a MONITOR sales brochures at a recent boat show and thought I could do the exercise of comparing our respective solutions.  The text in blue is quoted from the MONITOR brochure.

The Scanmar/MONITOR History. 

 The first MONITOR windvane was made in 1975 in the garage of a retired Southern California engineer.  Scanmar started selling windvanes in 1977 and purchased the MONITOR project in 1981 when only a few hundred vanes had been produced.  Scanmar brought practical knowledge to the business, based on a 1970-76 circumnavigation that the current owner Hans Bernwall and his sailing partner had done with  FIA their 40 ft Alden cutter.  In those days, there was no windvane on the market that fit their boat and they had to make their own.  After considerable time and expense, the result was an auxiliary rudder system with a trimtab.   

Which means MONITOR, which does not use an auxiliary rudder and trimtab, is a different vane than the one Hans Bernwall and his partner circumnavigated with.

The CapeHorn History 

I started cruising under sail in 1963 and immediately became interested in making a boat steer itself.  In 1968, I built a gear  for my first boat, a 24 ft sloop (vertical vane driving a Hasler-type servo-pendulum) and used it in  my first single-handed passage. I purchased my Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud in 1973 and built a second self-steering gear (horizontal vane driving an auxiliary rudder) that steered a few passages between the East Coast and the West Indies, then across the Atlantic.  In 1978, I was in France, and I started preparing  my boat and myself to sail back to Québec single-handed and non -stop.  However, I would not sail directly : I would make a big detour through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn.  I was well aware that such a voyage would require a super-heavy duty self-steering gear.

I had learned by experience that my present auxiliary rudder would not work in the Southern ocean, only a servo-pendulum driving the main rudder could control a  boat in long downwind runs.  I spent considerable time on the design, built a prototype in aluminum, tested it, then had it copied in stainless steel and sailed out of Saint-Malo Sept. 1, 1981.  I did not make it non-stop, I was capsized and dismasted in the Southern Ocean ; but after splicing the mast and refitting,  I completed the  voyage at Gaspé, Québec, May 9, 1983, having sailed 28,200 miles in 282 days. 

 During  this voyage, I never had to steer : the gear I had designed kept Jean-du-Sud  on the required course on all points of sail, as soon as there was enough wind to sail, as long as I could carry sail – and even under bare poles.  I never had to reef or alter optimum sail trim to make it easier for the self-steering.   Under jury rig, it was still steering!

After this test, I judged my prototype could be offered other sailors.  I named it CapeHorn  and in July 1989, created CapeHorn Marine Products.

The Servo-Pendulum principle

The next chapter of the MONITOR brochure describes the principle of the servo-pendulum and explains how this is better than other  self-steering systems. It also mentions the fact that windvanes and autopilots complement each other, the autopilot being used in calm, and the windvane steering as soon as the wind blows.   I totally agree with this.

Boats with tiller or wheel steering

How are control lines led to the boat’s steering gear?  On tiller-steered boats, similar in both systems : the lines are led to the tiller at a distance which provides  a ratio of 2 : 1 between lateral pendulum tilt and rudder angle : for a pendulum tilt of 10°, both want a 5° rudder angle.

The pendulum lines are connected to the MONITOR wheel adapter which is made of stainless steel ... [



The CapeHorn  control lines wrap around individual grooved Delrin cylinders fastened to the spokes of the wheel and placed at such a distance from the hub that the ideal ratio of 2 : 1 between servo-pendulum tilt and rudder angle is arrived at. 


 Can lines in the cockpit be avoided?

Yes, they can, but in our opinion, lines in the cockpit are necessary with the servo-pendulum gear and the disadvantage is very slight. Keep in mind that with the MONITOR doing all the steering, you do not spend much time at the helm where the lines are! (…) WE STRONGLY ADVISE AGAINST GOING INTO THE LAZARETTE HOOKING THE LINES UP DIRECTLY TO THE QUADRANT OR A SHORT TILLER UNDER DECK.  

The upper-case and bold type are theirs.  Here, I am afraid Hans Bernwall overstretches his credibility when he hides the fact that CapeHorn  has been doing precisely this for over twenty-five years.  

On a normal tiller installation, the pendulum lines should be attached 20 – 30 inches from the rudder shaft (2 : 1 ratio). If you go inside the lazarette, you might find room for a 10-12" long tiller but obviously you can not steer a big boat with such a short tiller.  In order to get enough power, you would have to include some sort of purchase system. If you add a myriad of blocks you will introduce a lot more friction which is bad for performance.  You also use up valuable storage space and operation of the vane will probably be difficult.

Not a myriad, Hans, only one per control line! Remember the CapeHorn Self-Steering is integrated into the boat, with the servo-pendulum trailing behind the boat linked (through a tube bonded to the hull) to a quadrant inside the lazarette.  If you lead the two control lines coming from this quadrant through two blocks fastened on the boat’s steering quadrant (or disk, or auxiliary tiller…) at a distance (from the rudder axis) equal to the radius of the CapeHorn quadrant, you automatically obtain the ideal  2 : 1  ratio, this single block doubling the force and halving rudder angle. 


You then lead those lines to a pair of jamming cleats  located within reach of the helm.  To connect the self-steering, pull the two lines tight and jam-cleat.  To disconnect, yank the lines free.  To adjust for any weather or lee helm on a given point of sail, pull one line tighter. 

In most cases, connecting the lines internally requires fewer blocks than leading them over the deck to a drum on the wheel (not to mention the fact that any pre-existing cables and sheaves between the wheel and the rudder quadrant contribute considerably more friction when the force of the pendulum is transmitted to the rudder through the wheel than they do when the force of the pendulum drives the rudder stock directly, bypassing the wheel), which means better performance.  If a little space needs to be used up, CapeHorn believes it is better used up in the lazarette than in the cockpit.

With a CapeHorn, lines in the cockpit can be avoided

Construction and transmission mechanism

Both gears are built of 316L stainless steel.  Except the MONITOR transmission gears are Silicon Bronze.

  The MONITOR gear set consists of the pinion gear (top) and the ring gear (bottom).  The gears are designed with a feedback mechanism to prevent the MONITOR from over steering and “fish tailing”.  The maximum correction happens when the gear is in neutral position.  When the pendulum swings to the side, the rotation of the pendulum is gradually decreased.[

The main technical problem in designing a self-steering gear is to transform the vertical movement of a connecting rod coming from the vane, into the rotating movement of the servo-pendulum stock, which will cancel itself as the stock tilts laterally (to avoid “fish tailing”).  The “Southern California engineer" who made the MONITOR retained the obvious solution : gears, made of bronze.  I am no engineer, but I felt that there could be a more elegant solution. After experimenting with different systems for more than a year almost full-time, I came up with a single piece of bent ¼” stainless steel rod with several precise bends in it. First, two 90° elbows at its aft end form a crank.  The up-and-down motion of the vertical connecting rod that descends from the vane is transformed by this crank to a rotary motion of the horizontal rod. Then, further forward, the horizontal rod assumes the shape of a “Z”. The central branch of the “Z” passes through a slot in the stock of the vertical servo-pendulum blade. As the tilting vane moves the connecting rod up or down, the rotating crank causes the central branch of the “Z” to move out of its initial fore-and-aft orientation, which in turn rotates the pendulum about the vertical axis of its stock.  This permits the flow of water past the servo-pendulum to tilt the pendulum very powerfully about a horizontal axis. It is the strong force of the tilting pendulum that turns the rudder, and it continues to do so until the vane loses its tilt and brings the central branch of the “Z” back into a fore-and-aft orientation  

MONITOR : When the pendulum swings to the side, the rotation of the pendulum is gradually decreased.

CapeHorn : When the pendulum swings to the side, the rotation of the pendulum falls to zero. The rudder correction is absolutely proportional to the tilt of the vane and course variation. 

The MONITOR airvane pivoting unit has two sets of delrin ball bearings in stainless steel races. The pinion gear has two sets of delrin roller bearings and the pendulum shaft has top and bottom delrin roller bearings in stainless steel cups. These bearings make a tremendous difference especially in difficult windvane conditions, which is light air and downwind when the apparent wind is very weak.  The airvane has very little power in these conditions and friction in a windvane will kill performance.

CapeHorn reduces friction at the source : our transmission mechanism has fewer parts and all bearing surfaces are polished ¼” dia. stainless steel rod on UHMW bushings.  The servo-pendulum stock is polished stainless steel inside Teflon bushings.  This absence of bearings does not seem to affect light air, downwind performance, as CapeHorn is the only self-steering gear in the world capable of steering   downwind in light air, with the main to one side and a reacher to the other, and there is no pole holding the clew of the reacher or genoa.
ZThis performance is documented in last images of the (multiple award-winning) film With Jean-du-Sud Around the World filmed first from a plane, then closer from a powerboat, Jean-du-Sud sails into the bay of  Gaspé under that precise sail combination ; when it  is rocked by the wake of the powerboat, the sail does not collapse ; the gear capable of such performance had just steered  28 000 miles, and the servo-pendulum bushings on the prototype had been cut from a piece of PVC pipe (they are now Teflon)!

Witness Unmatched CapeHorn Performance


The smaller number of moving parts, aside from ensuring superior performance and making breakage less likely, allows us to offer the CapeHorn at a lower price.

Installation on different boats

MONITOR provides different mounting arms to mount their gear on different types of stern.

Each individual CapeHorn gear is custom : the model is chosen according to the type  of stern of each boat and it is built to the dimensions that will provide the tightest fit.

The MONITOR brochure illustrates installations on different types of boats which I have matched with the CapeHorn solution (the slightly inferior quality of the MONITOR pictures comes from the fact that they were scanned from their brochure). 


Those who appreciate beauty in yachts have formed their own opinion.

Boats with davits

MONITOR : We strongly believe that an oceangoing sailing boat should not carry a dinghy in davits.  Eventually it will be lost in rough weather.  There is also a conflict between windvanes and the davits.

The CapeHorn gear  needs only 4 inches of space aft of the boat and can easily share the stern with davits.  On a passage, a prudent owner would stow the dinghy on deck or below, but a self-steering gear  is also used in coastwise cruising, when davits are most useful.  The photo illustrates what is  impossible with MONITOR or any other vane: canoe stern, self-steering and davits.



Alternatively, the windvane tower can be located at the forward end of the horizontal axle (and built tall enough to pick up the wind above an arch).


Owner’s Manual

Both have their own Owner’s manual, with detailed instructions for installation as well as operation.  We estimate that 90% of the MONITORs are installed by the owners themselves and this is encouraged by Scanmar.

This is also true for CapeHorn.   Because it is integrated into the boat, installation looks intimidating, but it actually is easier than it seems and most users who normally work on their boat perform their own installation.  However, we have installers in various locations and occasionally travel ourselves to perform installations.  In the past season, we have performed  installations in New-York, Seattle, Ibiza, Cadix, Nice, as far as Panama

Spare parts kit

We strongly recommend all MONITOR owners to carry the MONITOR Spare Part kit.

CapeHorn uses no spare parts : it is built strong and durable enough in the first place.  During the whole 28000 mile voyage through the Roaring Forties, I did not have to replace a single part on the prototype.

Offset installation

A swim ladder in the middle of the transom.  Can the MONITOR be mounted to the side?  Yes it can, but if you are serious about self-steering and want maximum performance, we strongly suggest that you move the swim ladder and put the windvane in the middle where it belongs.  You would not have the mast off center to make room for the dinghy!

CapeHorn was the first to dare install a vane off the centerline.  Up till then, it was believed that a vane needed to be centered.  Experience shows that an offset installation has no noticeable effect on performance.  I installed the CapeHorn gear on Argonauta, a Bénéteau Moorings 45 in Tortola, BVI, then the boat sailed around the world.  The crew had flown back from Australia when I asked the owner if he had noticed a difference on performance on either tack, and he answered none at all.

Naturally, whenever possible, it is better to offset a ladder, but boats with opening transoms can also enjoy the advantages of an integrated CapeHorn installation.



Both systems come with two vanes. The MONITOR vanes are made of  polycarbonate.  The CapeHorn vanes are unbreakable : the light air vane is spinnaker cloth inside a 3 mm stainless steel wire frame (it can only bend) ; the heavy weather vane is aluminum.

Mizzen boom

If you insist to have an airvane that fits under the mizzen boom, an optional shorter mizzen vane is available.  In general, we feel that this vane isn't necessary, since tacking and jibing is "the event of the week" in normal cruising.  All MONITOR vanes can be taken off in seconds and put back after the tack and when a preventer is on the boom. The standard high aspect airvanes are more effective than the shorter wider version.  If you want to short tack up a narrow channel, the mizzen airvane could come in handy, but normally we suggest that you use either the mizzen or the MONITOR.  Hundred of boats with mizzen booms have MONITORS. We do not consider it to be a problem.

Each CapeHorn gear being custom-built, the  windvane tower can be made short enough to keep the vane below the mizzen boom (you will be able to tack up that channel under self-steering).  (It can also be made tall enough to reach clear air over a dodger, a bimini or an arch).

Electric autopilot hook up

Both systems allow to control the
servo-pendulum with a small autopilot.

On the MONITOR the autopilot sits on the pushpit and replaces the vane.  [


On the CapeHorn, the system is built-in : the autopilot is located inside the lazarette, out of the weather, and connected to the front end of the co-axial control rod. 


Stepless remote course control

Both systems offer stepless remote control.


The MONITOR servo-blade is stainless steel, one size fits all.  The CapeHorn blade is made of fiberglass.  To provide adequate power, while keeping drag to a minimum, the wetted area of each blade is proportional to the rudder area, also taking into account resistance in the boat's steering system. 

Both allow to flip the paddle up out of the water when the vane is not used (MONITOR pivots aft, CapeHorn laterally). Both are  easily removed and stowed below.

Overload Protection

MONITOR : Between the hinge and the water paddle is the safety tube.  This is an inexpensive sacrificial stainless tube designed to buckle in case of an overload.[

The CapeHorn servo-pendulum blade is held locked to its stock by an elastic link that keeps two notches in its mount in contact with two pins on the sides of the stock. If the blade hits an obstacle, this assembly comes apart.  No buckled part to replace.



 Swing Gate

A MONITOR windvane will take you there, but you do not want to give up your swim platform.  Sounds familiar? The Perfect solution is here...[


"perfect solution". 






Emergency rudder

Both systems offer a solution to rudder failure :  MONITOR replaces the servo-pendulum paddle with a larger one that acts as an emergency rudder ;.  The CapeHorn emergency rudder is fastened on the windvane tower tube.


We could find more differences but those are the most significant.  You can judge which of those two systems offers the most elegant solution to the problem of making a sailboat steer itself.

I will not be surprised if Scanmar keeps selling more gears than CapeHorn, they are more agressive in their marketing, they are located closer to their market and they need to keep their crew of 7 busy. 

The CapeHorn crew is two people : My nephew and neighbor Eric Sicotte builds the vanes, I take care of the rest ; the shop is located in Oka, on the Northern shore of the Ottawa River behind the houses we both grew up in.  Eric's boat, Irwin 25 Complice, rests on a mooring in front of his house .

I would never have gone through the trouble of putting a new product on the world market  if I knew it was just as good as what was already offered.   I launched CapeHorn because I was convinced I had a superior product : the only way of making that demonstration was to offer it to other sailors.  The first years were rough, but 15 years later, CapeHorn Marine Products provides Eric and myself with a comfortable living in a pleasant environment.  

Marketing a Self-Steering gear nowadays mostly amounts to answering E-Mails.  Fortunately, business is quieter in the summer months ; this is when the CapeHorn Sales Office moves aboard Jean-du-sud (through wi-fi, cellular, satellite, HF etc),  while Eric, not yet of retirement age, keeps the shop open and sails Complice in home waters.

Rest assured, Hans, our ambition with CapeHorn is not to dominate the world windvane market, it is only  to keep living as we do now. 

Pourvu que ça dure!

Y.G., May 2006

Suite : Quotes from Satisfied CapeHorn Users

CapeHorn Integrated Self-Steering

An image is worth a thousand words
and sending it by E-mail is so easy:
send us pictures of the stern of your boat,
the cockpit and lazarette area,
its steering gear, belowdecks if needed.

We will suggest a model and its installation,
and tell you what and where to measure
to build a gear that will fit your boat perfectly


Witness how some of our customers have, on their blog or web site,  described their installation and use of the CapeHorn




Beneteau First 375 ASCENSION

Bristol 32 KESTREL


Cape Dory 28 CELTIC RAY

Cape Dory 36 FAR REACH

Contessa 26 BIRGITTA

Contessa 26 CAVENDYSH

Ericson 39B SENTA II

Frances 26 Anihoya

Hallberg Rassy Monsun JANNA

Hallberg Rassy Rasmus


Kaskelot 10.30 SALT

Kelly-Peterson 44 TAJ

Pacific Seacraft Dana SOCKDOLAGER

Pacific Seacraft Orion SAOIRSE

Pearson 33 HERMES



Westsail 32 NEVERLAND

Westsail 32 RODE TRIP

Read Andy Schell's article on

Jean-du-Sud and the Magick-Byrd,
the book by Yves Gélinas that narrated his 28 000 mile single-handed circumnavigation through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn aboard Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud, has been translated in English and published by Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson of 59 North Sailing.

It was first published in French in Canada in 1986, then in France in 1996. 

Available both in print, and as a podcast,
read by the author.

-Order the Book- 

-Download the Podcast-

CapeHorn is the choice of

Andy Shell and Mia Karlsson.

Donna Lange, for

Sail Twice Around
Non-Stop Sail around the World

With Jean-du-Sud Around the World
-watch the trailer and order the video-


Listen to David Anderson's Sailing Podcast featuring Yves Gélinas