I sit back and survey my own handiwork with satisfaction. The autopilot is now working again, and is turning the rudder and wheels as it should do. My cup of tea tastes better than normal.
We had discovered that the autopilot helm control unit wasn’t working while testing everything at Shotley Marina just before we set off, which puzzled us as it had been working during the sea trial we had had in April. Something had made it give up the ghost in the intervening period. We had called Raymarine, the manufacturers, who had agreed to try and repair it, and if they couldn’t, then to replace it with a new unit. This seemed very reasonable to us, with the only downside being that it would take two to three weeks before we received the replacement. It had meant that we would have to start the journey with no autopilot to steer the boat on long passages, a significant inconvenience but at least not a show stopper.
At that stage, we’d had no idea where we would be, but they had agreed to email us when it was ready, take the payment, and post it to wherever we wished. It so happened they are based in Portsmouth, so now in the area, we had called them to find that they were just in the process of packing a new unit to courier to us. The only problem was that we wouldn’t receive it until next week, but realising they were only eight miles away from where we were berthed, in a flash of inspiration, we had decided to cycle there to collect it.
We had cycled to Portchester, had lunch there, and had continued on to Fareham, circling around different arms of Portsmouth Harbour. Raymarine were just a bit further past there. Sure enough, the autopilot unit was ready to collect, so that we could fit it back in without delay.
The system works through a network connection to a central control computer located in one of the cabins below, which also provides power to the unit. The computer takes data from a fluxgate compass and combines this with the course settings from the helm unit to control actuators for the rudder. It’s all very clever, and only needs one cable to connect all the various components together. All I have to do is to plug the existing cable into the back of the replacement unit, remount it on the console next to the other instruments, and away we go. No need to even recalibrate it, as all the settings are held in the central computer. Result!
That evening, we cook a curry, and settle down to watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Ruby Tuesday has a mast head aerial, and although we usually have to retune the stations each place we go to, the reception is unexpectedly good. It’s no good travelling without one’s creature comforts!