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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Autopilot wants to stay in Alaska

July 6, 2013

So as we were going South from Ketchikan in the Tongass Narrows, when Dave says to Melissa, "The autopilot is acting funny".  Melissa goes on immediate alert, "what do you mean by funny?".  At about which time the boat lurches suddenly to port.  Dave grabs the wheel and disconnects the autopilot.  "Well, like that."  The autopilot had clearly tried to turn us 180 degrees around.  Not good in the tight channel.  Dave says, "You steer for a while."  So Melissa takes the wheel so Dave can work on diagnosing the issue.  First he reboots the autopilot.  Nope, it still wants to turn back north.  Then he tries disconnecting the remote control.  No dice.   The chart says there are strong magnetic forces in the area, but our magnetic compass is reading correctly.  Dave wants to check the rudder position sensor which involved opening the rear compartments on the lower aft deck while we were bobbing around (we don't typically go back there while underway).  Dave asks Melissa to watch to make sure he doesn't go overboard - or at least to come back and get him if he does.  Dave determined that the rudder position sensor was sending erratic readings back to the autopilot.  Dave says that this explains why the auto pilot has been a bit wobbly in its corrections as of late.  Seems the rudder position sensor was failing and finally got to the point where the autopilot couldn't steer at all.  The autopilot thought we were in a turn when it wanted to go straight and would then try to correct.  Melissa groans, "ok well, then we should turn back for Ketchikan since we have to replace the sensor and we don't want to go the next two days - 14 hours of travel to Prince Rupert with no autopilot.  We will both be dead exhausted by the time we make it there."  Dave looks at her somewhat puzzled, "I'm just going to reprogram the autopilot to steer to heading alone and ignore the bad rudder sensor."  Somewhat sarcastically she replies, "Oh right.  Duh.  Why didn't I think of that?"  <Picture Melissa rolling her eyes>  Sheesh.  What do normal people do anyway?  Turn back for Ketchikan I suppose.  And while replacement of the rudder sensor is now on the project list, Dave is super happy with the autopilot - which steers more accurately than it has since we bought the boat.

The winds kicked up and it started getting rough in the afternoon, so we called it quits at Foggy Bay and anchored there for the night.  The bay is the first one we've been in where you could hear the surf pounding on the beach from where we were anchored due to a shallow bar that blocks one entrance to the bay (not the way you come in - the boat would get stuck on the bar).   In the picture you can sort of see the surf coming over a rock in the distance.

Around 1 am the boat started rocking and Melissa went to see what was going on.  It was high tide and the wake from a passing boat had come across the bar and started sloshing us about.  And a log had come into the bay as well and was tapping the side of the boat.  Nothing more than an unwelcome interruption to a good night's sleep.

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