Day Three – So Much for Uneventful

Well the last twenty-four hours has proven an interesting course of events.

The Bad News First

In brief, last night around midnight just after I took over watch we lost the autopilot, it failed for what we think is good. It is tough to tell, we have an e-mail into the manufacturer but it is Saturday so we may not hear for a couple of days.

What does this mean? Well, we talked it over and none of us want to turn back. Heading back to the Galápagos would allow us to stop and explore our options. But the Galápagos is a horrid place to try and get your boat fixed. There are virtually no professional services there and getting parts sent in is an expensive, nightmarishly long process. Parts tend to sit on the mainland in customs for weeks before they get shipped to their destination. Not that we wouldn’t mind more time in the Galápagos, but we want to get to the Marquesas too.

To repair it properly and quickly going East would require a return to the mainland either Panama or Ecuador. Neither of these options is appealing and either would spell an end to getting to French Polynesia this year.

In addition we’d STILL have to sail the boat back well over 1,000 miles with no autopilot.

We all decided to sail on and hand steer the boat to the Marquesas, which still lie some 2,600 miles away from us. It involves an extra 5-7 days of hand steering beyond turning tail and returning to Central/South America. We all want to do this and everyone is keyed up to pitch in.

Operational Impact

First and foremost the boat is in no danger, and nothing is compromised beyond her ability to steer automatically on the course we want. The broken part is inside the boat and self contained. No other systems are compromised.

What it affects the most is how we have to stand watch.

Watch with the autopilot is a one person affair. The watch stander checks the course, keeps a lookout, adjusts sails as needed, and makes hourly logs of our position. Otherwise the person on watch free to read, listen to audio books or music. With the boat self driving one person can handle all of the little adjustments the boat might need. Our watch schedule was pretty simple; Will stands from 9:00 – Midnight, B.J. from Midnight -3:00, Kathy from 3:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m and Danielle takes over at 6:00 and stands watch until people start waking up over the next hour or so.

Without an autopilot we need TWO watch standers since the wheel can never be left unattended. Someone must always have a hand on it. Sail trim adjustments therefore require to people one to drive and one to make the adjustments. This applies for most everything, the helmsman must even have a backup to take a short break to use the head. And hand steering can be very exhausting.

The good news is the second person who is not on the helm can get some sleep in the cockpit and relax, since they are only needed when things must be done. The two switch off between hand steering while the other rests and does all the other tasks.

This affects the way we sleep, and everyone must take more watch and some night watch. With four people on board and two people on at any time that means everyone must have twelve hours on watch and twelve off. Ideally you break it up so no one gets over tired and you allow everyone to get at least one six hour block for sleeping.

Our new watch schedule looks like this (I have no idea if this table will translate well to HTML):

0000 B.J. (3) Kathy (6)
0300 Danielle (6)
0600 Will (6)
0900 Kathy (3)
1200 B.J. (6) Danielle (3)
1500 Will (3)
1800 Danielle (3) Kathy (3)
2100 B.J. (3) Will (3)

So everyone has some night time watch and everyone gets some time off. That is the single largest change the passage has become a whole lot more work.

The Good News

Yes there is some good news too!

First, we hit our first 200 mile day ever, 202.4 nautical miles actually during our second 24 hours on the trip. A 200 mile day under sails a very good day on a cruising monohull.

The boat is sailing fast, and we are sailing it fast. The wind and wave conditions have been ideal, with 15-18 knots of wind on a reach and long slow rollers. Evenstar thrives in these conditions.

One unintentional side effect of losing the Autopilot we WILL sail faster. Why? Easy- the autopilot is good at keeping the boat moving in a set direction, but it isn’t a particularly good sailor. It reacts to conditions rather than proactively steering which means it is prone to over steering and moving the boat in more of an S-shaped course that a human helmsman would. Turning the rudder is like dragging a brake in the water, so the autopilot does a lot more turning than needed causing more drag and slowing the boat more than even a marginally competent helmsman would.

So we have that going for us, and that’s nice.

Other Good Stuff

Lest you think making a passage is all grueling hand steering, canned food, disturbed sleep and picking dead flying fish off the deck in the morning you should know that at least we’ve been eating very well this trip.

Before we left the Galápagos we visited an local organic farm (this may get its own post at some point) and stocked up on some great locally grown fruits and vegetables. As fresh as possible, as the farmer cut what we wanted right from the trees and bushes. With some planning and preparation we’ve also stocked up on a decent supply (months worthremember all that Provisioning in Panama?) of meats, cheeses, and staples. So last night we had home made meatballs (with Kathy bravely trying her mother-in-laws famed recipe for the first time off shore, in a moving boat) and eggplant parmagiana, tonight we had chicken quesadilla spiced with hot peppers and tomatoes from the farmer’s garden followed by from scratch brownies.

In the meantime we still have organic oranges, papaya, bananas, pineapples, tomatoes, green onions, watermelons, melons, hot peppers and mandarin oranges hopefully timed with ripeness to carry us for another week or more with fresh stuff.

In truth everyone is motivated to get the boat to the Marquesas by hand if we must. There have been no complaints and everyone is stepping up to do what needs to be done.

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One Comment

  1. Nick says:

    Specifically, what kind of pilot, and what broke?

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