Autohelms and power decisions …

by Adrian on August 14, 2014

We’re currently at anchor in Sines and nearly around the bottom corner of Portugal.

Sines, Portugal

Next stop tomorrow is Lagos on the Algarve which is where we finish this leg of the journey south and I head back to the UK for a week before it’s back to do the next bit across to the Canaries. That’ll be fun as it’s quite different and very offshore!

Over the last few days I’ve completed the installation of another major system upgrade. I bought and fitted a completely redundant autopilot system from Jefa.

Jefa Autopilot

Now, each of our rudders has it’s own autohelm motor and I have a completely separate autopilot controller. Only one needs to be working at a time as the rudders are linked, but this gives complete redundancy in case of failure. It also gives me plenty of options for swapping bits between the two systems if needs be.

The cost was about £2800, which is not cheap but is a major addition for safety and crew well-being on long passages.

I finally got it wired in and working a few days ago. It works great. The Jefa controller is a quite basic point and go autopilot, but it seems to do the job well.

I did investigate fitting a wind steering vane, but after much planning and weighing up options I decided it would just get in the way of the dingy when coast hopping and be quite bulky on the transom area. We’re pretty much an electronic yacht anyway, so a reserve electric autopilot system was not a problem for our power strategy.

With our renewable systems we’re very self sufficient during the day, and use about 100 amps overnight. A Watt and Sea hydrogenerator (or similar WaterGen device) would nicely fill this void, but we’ve decided not to get it yet due a bit to the cost, but also that fitting, positioning and transom deployment with it getting in the way of the dingy is a pain for the 95% of the time when we’re coast hopping and anchoring.

These things are always a balance between usability, cost, utility and how much you and when are actually going to use it.

We probably will get one some day as the power they generate is awesome, but it’d be nice to see a bit of evolution and some cheaper and more compact systems.

For the moment we took the decision to have to run the genny a couple of hours a day on passage to bulk charge the batteries (we have 780 Ah) whilst at the same time making water, heating water and charging onboard devices. It was an expensive bit of kit, so we thought we might as well use it.

A couple of hours charging will get the batteries up to 750Ah, with the rest coming from solar and/or wind during the day.

It’ll be interesting to see how all this works out when crossing the Atlantic in a few months.

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