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The Admirable Cretin 06-04-2013 08:41 AM

I'm hoping for some advice on this.. I'm in the process of buying a boat that's 40+ ft ... medium displacement (around 23000 lbs)... I'll be taking it to Europe from the east coast and intend to remain there for at least a couple of years..
I need to fit a new autopilot as I'll be single-handed on the way over and looking at all the options I find myself getting more and more out of my depth...
I'm going for an autopilot as opposed to a wind vane as I'm familiar enough with the Med to know that a wind-vane would be more of a liability than anything else... if I was fortunate enough to spend my life cruising a wind-vane would be my first option.
There's nothing like first hand experience so I'd like to hear from anyone out there that has some well grounded opinions.. in particular.. can a boat this size and weight comfortably get by with a cockpit wheel drive system or realistically do I have to look at a below decks installation (very expensive) and if so, how hard are these on the power supply... I don't fancy running the motor for 4 weeks just to charge the batteries.
I have tried the 'search' option but there's nothing there that covers the subject sufficiently and as this represents a fairly major outlay I'd like to get it right..
Tales of lousy service from any manufacturers are also welcome... let them suffer for their arrogance. :>) Many thanks T A C

chucklesR 06-04-2013 09:10 AM

Re: AutoPilots
Your displacement is at the limit (24k) of wheel pilot systems (for example Raymarine's type 1 units).
I'd not want to be solo on the Atlantic with a autopilot that was at the limit, for that reason I'd suggest you steer away from wheel pilots (pun intended).
Heck, in my opinion my 20k displacement Irwin 38 CC is too heavy for a wheel pilot, especially once loaded for cruising. Fuel and water (full) will add 2k.

svHyLyte 06-04-2013 09:56 AM

Re: AutoPilots
We have a Robertson/Simrad AP driving a 42' yacht displacing about 23,000 lbs in cruising mode and have found the system very robust (now 16 years old without failure), under some very trying conditions. Our drive is a hydraulic ram type that quite easily handles the ship, even under very adverse wind/sea conditions.


MarkofSeaLife 06-04-2013 10:16 AM

Re: AutoPilots
1 Attachment(s)
My Raymarine 6002 was on my boat when I bought it as an excharter so I guess it had done 5 years non stop. Then I have done 35,000 to 40,000 nms with it.


I dont know about Raymarine service because I have NEVER had to get any of it serviced, looked at or nuffin.

I would never go to sea without my Raymarine 6002.

ccriders 06-04-2013 10:41 AM

Re: AutoPilots
An AP installed in the cockpit is subject to all kinds of unintended consequences. One below deck can be installed to guard against such events. More robust is better than marginal. Power consumption is important, but can be provided from non-engine sources. You will use the most power in the worst conditions, where you might be using the engine anyway. Reliability and backup is very important. Look at the "spares package" if the mfgr recommends one, which they should. And most importantly, install it early enough that you can fully train yourself in all of its operations and capabilities and sea test the installation.
My experience comes mostly from military electronics and some from sailing, none from crossing the Atlantic.

svzephyr44 06-04-2013 12:26 PM

Re: AutoPilots
My advice is to get serious about crossing the Atlantic solo. Do you have any concept of what hand steering after an autopilot failure for 1500 NM (maybe 15 days) would be like? Do you have any sense of what it would be like to heave to in 8 to 10 foot mixed up waves to try and get some sleep? My personal advice - you better have at least two systems for auto steering.

My personal story:
1) Solo crossing, Florida to Portugal - Monitor wind vane 95% of time. I have 560 watts of solar panels - after five days of overcast and storms my batteries were near flat - not using the electric autopilot saved many amps. (Elapsed trip time including stops in Bermuda and Azores - 44 days)
2) Crewed crossing, Canary Islands to Sint Maarten. Wheel steering failed disabling Monitor wind vane. Used Autohelm electric autopilot last 1500 NM. (Repaired wheel steering with quick fix but did not want to stress it if possible.) (Elapsed trip time 27 days)
3) Crewed crossing, BVI to Bahamas - Autohelm autopilot failed. Used Monitor wind vane - becalmed - hand steered 250 NM (Elapsed trip time 11 days)

One last piece of advice - no one else can comment on their experience. My Raymarine autopilot is 17 years old. For the first 13 it was never used in heavy seas and high winds. In the last 4 years 7 to 10 foot seas and 20 to 25 knot winds have been the rule, not the exception. The particular failure mode that I just experienced (on the trip from the BVI) was diagnosed by Raymarine as probable clutch failure. Given how hard the system has had to work for the last 5,000 NM I am not really surprised.

Good luck on your crossing

The Admirable Cretin 06-05-2013 12:21 AM

Re: AutoPilots
Thanks to all for that... It's been 30 years since my last trans Atlantic and I have to remind myself that I don't bounce as easily as I once did..(My last solo trip around the Med a couple of years back, I broke three ribs the first night out and learned to appreciate what people suffer who live with constant pain.. very fatiguing) The AP is going to have be a reliable shipmate and an internal set-up is probably worth the extra expense..

svZephyr44..Out of interest... at what time of the year did you choose to make the Florida / Portugal crossing that proved so miserable ?

Again.. many thanks to all T A C

killarney_sailor 06-05-2013 10:45 AM

Re: AutoPilots
Talking to people doing circumnavigations with autopilots, the great majority (70%?) have had significant problems. Redundancy is your friend, either two autopilots or autopilot and vane.

youmeandthed 06-05-2013 01:52 PM

Re: AutoPilots
we have a raymarine 6000 series that is connected to the quadrant. after breaking old steering cables once or twice, I wouldn't go with a wheel mounted AP. Trimming your sails well really take the stress off the AP, plus having a windvane AP is the best for passages, but you will only use it a minor fraction of the time you are on your boat, and having a clear transom can be a bit nicer.

CaptainForce 06-05-2013 02:51 PM

Re: AutoPilots

Originally Posted by svHyLyte (Post 1039491)
.................. Our drive is a hydraulic ram type that quite easily handles the ship, even under very adverse wind/sea conditions.

HyLyte points out an important factor. The size of the vessel is secondary to the mechanics of the steering system. A low power auto pilot system can easily operate a hydraulic drive that in turn supplies a great force to the steering of the vessel. I would think that worm gear would come next in line with the need for power from the auto pilot and cable with quadrant comming in with the most need of power supply. I "married" a Nexus control head to my 1973 Benmar hyraulic drive twenty years ago and it continues to work well with the drive now forty years old.

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