|You could water ski out here!|
Life was good! We were sailing along at 7-9 knots. After a couple of days at this rate, it happened! The autopilot steering gave out! Actually, we learned later that it was a matter of cleaning the graphite build-up out of the brushes. We checked everything in the trouble shooting manual, but could not find the access to the brushes. Being coached by other skippers on the Rally SSB Radio Net helped, but none of them had the same type of system we do, so we were not looking in the right place. Ironically, we listened to a lecture on cleaning these brushes. Apparently we assumed the User's Manual would direct us to them. NOT!
Now that we are on land and had others look at it, it could have been a very easy fix. (Sorry crew!) Most of the lessons are learned under challenging situations at sea! Our wonderful crew rose to the situation and were steady at the helm day and night - and day and night and ...
Fortunately the autopilot problem was our only major issue during the crossing. With the high winds and seas and intermittent flat spells, the trip took longer this year. We basically followed the rhumb line and made tracks to Tortola. The lack of the autopilot caused the crew to hand steer for 700 miles. Their watches went from two hours to one hour on the last day as fatigue set in. I could only handle the wheel for an hour and a half before my shoulders started screaming "no more!" Bob and Larry were terrific and determined to stay the course (maybe they just wanted to get off the boat??). Thanks, guys!