Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Pelagic Autopilot

When we go racing, we usually have a full crew. But I spend a lot of time by myself either cruising, delivering the boat to/from a race or occasionally racing a single handed race. That is why I really like an autopilot on my boats. Recently on a sailing forum a discussions was started where a guy was installing a autopilot on his new boat. Many commenters said "how can you ever let go of such a beautiful tiller and let an autopilot steer?". The truth is that if you spend a lot of time on a boat alone, you really have to get away from the helm at times. On my last eight hour delivery that started early in the morning in the dark with a driving rain, I would have to go down below for food, dry clothing and to check the AIS for traffic. I kept my time away from the helm short and tried to keep a good lookout. When I sailed alone to the Queen Charlotte Islands, the overnight passages were too long to stay awake the whole time. I would take short catnaps while the autopilot steered a course. Yes, there was always a danger of hitting debris in the water, but I did the best I could.

My boat is outfitted with a Raymarine autopilot system. This consists of a computer, compass, control unit in the cockpit and a actuator (motor) to drive the tiller. This is the second autopilot system, but the original actuator that was installed when I bought this boat. The Raymarine actuator has been showing its age. It makes ominous sounds. The mounting pin broke off and I jury rigged a repair. I had been thinking about sending it back to Raymarine to be rebuilt.

But on the sailing forum, the guy installing the autopilot had bought a system I was not familiar with. It was called a Pelagic Autopilot. I searched their website ( ). This is a small business. Brian the owner sells actuators that are a direct replacement for my Raymarine actuators. And the price is less than half of what his actuators cost. His actuators are commercial linear actuators that he fits adapters to use on a boat. They are built of corrosion resistant materials and repair parts can also be purchased. The actuators will work with many autopilot electronic packages. Brian also has developed a autopilot electronics package that is compact and rugged. Many boats racing shorthanded or singlehanded to Hawaii this summer are using either his complete autopilot package or just the actuator.

Today I built a new bracket to connect the actuator to the tiller. This needed to be done anyway. The old bracket was too low and both the old and new actuators tipped down. I installed the bracket and took the boat out for seatrials. Everything went well: the helm would center and the actuator stayed level.

After sailing for thousands of miles alone with an autopilot, I now have a new one to test.

 This is the mew Pelagic Autopilot actuator. It arrived from San Francisco in three days and I had it operating the day after it arrived.

This is my Raymarine autopilot actuator. It has some plastic parts, and I think everyone has broken at some time. It has steered the boat for thousands of miles.
This is the tiller bracket I built today. It is all stainless steel and really tough to shape. I went crazy and built a retainer to hold the actuator shaft onto the pin.

The tiller bracket installed with the actuator shaft connected.

The actuator installed between the cockpit edge and the tiller. It is steering the boat.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Duwammish Head Race- The Race That Almost Was

Saturday was the Duwamish Head Race sponsored by Three Tree Point Yacht Club at Des Moines. This is the second race of the four race Southern Sound Series.

My race started on Friday with the delivery to Des Moines. It was very calm and was sunny by the time I got to Des Moines. Later in the evening it got cool and the fog rolled in. The weather forecast for the next day was for very light winds. By morning the fog cleared with a light breeze from the SE. I started thinking that maybe we would actually get a race off. The previous two years, this race was not started last year because of no wind (and Seahawks playoffs) and two years ago because of strong winds, lightning and hail.

We started in a light wind and started a nice reach up the shore. We jibed a lot and sailed hot angles to try to keep the boat moving. One boat disappeared ahead and we had a running battle with two others. Since the current was flooding, near Fauntleroy, we worked close to the shore with some success. Between Lincoln Park and Alki Point, the wind built some from the SW. We had good boat speed and with only a few miles to go to Duwamish Head, we were confident that we would finish a shortened course.

But then a lot of chatter started coming through the radio. The subject was that the race was being abandoned! What? How could this be? A shortened course had a 10 hour time limit and we still had five hours to go. We could not hear anything from the race committee and neither could most of the other competitors. Then boats started coming back through the fleet and confirmed that the abandonment signals were sounded and the proper flag displayed. This was really disappointing. We never quit until the time limit is impossible to accomplish. It was a nice sunny day and the wind had built some.

We motored back to Brownsville and I drove back to Des Moines.

Sunday, the discussions started on the forums started. One boat who was close to the finish line had this report:

"Kahuna rounded Alki point leading the PHRF fleet with Nefarious next boat behind. Kahuna chose the great circle route and Nefarious went up the beach. The committee boat was anchored next to Duwamish Head and it was obvious the course would be shortened. We had some of the best wind of day (7 knots) reaching up Alki beach and it was looking like a close finish with Kahuna...but saw the whole IRC fleet drifting ahead and knew what was coming.

About half way into Elliott Bay the wind shut down for both of us and we went to a head sail in 1-2 knots breeze. We were making decent progress up the beach and were about 1,000 yards from the finish behind Crossfire when we heard the 3 gun shots followed by a radio announcement that the race had been abandoned. The committee reasoned the majority of the fleet would not have finished and called it before the first boat (probably Crossfire) crossed the line.

It was frustrating for us, and I understand that the committee wanted to be fair to all the boats, but I'm not sure how the committee knew only 4 hours into the race that the wind would not fill before the 10 hour limit for the short course was reached. Regardless I respect and support the committee's decision."

This sure seems strange that with five hours of racing before the time limit expired that the race would have been abandoned. Would some boats not have been able to finish before time expired? Absolutely! That happens all the time. But to abandon a race so early in the day and not allow anyone to finish is highly frustrating.

 Five awesome J boats moored together at the Des Moines Marina.
 Great White moored at Des Moines Marina.
 Michelle, Walter and Jim enjoying the weather.
Nice view of Seattle during the motor home.

Catching Up On New Years Day Activities

Finally catching up on my News Year day activities. The last few years, this seems to be a recurring theme.

It was a quiet night before, so I got up at the regular time and after breakfast, I drove the Mustang to the cruise at the K mart parking lot. With the temperature at 25 degrees, I did not think there would be much of a turnout. But by 1000, the parking lot was filling up nicely. There was a lot of the "usual suspects" and it was fun to see several friends.

Either a replica or an original, this is an early Shelby race car.
 A guy showed up with a 93 Mustang LX. It had all the engine and suspension options that made it close to the same car as my 90 GT. The main difference was the trim and the LX had an automatic transmission. It was in really great condition. Mine is on the right and the LX on the left.
 There was a great turnout and a clear day that did not feel too cold.
 A rat rod truck that has been to the summer Tuesday versions of this cruise.
 This is a fairly rare 86 Mustang SVO. It has a turbo charged four cylinder engine that puts out about as much horsepower as my V8. This is a nicely restored one.

Following the cruise I went to the Brownsville Marina to watch the Polar Plunge.

 Everyone lined up getting instructions.
 Ready at the waters edge.
 Some actually stayed in the water for awhile.