We were at the house in NC this past week to work on some Hurricane prep and finish installing the autopilot. Having accomplished this I finally got a chance to take the boat out for my first solo sail.
The boat is a 35' swing keel sloop, which is just the right and comfortable size for the two of us, but was not set up for singlhandling. The winches are a bit far forward from the wheel and all the main work has to be done at the mast.
This picture is from a year ago when we bought the boat, in all my excitement this past week I forgot (uncharacteristically) to take the camera along on my sail.
So as long as the admiral was aboard there were no problems, but I was reluctant to try it alone without a working autopilot. I admit to a bit of cautiousness, but I am in my early 60's and don't feel I have so many cat lives left. I have been only sailing for 10 years and this is our first boat, so I fully admit to being a newbie at this.
The S-1 wheel pilot worked very well under motor, but less when under sail, specifically in tacking. I suspect I have some tweaking to do with the parameters in its program.
The afternoon was near ideal, with the exception of thunderstorms along the south side of the river (which later provided a nice rainbow to end my sail). The winds were 15 to 20 and with the thunderstorms not too far off I opted to put the main up with a reef in. The autopilot held the boat into the wind perfectly making it easy to raise the main. I still wore a PFD and harnessed myself to the mast while there.
I set the jib and I was off on a beam reach at nearly 6 knots. With the sails trimmed (as well as I can) the autopilot would hold course and speed for as far as I wanted to go. But when tacking, either to port or starboard, it would begin the tack but not complete it and end up loosing course. Still I could find the time to manage the sails during the tack and get back to the wheel to finish it. Or I could start the tack manually, set a new course and then adjust the sails. Tacking was not efficiently accomplished (some might use the term awkward), but it got done anyway. Jibing was totally different, there the autopilot worked just fine. So I have to find the right settings to improve the tacking performance, but all in all I think it went well. (Hey I made it back to the dock!).
I am looking forward to getting back down to the boat and out on the water for more experience. I already am thinking of how to make it easier to single handle the boat. I may explore possible modifications in this or another thread.