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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Shouldas: Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Lessons (Part II: Autopilot)

Wayne removing our steering wheel to access
our Raymarine wheel-based autopilot drive.
We bi---ed, moaned and complained about our Raymarine wheel autopilot*.  Though from St. Martin in January 2013, all the way back to Florida, then throughout the Bahamas (over 3,000 miles between the two) and from Florida to Cuba, (~600 miles) it did work, mostly.


Gearing up for our South Pacific passage, Wayne did studious research… especially the long passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, French Polynesia; 3,000 miles and the longest unbroken open ocean stretch in the world.  Between those two points, there is nothing but open ocean.   

Autopilots failed with alarming frequently.

Given our recent autopilot issues from Cuba to Providencia, we decided to order not just one, but two autopilot drives (the part that failed) to back up our currently working autopilot before we left Panama for the 1,000 mile Panama - Galapagos passage, to be followed by a 3,000 Galapagos – Marquesas passage.  Before we arrive in New Zealand by their cyclone season in November 2015, Panama was our best location to acquire any needed parts for the 5,000 or so miles we’d cover this year.

We did everything we could to baby our autopilot….
  • Most of the time, we only ran our genoa (headsail), as if we used our main or even our tiny mizzen sails it stressed our autopilot.  Made for slow going.
  • Wayne set the sensitivity down low on autopilot, which allowed to to sashay more rather than put in more effort to maintain course.  Also made for slow going.
  • Wayne handsteered more often to reduce our use on the autopilot.
  • A dampened washcloth was kept on the drive motor, to help keep it cool.


Our autopilot worked, more or less, until 23 days into our 32-day Galapagos – Marquesas passage.

And then it didn’t.  At all. 

 Once again... 
  • Wayne replaced the autopilot drive.  He’s gotten so much “practice” at this, it takes him less than 10 minutes to make the fix.
  • Then Wayne replaced the new and our newly broken autopilot drive with parts from the first and our existing autopilot.  And then he put in our second new autopilot replacement drive
  • Then Wayne put in our newly broken autopilot drive with parts from the second and our existing autopilot. 
  • Then Wayne cobbled together the best of our existing remaining parts from all our autopilots.


Wayne quickly removed the autopilot from our wheel
to swap out the old Raymarine autopilot for a new one.
Miraculously, we made it in those last 750 miles and 8 ½ days to the Marquesas with the cobbled autopilot still “working.”  It “worked” throughout the rest of our travels through the Marquesas, though with no multi-day passages in that stretch, it’s not such a big deal.

Tomorrow Wayne’s installing a CPT wheel pilot we ordered from the U.S. and received in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas.  It doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles our Raymarine autopilot has.  But, more important, CPT autopilots have a reputation for rock-solid performance.  CPT owners rave about their autopilots.  Raymarine wheel autopilots, like us, typically use profanity to describe their autopilot’s performance, and we’re not talkin’ “Hot Damn!”

In a “past life” I worked in Hewlett-Packard’s marketing department.   Part of my responsibilities included figuring out the right customer for our product and making sure why was clearly articulated.  If I were naming our Raymarine autopilot, I would call it “The Little Weekender.”  For smaller boats, especially if they’re motor boats (not sailboats) and not making multi-day, continuous passages, our Raymarine autopilot is fine.  But for a small South Pacific-bound cruising sailboat making the requisite multi-day passages, it’s inadequate.

And then there’s CPT…. Our CPT customer service experience thus far is simply outstanding.  Watch a future post for details and to find out how it’s working out – install and performance.

Also, watch for yet another Shouldas: Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Lessons Part III.  Or – check out Part I Shouldas:  Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Passage if you haven’t seen it.

*FYI – an autopilot is a device that automatically steers the boat to a set course.  Imagine you were driving from Alaska to Chile, nonstop.  Wouldn’t you like it if your car could be steered for you, and your job would be to make sure it ran smoothly, stayed on course and didn’t hit anything?  Autopilots are like an extra crew member, sharing the load….

Location Location
We’re currently anchored in Taiohae Bay, on Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia (S8.54.856 W140.05.880) with a new CPT autopilot in hand waiting for install before we head off to the Tuomotos, which are ~450 miles away, likely a 5-day, non-stop passage.  It will be a good test for our new CPT autopilot.