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Days 13 and 14 from Hobart - AP problem - changed hydraulic fluid in AP system o

Sunday 13th May 2012

Between expected strong winds and finding the autopilot had given up the ghost, I was too busy yesterday to post a log report, although my usual midday position & weather report was posted.

I've been getting updated weather faxes and voice weather forecasts frequently for several days now .... "Looks as though we shan't avoid 30 knots later on Saturday," I said two days ago.... Fortunately , we totally avoided the strong winds - probably just nicely too far S, due to being almost hove-to in light winds, very close-hauled, while I was busy in the aft cabin, draining hydraulic fluid from the autopilot pump, once I'd evenually found someone with the right knowledge to advise me... The next dose of 30+ knots heading our way is now expected overnight Monday into Tuesday morning. Having missed two lots so far, I doubt I'll be so lucky again...! Also Wednesday is expected to bring strong SW'lies at 30-40kt.

Over Saturday afternoon, I was busy on deck in the relatively calm conditions (light winds, 3m swell...) fixing a few items, ready for the expected strong weather coming up (found 3rd reef shackle pin was missing, meaning I wouldn't have been able to tie in the 3rd reef!). I noticed that we were wandering all over the place and a few hours later realized that the autopilot ram (the piston pushing & pulling the lever arm attached to the rudder stock) was wheezing like a 95-year-old and unable to make any effective movement - the AP was completely unable to hold a course . So I switched to Fred, my Hydrovane helper, who, despite the light winds, coped well - we settled down nicely on course, close-hauled.

When I checked in with friendly Taupo Maritime Radio at 7pm, as I do daily just now, I mentioned my problem and asked if they had anyone who could advise me (I couldn't find a manual), my thinking at that point being to change over the hydraulic pumps in my two independent autopilot systems, so that I'd end up with a good pump working a good ram.They eventually put me in contact with Mike Roberts at the NZ Rescue Coordination Centre, also in Wellington, who was brilliant! After a long discussion, during which he suggested I might make for Wellington (but the Cook Strait was expecting 40kt winds overnight!), or possibly Napier (but dead upwind!), he decided that my problem was possibly due to degraded/dirty hydraulic fluid - my response being to change it, if he could give me advice on any problems to avoid. Overnight, that's exactly what I did - with lots of friendly, useful support from Mike over the radio and satphone. By 4.30am, I'd bled the system thoroughly and had the pump running OK & working the drive unit (or so I thought!) No leaks and all looking good, except for the chaos in the aft cabin - that could wait until after I'd got some sleep..

It wasn't until later today, when I finally got to the aft cabin to tidy up, check the reservoir level and check for no leaks, that I realized that the port drive hadn't been connected up .. a small detail I'd overlooked last night! So much for last night's bleeding and running the AP to confirm all OK after changing the fluid! Fred had still been in charge in the darkness...! I immediately connected up the correct drive arm, changed the power supply over and bled the system - it felt good and strong and has since behaved fine, including no leaks.

I've now switched back to Fred in a NNW 4-5 (15-17kt) wind and we're making ENE at 6.7 - 7.2 kt, bouncing along gently - we're in the groove...! These conditions are expected to last until tomorrow afternoon, when the wind will increase until overnight.

By 6pm, the 80-mile distant coastline of the North Island of NZ was slowly disappearing from the top left corner of my AIS screen as we sailed gently away from land, sunset an hour before. Two different lone albatrosses had come by today - very few birds are being seen just now.

DMG today, not too surprisingly, was a mere 77 n.ml.

Written by : Mike

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