AUTOPILOT FAILURE: Back Across the Gulf of Maine

Self-steering options

I knew this day would come. I recently discussed having to make up new wood-chip “fuses” for the “electric vane” rig on Lunacy, and in the whole time I’ve owned the boat, about eight years now, this has been the only repair I’ve had to do to keep my autopilot system going. But the small tiller-pilot that is the brains of the operation is very old, and I did expect it would fail eventually. Which is what happened when Mr. Lassen and I were scuttling home from Nova Scotia a few days ago.

It wasn’t a big deal at the time, as I have two back-up systems and immediately deployed both, per the photo up top. There is another tiller-pilot, a larger one, that connects directly to the tiller in the conventional fashion, rather than the windvane head, and this can steer the boat when motoring or in light sailing conditions. Also, of course, the wind paddle can be installed on the vane head, so the windvane can be used in the regular way, with the wind instead of the little tiller-pilot providing course data. In the photo here I’ve locked the vane head and dropped the paddle, as the big tiller-pilot is actually doing the steering.

I always worried about having to replace the antique Autohelm 2000 unit I connected to the windvane, until last year that is, when my good friend Jay Paris, a yacht designer and SAIL Magazine’s technical consultant of many decades standing, stepped aboard Lunacy and saw my steering rig.

“I have something for you,” he said with his patented dead-pan smile.

And miracle of miracles, a week later he presented me with a brand new never-been-used Autohelm 2000 unit, still in its original packaging. He explained he had been given this many moons ago to maybe test someday for the magazine, but had never actually gotten around to it.

Old and new Autohelms

My old and new Autohelm 2000 units side by side

Googling around a bit I see that Autohelm wasn’t acquired by Raytheon’s recreational marine division (now Raymarine) until 1990, so I reckon my “new” pilot was produced sometime in the late 1980s.

I reckon too I’ll have to give Jay a big hug and a kiss next time I see him.

Beyond the pilot failure, our Gulf of Maine transit was fairly routine. We left Lockeport in Nova Scotia early on Wednesday and all that day, passing around Cape Sable and out into the Gulf, were motoring in heavy fog. Thursday morning the fog finally lifted and we got just enough breeze to start sailing.

Gulf of Maine sailing

Closehauled in the Gulf, before the pilot failed

It’s always a fantastic feeling, after spending many hours afloat in fog, when you can at last see again. And it is also a fantastic feeling, after spending many hours motoring, when you can at last shut down the engine. So we spent all day Thursday in a double-fantastic-feeling sort of mood.

Chas. Lassen in shirt

Mr. Lassen celebrated by donning his favorite tropical holiday shirt.

Doane with beer

And I celebrated by doing a little product placement for beer and cigar companies.

Lunacy sailing in sunset

Late in the day, on toward sunset, the wind picked up and our sailing angle opened up to a close reach. We had a fast easy night and managed to reach Casco Bay just before sunrise on Friday.

I’ll let you know how it goes getting the new pilot up to speed. Initially the only problem I anticipated was finding a DriPlug connector so I could plug the new control unit’s power line into my existing deck socket. But lo, it turns out the new unit actually comes with a DriPlug connector. So no worries there.

DriPlug connector

Also, I did figure out that DriPlug, a British firm, is still in business. These on-deck 12-volt fittings work great and are very secure and weatherproof. Lunacy‘s original owner, Bob Petterson, installed them all over the boat many years ago and they’ve never given me a lick of trouble.

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