Rhumb Do Date: February
In September of last
year, whilst on passage from India to Malaysia, my wheel pilot - a
Simrad Navico WP30 model (the second one that I had fitted since
starting out in 2006) - started to act up and finally gave up altogether
a few hours later. Attempts at repairs were futile in the existing
weather conditions and I also suspected that it was an electronics
failure rather than mechanical, which put the repair beyond my
abilities. It meant that I and my then crew member, Sandeep from
Bombay, had to steer by hand for the 1700 mile crossing to Langkawi.......a
tiring experience lasting seventeen days!
In Langkawi, I took the pilot control apart and sure enough, the
motherboard inside was burnt out!
The only option available to me was to fit a Raymarine SPX5 unit, not
something I wanted to do as I am somewhat biased against anything
Raymarine. However, I had one shipped over from the USA and fitted
Unlike the Navico unit which was totally self
contained, the Raymarine came in 4 separate units - the actual wheel
power unit, the course computer, the control head and the gyro compass.
All were duly fitted, my only real concern being the location of the
gyro compass above the forward cabin door - the only place available
which was both close to the boat centre line and away from any metal
objects. I would have preferred it lower down towards the surface
level of the sea, but that isn't possible.
Cutting out the area for the control head.
Control head fitted.
The actual fitting and wiring up took rather longer than it sounds and I
didn't complete it until anchored in Chalong, Thailand! After
that, I did all the pre-commissioning calibrations, then took the boat
out into the bay to do the sea trial calibrations. All seemed
well, but I later found out that it does not steer a course half as well
as the old Navico unit did. Nothing I can do about that now!
A recent trip from Kudat to Labuan, Brunei and the Klias River showed
the wheelpilot to be acting up. It frequently disengaged the
clutch and wandered off course to port. I noticed some bits of
rubber on the cockpit sole and as a result of that, while at anchor in
the river, I dismantled the drive unit. Big mistake! When I
took it apart, the ball bearings all fell out (they shouldn't) and three
of the twenty-one bearings went straight down the drains to sea!
More importantly, the drive ring, which is made of plastic, had
completely disintegrated in the tropical heat. The drive belt had
also disintegrated over a six inch area.
Back in Labuan, I pondered what to do about it. My friend Neil
said he had a spare one in his garage at home which I could have.
Great.......I took that one apart and exactly the same problems showed -
the plastic drive ring had broken up and the belt rotted away in the
same place. When you think about it, the belt only moves over the
drive cog for a very short distance as it steers back and forth on
So, I ordered a new belt plus a spare from the
USA, then I had Ramsey's machine
shop make me a new drive ring in aluminium. After re-assembly, all
seemed to be working again. It is far from the ideal solution
because now I have stainless steel bearings running on an aluminium
drive ring, and as we all know......dissimilar metals are far from
suited to the marine environment. But......it will do for now and
I will just have to check it more often and apply a little grease to