Friday, 19 December 2014

False start

We got out, and then we turned around. One hour from letting off the lines to tying up again. Such a shame.

Here are the positives: there's an experienced marine electrician in Arrecife, a portly Tuscan called Marco who speaks pretty good English. He can sell us a new "old" (i.e. older model) autopilot course computer exactly like ours. The one that doesn't work anymore.

The thing is, we got no warning. Both autopilots, the first (which is 9 years old) and the second (brand new, and unused) were doing what they are meant to do when we commissioned and tested them 10 days ago. But as soon as we turned on the autopilot yesterday, it displayed all the right things but we got no response. Dead. "You're on your own with this one," I said to Alex. He pulled out the instruction manual - the error message on the screen indicated excessive current draw, meaning a short circuit or motor drive jammed. He upended the aft berth and peered down, checked the wiring connections. There was no short in the external wiring and the drive was not jammed. He knew in his heart that this was too hard for him.

Do you need an autopilot? Bridget asked in an email today. She'd been tracking us on the AIS, seen us turn back and understandably was worried that something had happened to us or the boat. The answer is YES. We do need an autopilot. Hand-steering across 3000-odd miles is just something we're not prepared to contemplate, which is why Alex had a second autopilot installed. "We may never have to use it, " he told me. Many cruising sailors don't have this luxury - it's expensive - but they all dread the prospect of autopilot failure. Hand-steering a big boat in an ocean swell, even for a few hours at a time, is exhausting. For a middle-aged crew of two, a long ocean passage without an autopilot is unthinkable.

Never been so well prepared for a passage before - even had the passage berth ready!

Our previous boat, Kukka, had an electronic autopilot and a wind vane on the stern. That's another type of autopilot which doesn't rely on electronics. It is directed by the wind and a series of pulleys. Very nifty. We loved our Hydrovane, but you can't have davits (which allow you to winch the dinghy out of the water and carry it off the stern) and a wind vane. We opted for davits. So we have two electronic autopilots now. Or rather, we had.

We turned around because we have a long way to go, and it made no sense to start our Atlantic crossing with one dead autopilot. Marco came aboard yesterday afternoon, tested everything, praised Alex for his wiring job, took away the course computer (the electronic brain of the autopilot), and this morning gave us his verdict: "solidly dead". He could fix it, but what with Christmas and New Year just about to break over us, he estimated the spare parts would take a minimum of 10 working days to arrive from Holland.

Which means that Enki gets a Christmas present. A new course computer. Not something we'd counted on having to fork out for, but it helps me to remember what it was like running a car. Similar things happen. And the cost is always unexpected, and far too much, but you make a choice, don't you?

Marco will be back on the boat tomorrow, he says, and we hope we can make another start either tomorrow afternoon or Sunday morning. The weather forecast, of course, will be different. We are actively considering a stopover in the Cape Verde islands if we get down there and see either no wind, or wind from the wrong direction in the mid-Atlantic. The Azores high is being pushed about by a low pressure system which seems bent on ruining Christmas Day out there.

Peperonata to give us a kick along

I'm cooking up more vegetables for the freezer - as some kind of compensation, I get to go to the Saturday morning farmers' market tomorrow. The vegetables we bought from the supermarkets in town on Wednesday were not much chop. Here's hoping we leave with better quality veges and as good a weather forecast next time we cast off.

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