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7th August 2017 Just S of Cape Flattery: Fog.... No wind... No autopilot.... trapped at the helm!

Monday 7th August I'm sitting in the cockpit under the shelter of the spray hood as I write this because I'm constantly having to be at the helm to keep us on course - we've no wind to sail under wind-steering and no functioning autopilot. We had several hours of sailing yesterday in good wind although not on our preferred course so, from the time the wind died around midnight, we've been motoring almost due N. At one point I had to call the US Coast Guard to call the fishing vessel 'Raven' on my behalf because they were on clear collision course and not answering my VHF call. They eventually passed just a few hundred yards off, having assured us all that they would 'keep clear'...! Another fishing boat kept well away soon after - they would have heard the exchanges so knew I was close-hauled under sail in fickle wind conditions just then... In fact, a short time later, the wind had died and veered enough to have to turn on the motor again to keep heading N , rather than get too close inshore - this is a very rocky coast! The autopilot (AP) that has been in use so much of this year decided it had had enough of working hard and reliably and suddenly last night the message was displayed: "motor stalled" and I was soon unable to persuade it to work. I was getting tired, it was dark and cold and the air was wet with fog droplets... and there were several ships not far away to keep an eye on (TG for AIS & radar!). I was not a 'happy bunny'! As soon as it was safe to do so, I put us into 'drift mode' and went below to change over to my back-up AP, blessing the fact that I had it and it was so easy to do.... Changed over the drive ram connections to the steering quadrant arm and changed the electrical connections. It worked fine on 'Auto' after I resolved a small problem with rebooting the system (and it wanted calibrating, which clearly was not going to happen just then!) .... It refused to keep us 'on track' but was fine just steering on a heading ... No problem - I could live with that! Unfortunately, that didn't last long and around dawn, luckily after I'd had a couple of decent naps, I realized the AP was not driving the rudder anymore - for whatever reason, it was not in control at all. Rebooting didn't help, the electrical connections all seemed fine.... So here I am having to be close to the helm and keeping a constant eye on our heading. I've rigged up a line to tie off the wheel but we keep drifting off course, no matter how carefully I fine tune it... The ever-changing tidal current affects our heading... Passing Cape Alava as I write this at 10am, I'm relieved I placed a waypoint on the plotter well away from the off-lying rocks which suddenly appeared out of the far mist - looking rather nasty.. The current is clearly trying to take us inshore and I'm having to adjust our heading every few minutes. I'm thankful the AP failure didn't happen earlier on this trip from San Francisco (nearly seven days) - we're twelve miles S of Cape Flattery now and about six hours from the fuel dock at Neah Bay. I'll try to grab something to eat...

Written by : Jeanne Socrates