Monday, June 3, 2013

Autopilot Fairlure

We departed Nanny Cay marina after an extended stay, We found the local cuisine to give us stomach problems. Then the weather window closed. What had been intended as a four day stay expended to eight days. We worked our way out of the British Virgin Islands. It was fun for me to pass Soper’s Hole – the west end of Tortola Island. We then proceeded in 5 to 7 foot beam seas to work our way around Jost Van Dyke. Although the rolling was uncomfortable we had good wind and set course for Grand Turk Island. I figured that once we got closer (its 400 NM) we could work out a strategy for either going up inside the Turks and Bahamas or staying out in the Atlantic. We had not gone more than ½ hour when we heard a loud groaning noise. I went to the cockpit and determined that it was coming from the autopilot. Shifting a bunch of gear I was able to get into the stern locker. I found that nothing was blocking the autopilot ram but that when I turned off the autopilot the noise went away. We had not rigged the Monitor so I decided to return to the nearest island where we could shelter overnight (it was about midnight local) and sort things out in the morning. After hand steering for about an hour we were able to make landfall in a partially protected cove. After setting the anchor (my normal 200 feet of chain and 100 feet of rode in 30 feet of water – its there, why not use it?  I sleep better!  (Having the rode also acts as a nice shock absorber to the chain, it is much easier on the windless.)

After a somewhat rocky night at anchor I woke up and emptied out the stern locker. Again nothing seemed amiss. I think that the autopilot was part of the original installation on the boat. This would make it about 17 years old. I got out my trusty West Marine catalog and discovered that a new ram was $2,000 in the US.  Not a good way to start the day. Since almost all of the remaining equipment on the boat is Garmin I priced a new Garmin autopilot – about $4,000.

Early In my solo sailing experience the autopilot failed. It was the control head in the cockpit. I learned two things from that experience. Raymarine repairs took months (I waited three months for “my turn” in line, then the technician declared .the control head broken in 5 minutes) and that the control head, computer, and drive unit needed to be matched for them to work. I realized that I should call Raymarine technical support for advice. I spoke to the technician. He told me that it sounded like the clutch needed to be rebuilt and that it would be repaired for a flat fee of $575 and that it would be about a one week turnaround. This sounded a lot better than $2,000. The problem of course is that I am in the Virgin Islands. Shipping the unit to New Hampshire, paying for a marina for a month, and the cost of shipping it back would cost more than a new unit even at inflated Virgin Island prices. That assumes that the proper sub-model of drive unit were here and could be installed. Fat chance of that. The problem with world cruising: once you are away from your home base repairs and parts can get very expensive. The shipping costs to repair the watermaker were in excess of 400 Euros. “Overnight” packages take weeks to move around and get thru customs. It was not an appealing solution.

Since I had used the Monitor wind steering to cross the Atlantic twice I decided to set it up so that we could use it to sail to the Bahamas. Andy and I sorted everything out and were ready to go when a wave of thunderstorms decided to work its way across the area. We were both tired from the night before. We decided to get a long rest and leave early tomorrow morning. That will give us a full day of daylight to sort out the vane. Hopefully it will all work out fine.

Fair winds and following seas,

 

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