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Boat:     Rhumb Do                             Date:  February 2011


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 it. 

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!


June 2017

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 course.

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 those surfaces.








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