Ferdinand the Autopilot gives way to Eddie…

Sunday January 15th, 2017

Yesterday the entire day was dedicated to installing the new Garmin Class B Compact Drive on our autopilot. This is a mechanical ram that attaches to a tiller arm and steers the boat. Fracas has hydraulic steering and the old autopilot was an electric hydraulic reversing pump. The reliability of the pump was suspect. If the pump misses a course correction the system kicks out the autopilot. This new ram also gives us some redundancy should the hydraulic system or wheel fail.

Autopilots are an extra and important crew member when cruising. You can engage the pilot and tackle whatever tasks come up. It also does a much better job steering the boat to a waypoint. It should not be used as the Captain and everybody goes to bed. Someone is to be on watch at all times. We have all met or passed a boat that is not under anyone’s care. Nobody on deck or on watch and the boat is sailing along nicely.

The pin to connect the autopilot to the steering arm at the rudder was too big. It was 18mm of stainless steel and I needed it to be 15.9mm. I don’t have a lathe on board (I know a cruiser who does have a lathe) so in honour of my Dad I came up with a solution with what we had onboard. I put the pin in the drill and used a file to cut  it down to size. This was good steel and required two full batteries in the drill to cut it down. The drill smells funny now and there was a puff or two of smoke. Even if I have to replace the drill I am likely ahead of the cost of a machine shop doing this small one off job.

Like most things on a boat this install required drilling holes. There’s an old saying that we buy boats very insistent that they don’t leak and then we spend our life drilling holes in them. That’s why it is a good idea to drill a small hole first then find out where it came out and if no water, fluid or sparks issue forth… drill bigger.  I mounted the drive on a piece of 6″ X 6″ X 12″ by 1/2 inch T6 Aluminum angle. Four 1/2″ bolts with a teak plank spacer and backer.

The other part of a boat project like this is ‘boat puke’. This is the phenomenon where everything neatly stored and jammed away has to be removed and placed all over the boat to get at whatever is the project d’jour. We had a significant boat puking event yesterday.  I don’t have any pictures of the boat puke because I was unable to find the camera, phone or iPad while the boat puke was in full vigor. It is very satisfying to complete a technical job on a boat especially when it works as advertised.


Lots of boaters have pet names for their extra crew member (the autopilot). Our former unit was affectionately known as Ferdinand (Magellan) the new unit will be Eddie named after Eddie Wright from the 16th century. He was a mathematician and cartographer who wrote a very well received book about navigation… ‘Certaine Errors in Navigation – for dummies’

This project was much much easier because we are in Florida. If we had been in the islands trying to get all the parts and stuff it would take weeks if not months. I would have been constantly on the radio begging other cruisers to part with their spares to help me get my job done. It likely would have cost me a lot of shiny stuff from my storage in the barter system. I have to do some shout outs to the suppliers that helped this work.

I got the aluminum angle from Kentucky. I had the piece in 20 hours. Rob from metalsdepot.com was very helpful getting the angle aluminum that I needed to do the job. Less than a day by UPS.  The drive itself came from Hodges Marine here in Florida. Their price was the best and their service was very good. Finally, Amazon is very helpful in getting the obscure little things a project requires. For example I need a specific bronze bushing and it is on the way.  The cool thing about Amazon is their deal with the US postal service for delivery every day including Sundays.

All in all a productive day spent under the bed…

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