Installing a Raymarine wheel autopilot

Following the vendee globe and reading books from the likes of Bernard Moitessior has developed my interest in single handed sailing over the years. The total freedom to sail whenever I want is appealing. The only snag was I needed some sort of self steering to do any substantial single handed sailing e.g simply putting up the main would require self steering to keep the boat on the wind while I hoist up the sail.

I looked into the various options, inboard autopilots, wheel pilots, windvanes etc. Inboard autopilots were not only expensive but I wouldn't be able to do the install myself. One of the requirements was building a strong fibre glass shelf to mount the drive. For offshore, windvanes would be my preference anyway philosophically… using wind to steer the boat without the noise, electricity and complexity that a mechanical inboard would need. Given that a windvane would be my primary self steering if I took the boat offshore I need a cheaper secondary self steering option when there was no wind or when I was doing short hops. A wheel pilot seemed the like the best option especially the new Raymarine Smartpilot X-5 which didn't require a rudder feedback sensor (which would require building a fibre glass platform as well).

I bought a Smartpilot X-5 from westmarine to get their extended warranty which I have heard is very good. An autopilot is one device I know will break down, so thought it was prudent.  First job was installing the wheel adapter or my large Goiot wheel. It didn't fit, the wheel tube were too large, so had to build little plastic spacers and get longer bolts to attach to the wheel adapter. I also had to dismantle the binnacle to install the wiring and drill holes to install the binnacle attachment.

Since it was French boat, the Binnacle attachment didn't fit either.. the joys of fitting American equipment on a French boat.. So I had to use a vice to reduce the curvature for the attachment. That was fun, see pic below.


Next was installing the course computer, gyro sensor and wiring it to the seatalk system. This was relatively straightforward. I put the gyro sensor under the chart table seat below the waterline which ended up being a good location because the deviation check came out ok. I put the course computer high up in my large lazzarette to minimize the wiring. It doesn't get wet there, so hoping it works out ok.


Next job was installing the control heading.. drilling holes in boats always scares me, but I worked up the courage and bought a circular saw fitting for the drill that fit the control head..


After all the wiring and I went out on a couple of calibration sails. The first one was in 15knots and I couldn't get it to calibrate. I was disappointed and was worried that I needed to install the dreaded rudder reference to make it work. I decided to try it one more time, this time in very little wind. It calibrated itself in less than 5 mins! It was amazing and has since worked like a champ. I would highly recommend this autopilot because you don't need a rudder sensor. (action photo below)


Rebuilding Winches

Decided to rebuild my 6 old Lewmar two-speed self tailing winches on Stops. The starboard winch on the coachroof used to pull up the main halyard was also making some grinding noises.. not good..


Having done this a few times now, here are some tips to make this easier:

  • Dismantle one winch a time so that if you forget which part goes where you can refer to another. 
  • Cut a hole in a cardboard box the size of your winch and use this when disassembling or assembling the winch on deck. This catches any parts that might fly out and end up in the drink.
  • Soak the winch parts in paint thinner to remove the grease. Use a toothbrush while soaked to remove excess grease. Don't soak for too long (ie overnight) because paint thinner can soften plastic parts.
  • Wash in water and wipe off with a lint free cloth.
  • Use manufacture recommended grease and oil for the gears and pawls. Winches are so expensive it is not worth taking the chance.
  • I would also recommend swapping heavily used winches with ones that are lightly used. For example my main halyard winch was heavily worn. The teeth of some gears had deformed. So I swapped it with the same sized winch I used for spinnaker trim. Now works beautifully.

The Italian Job!

Almost as exciting as the Italian Job: the bottom paint job on Stops! It involved a stealthy delivery to Alameda under thick fog, life threatening situations (using toxic paints) and a female character who get's saved..(Stops and her bottom). No Mini cars, Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie but apart from that it was exactly the same..

The Italian Job cast included Jon (six degrees) Rheaume and Munzie (home run) Munzel and myself. The first job was getting Stops to Svendson's in Alameda on new year's eve before the haulout crew left.. The deadline was 11am, and Jon and I sailed Stops through thick fog with no more than 30 feet visibility into the oakland channel. We couldn't see anything, big worry was the big ships coming in and out of the channel. In typical hollywood style, gadgetry saved the day.. the raymarine chartplotter with radar overlay on Stops allowed us to navigate without any problem!

Hauling out Stops was a not a pretty sight.. Stop's bottom gave the Great Barrier Reef a run for it's money.. the propeller was almost a world heritage site.. luckily the powerhose got most of it..

Day1: Wet Sanding the Bottom


Jon with Stops old bottom on the hard. We used a rotary wet sander from Svendson's.. It was a tough job and I started faltering but Jon saved the day by pretty much sanding one whole side by himself.

Day 2: Coat 1 of bottom paint.


Munzie ready to fight evil! With the bottom sanding done, Munzie and I donned our super hero suits to thwart the evil bottom paints!


Using advanced weaponry to fend against the evil bottom paints..

Day 3: The finished job!


After the second coat of paint with Jon's help. Jon wishes he could stroke Stop's finished bottom. Alas it is still wet..


Stop's bottom saved.. until next time… hopefully 2 years until Italian Job the sequel.