Sailing from Cabo Verde to Suriname – Day 5 (Depending on Autopilot at Sea)

(December 26, 2017) We change our watch at 2am; John goes to bed and I am up managing the boat. We have one other crew member Auto the Autopilot who works 24 hours, nonstop steering the wheel and keeping us on course. Our watch duty involves, checking the course and adjusting the autopilot, periodically monitoring the sea and weather, inspecting things on the boat, looking out for other boats, and giving a belly rubs to one of our cats who follows us around and meows until she gets it.

I usually enjoy my night watch. For this trip, in near total darkness with no moon and stars, I often found myself waiting for sunrise. During night watch, I also request weather update files via SSB Ham Radio. While trying to connect to download the weather files, I heard the sails going crazy banging and flopping side by side. Despite my efforts to manage things, I wasn’t able to control the situation. Then, I noticed the autopilot had stopped working. This is beyond my technical skills. Even though I don’t like to wake John up, I had to shout at him breaking his sweet dream. (He uses earplugs to sleep.)

We dropped the sails and started the engine. I steered the boat and John troubleshot the autopilot for the next three hours. I learned steering the wheel on the course wasn’t easy. Unlike the autopilot with +/- 10 degree range, mine was +/- 90 degrees with the high sea with strong wind. I wanted to go West but my steering made the boat go West-North-West-South-West? (*when sails were down). With sails up, I steer better with a +/- 30 degree range. I cannot imagine trying to cross the ocean without a capable autopilot or wind vane.

PS: Our autopilot was fixed by replacing the compass module with the spare that we have onboard.

Kay Chung @0600 UTC on Wednesday, December 27, 2017
GPS Position @N12.45/W36.11


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