FW: A tale of terror from Toujours or 'Go hug your autopilot now!!'

Tom Steinhoff <sytoujours@...>

As we have a Raymarine linear drive auto pilot on our Mango and it failed pretty much as described, thought you might enjoy this. We have now been at Bonaire for a week and the good news is that the Raymarine did not self destruct as we had turned it off once it started making horrible grinding noises. It will cost about $250 to fix, mainly brushes, balancing, etc. The hydraulic motor failed due to over heating and dirty hydraulic fluid; easy to figure this stuff out in calm water! And obviously the hydraulic pilot will be used extensively in our next passage. Take care out there, Bonnie

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I reckon that most cruisers second greatest fear - the first being losing your boat - would be losing your auto pilot. It only takes one passage, even only 24 hours - to quickly realize that your auto pilot is the best crew member on your boat. What kind of crew would un-complainingly and with great efficiency steer your boat not for hours but for days on end? Not anyone we know, including ourselves! In our early cruising years, we had severe problems with our new auto pilots to the extent that our boat was known as 'auto pilot hell' instead of Toujours. It took 3 years and our first stop in Auckland with the auto pilot rep to begin to straighten out the massive problems- took again too much money but finally by the end of 2001 we had 2 auto pilots, both of which worked exceptionally well; one is a linear using an Ratheon motor and one is a very beefy Wagner hydraulic driven off the quadrant. We did not use the hydraulic pilot very much, it just took
too much power. However, we did check it fairly often, it always worked. We did have to replace one rudder sensor, and I think maybe one control box. The Raytheon worked always; however, it did start to make some clicking sounds, maybe for a half hour early on in a passage, then always stopped. Mistake number one, did not check it out.
So, here we were 5 days ago in Trinidad, doing the ever present and required boat work - would be happy to give you details, we love the quality and price of work that is available there- and way too quickly, with no rest (mistake number 2), got the boat (after 1 week in the yard) ready to go to Tobago and maybe Grenada and then to Bonaire for the summer. Weather quickly decided that the best course was to Bonaire. However, before we turned the corner, the linear auto pilot, at about 3 pm of the day we left, died, rather painfully, it seemed. So, while I steered for a few minutes, Tom turned on the backup hydraulic auto pilot and voila! everything is wonderful, worked flawlessly. At this point we could have got to Grenada pretty easily, mistake number 3. On the next morning at about 9 am, the hydraulic auto pilot screamed and stopped working. Again, I steer while Tom checks it out. At first, with tools, etc., it seemed like it had just become
dis-connected from the rudder sensor. So, with some work he got it re-attached. And of course, this was not the problem. By now I had been steering for almost 2 hours, and forgot to mention that the wind is 20 to 25 knots off the starboard quarter, big swells, but all mostly behind us. Tom quickly realizes that we have no recourse to fixing the hydraulic Wagner ram, there are no parts for it, and would really take calm water and lots of time to resolve the problems. Yikes, not available.
So, with very resigned curses, we realized that we were not only in auto pilot hell, but we would get to steer for the next 48 hours or so that it would take us to get to Bonaire. Go hug your auto pilot right this second!! By about noon of that day, now on my second steerage, I stated that I could no longer steer with all the sails up, the pressure on the rudder/wheel was too much for me. Had we had a working auto pilot we would probably have turned into the wind, dropped the main, and continued on with the head sail and the mizzen sail. On our boat this is very balanced and very comfortable. Well, since the person steering has their entire body and mind into steering, the off person has to handle everything else, including sail changes, etc. Suddenly we realize just how vulnerable we really are, one person has to basically single hand while the steering person tries to control the boat. Big yikes. That night we straightened the sails and motored to
better control the boat - we were pitching and yawing too much. What a night, we had to take turns of one hour on one hour off, impossible to do more than 1 hour steering. The next day, more of the same, wind picked up a bit, lots of pressure on the steering wheel. Pretty quickly you end up sort of living in a very strange tunnel, all you can think of while steering is what you will do on your hour off. Pretty tetchy about that hour, if someone asks you to do something simple like pulling an airmail grib file, the response is something like do it on your own time!! By the evening of the second night, it was clear that we would get to Bonaire around 1 am, we figured we could probably go into the marina as we had been there before. By now, of course, very tired and not making very good decisions. It took a lot of work at around 2 am in the protected side of Bonaire - the wind is till 20 to 25 but no swells - to get the main down; I wanted to open a
bottle of champagne! And as there was no moon, couldn't see anything much, so we ended up just slowly motoring until 6 am when we could finally see well enough to pick up a mooring. Slept for 3 hours or so and then checked in, got email access, etc.
My therapy for this trauma is writing this email! I composed it through at least 2 watches, then got off on such things as trying to recall all the girls in my girl scout troop from 4th and 5th grades - got at least 8 or them, but I am pretty sure we had at least 12 girls! Crikey, the things you do to try to keep yourself together! We will be working on the auto pilots for the next days, and are now planning to re-install the Autohelm 3000 that came with the boat as a backup - we actually used it in 1998 to get us back to San Diego from Cabo San Lucas. Three has got to be the charm!
Hope all is well with all of you, we will be in Bonaire for the next 3 months, cheers, Bonnie and Tom, still on Toujours 

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