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)