The Autopilot is Done!
27 July 2022 | Pension Tiare Nui
William Ennis | Very windy and rainy
Tomorrow will be two full weeks: 14 days, and the autopilot is, at last, complete. I've got some wire to tend but the entire system is in place and, seemingly, working. It has been a most complex task. And to say it yet again, when we departed last year, we had planned to simply have the old unit repaired and re-attach it: no muss, no fuss. Instead, we bought a new, highly sophisticated and complex system and had no drawings, measurements, or photos with which to plan this installation. We had to guess what we might need.
The actual drive that moves the rudder turned out to be difficult but since its installation was based on a mounting bracket and wiring from the original unit, and with help from Richard, it was less difficult than it could have been. The other units that I installed were similarly straightforward. They included the new "brain", a new electronic compass, and a rudder position indicator. This last required both Conni and me to work for three days!
Installing the new network required that I remove the old diesel heater unit that was in the boat when we bought her, so there were precursor tasks to be completed.
For mounting hardware, I usually use aluminum strap, available in 1/8-inch-thick, 6-foot lengths from most hardware stores in Anchorage. It's fairly easy to bend and is rustproof. I can bend it to "L" shapes fairly well and it's stiff enough to bear some weight. I had planned to install the rudder indicator on the port side, down in the "Man Cave" below the cockpit. There was simply no space. Plan B was to mount it on the starboard side and that's what we did. My initial design and fabrication of the support bracket turned out to be unusable because...my drill was unable to reach the proper location! Holy smokes! Back to the drawing board. Finally, Conni and I decided to just modify the design rather than fabricate another mount. Originally, the support was a "|__|" shape with horizontal attachment flanges at the tops of each vertical side. The unit sat in the bottom. I removed one "L" shape and that allowed us to move the unit inward toward the rudder but still permit the drill from reaching the attachment surface. Still, I was drilling upward, sight unseen. Conni was holding the unit in place and had to guide the drill bit to the proper location. Crazy! With great difficulty, we finally got the unit attached in the proper location, or close enough. I attached the unit's NMEA2000 cable to the network and when we powered the system, the rudder indicator showed up on the network! We celebrated with a shared beer.
When we fired up the entire system after we completed the wiring to the autopilot drive, though, trouble. Nothing. Nada. The brain didn't show on the network. Down to the Man Cave. After some work, I managed to find a loose wire and we had an autopilot! Everything showed up as it was supposed to. It even indicated that is was ready for the dockside commissioning. Unbelievable!
To allow the attachment of the rudder indicator unit to the rudder that it was supposed to monitor, we used a clever piece of gear designed and built by Conni's dad, LaVerne. To mount the piece, we made a small circular, cardboard dam around the proper location on the tiller arm and I mixed the two-part JB Weld, a very strong epoxy used on metal. We made a few mistakes, but eventually we got the piece sitting in the small pool of epoxy trapped in the dam. Tomorrow, we'll see if things have set properly and when the rudder turns, the brain will be sent the information. It's a clever system, but holy smokes, it's complicated!
Tomorrow, we'll test the entire autopilot system and work on the solar panels. I completed installing the new solar charger controller a few days ago and completed the below-decks wiring today. Tomorrow we'll do the same for the wiring to the panels.
A word here about Conni's help is in order. This task would simply not have been completed without her mechanical sense and talent. Every step today was a collaboration, with her ideas as good as my own. Her size is a definite benefit since she can fit into places that are too tiny for me. She has a superb sense of measurement and we often talk about her "Livsey micrometer eyeball", such is her ability to measure by sight. Thank you, Conni.
We might splash in a week, or it may be a week and a half, but at least we can discuss the possibility! Note that I've not mentioned it for two weeks since we had this autopilot task to complete before we could even consider putting the boat into the waster. Two weeks and I've done none of my usual preparation projects, although Conni had been working on some of hers. Can we accomplish in a week what usually requires 1-1/2 to 2 weeks? Time will tell.
More later, and I'll post some photos of the completed system.