Dee Caffari fixes autopilot and starts to enjoy final few miles of challenge 16/5/06


Date15 May at 2334
PositionN 44° 55’/W 12° 52′

Yet again, what a difference a day makes. The poor visibility cleared with dawn and the drizzle gave way to bright skies. The easier conditions had been frustrating but had also given a little respite on my pilot predicament. Driving in these conditions was mind numbing after the exhilaration of maintaining a 10 knot average we were now struggling to make 3 knots. This meant the temptation to close my eyes was all too apparent.

I heard a message arrive and set the pilot whilst I went below to read it. As always the shore team were not giving up without a fight and they sent me through another page of notes with another plan. They have been undefeated and this time, this close to the finish was going to be no different. Keith Baxter, the electrical engineer for the project had come up with another plan. This plan was concentrating on pilot 1 and leaving the air that seemed destined to remain trapped in pilot 2. They had a bypass for the solenoid and then I had to reattach the ram and try the pilot. The trick however, is that with the ram from pilot 1 in place you can only steer with the pilot and you are unable to steer by hand or with the other pilot. That was a top tip that I must remember.

Once more I furled the headsails and centred the main to avoid damage should we go round in circles again. I did all the tasks on the list and heh presto I was steering with pilot 1 again. I re-set the sails and waited. All seemed to be well. I tidied up and called the shore team. I was just so relieved it had worked that I burst into tears. Yet again they had saved the day and Keith was my hero once more. Now it seems that my dreams of how I was going to spend the remaining miles may come true. At the very least I can now use the heads in peace!

My tears were tears of joy, relief, and tiredness and pent-up emotions from the last 48 hours. The previous two days of autopilot stresses had caught up with me. A wave of relief came over me and I didn’t know whether to sleep or eat first.

After both food and sleep, I returned to the world of the living and realised that we were nearly home. In fact I would be seeing friendly, familiar faces by the end of the week. Now the churning in my stomach is adrenaline and excitement along with some nerves for good measure. I am now looking forward to sailing those last few miles in an alarm free existence once more.

Dee and Aviva

Autopilot failure update

By Andrew Roberts – Project Director

The prospect of spending the last few days of the voyage with the accompaniment of an ‘alarm orchestra’ was not something Dee was looking forward to, let alone the prospect of steering the yacht herself for long periods at the expense of eating and sleeping properly.

So this afternoon we were relieved that a relatively simple repair has successfully restored Aviva’s ability to self-steer, minus the alarms. Our electronics specialist Keith Baxter effectively advised Dee on carrying out the ‘re-plumbing’ work to restore the autopilot, using a system of manual valves that were installed when it was built for this eventuality.

The autopilot problem began when the system failed on Dee’s return to the Northern hemisphere. An electrical problem meant she had to replace the solenoid, which controls the flow of oil in the hydraulic rams. The hydraulic rams turn the rudder, so when the solenoid failed the rudder jammed and Aviva turned in a vicious circle. Dee replaced the unit but in doing so allowed air into the system, rendering the autopilot unreliable at best, so she switched to the back-up system.

The same problem then struck the back-up system on Saturday, and without further spares to replace the solenoid a second time Dee faced a serious problem. Once again Aviva turned an involuntary circle when the solenoid only allowed the all-important flow of hydraulic oil in one direction.

Dee was forced to switch back to the system that first failed and the shore team set about finding a solution. The air allowed in the system when the solenoid was initially replaced was causing the problem, and regular alarms made life onboard unbearable.

The boat has been at sea for over 4,000 hours now so the components are being tested to their limits. However, the autopilots have in fact proved incredibly reliable for the job that we have asked them to do as no autopilot system has ever been required to continuously work against the prevailing winds and currents for such a long time.