My lovely wife says she will buy me an autopilot for our sailboat. I'm hoping you folks can help me make a decision.
Our boat is a Cascade 36 cutter rig, with a 13,000 pound displacement. It is already equipped with a nice hydraulic steering system and an 6 cubic inch ram pushing a balanced rudder. We sail in Puget sound where there is a great deal of fast-moving commercial boat traffic, and a lot of logs in the water requiring a constant lookout. The open cockpit of our boat requires that the control head be very weatherproof since it will be exposed even when we're docked. We see a lot of heavy wave action in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet, so holding a course is not always easy. The winds are not very dependable, so we spend a good deal of time under diesel power.
I've looked through the sailnet archives for autopilot info, which has been helped me figure out what's important. The autopilot needs to do only two things for me: (1) hold a designated compass course and (2) hold a point of sail on a close reach. This will allow the helmsman to temporarily leave the helm to assist with sails, scan the surroundings for incoming commercial traffic, or tend to an emergency.
I have no desire to allow a GPS to control the autopilot. I love having a GPS, but I can't see ever trusting it to steer the boat. I'm reasonably competent with tools and electronics, so I plan to do the installation myself.
Raymarine has a nice bundle that meets all my needs for about $1800 retail:
I'd want the SmartController remote control ($470) to be able to steer around obstacles from the bow when visibility is poor, so the total price would be about $2270.
Now my questions:
(1) Does the gyro controlled version (S1G corepack) really work well? Anyone used one in a heavy following sea?
(2) Are there any issues with autopilots I should be concerned about?
(3) Can you recommend a mail-order dealer?
(4) Are there other brands of Autopilot I should be looking at?
Thanks in advance!