To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Cambridge and the Autopilot

The West River Sailing Club cruising group ordinarily has a half-dozen cruises throughout the season. We were away, living in Nevada for some of the sailing season. With a pandemic, a cozy get-together is not a great idea. So, a cruise was a surprise.

Some folks from the club decided to have one, carefully distant get-together in Cambridge, MD. Their boat was being repaired. They needed to pick it up. May as well make an event out of it. It was a delight seeing folks after being away for a little over a year.

Red Ranger performed pretty well for out first big outing in about two years. Pretty well. Not perfect. Details to follow. What's important is knowing what you don't know.

As noted in the previous posts (back to July) we've been doing a lot of fix and repair and clean and refurbish. A lot.

This (nearly) perfect weekend had a few glitches. It also had gorgeous weather. And a moon a few days past full. The wind was too light (and from the wrong direction) for sailing. But that means a perfectly calm night at anchor in the Choptank.

Mr. Lehman. On Saturday morning, Mr. Lehman (almost) would not start.

I worry about the starter and the solenoid and the starter switch and the batteries. The starter, in particular, is a worrisome thing. It's big, heavy (50 odd pounds) and right awkward to replace. It is (however) a commodity item that Ford has been making for years, and can be rebuilt by competent starter/alternator shop.

But. It was cold. Not below freezing level of cold, but cold enough that the engine cold-start ("Excess Fuel Device") should have been used. I know this, but sometimes, I forget. It works like this:

  1. Move throttle control lever to max.

  2. Push the excess fuel button on the injector pump. It clicks in. It will pop out when the engine starts.

  3. Return throttle to ½.

Seems so simple. Did I do this? No. Should have.

Autopilot Pump. The Cetec Benmar pump (the only thing left from the old CourseSetter 21R Autopilot) didn't work.

Total Panic. This is not an operational thing like the excess fuel device. This is Dead. Pump.


I tried a bunch of things while we were under way. Nothing. It's not like it's difficult to hand-steer to Cambridge. Six hours. Fun after having been in the desert for a year.

I didn't install the autopilot system. There's a lot I don't know about the installation.

Scout. The big party. Which meant prepping and launch Scout. We had inflated her Friday at the dock, and she's rock solid after living below decks for a year. The last set of patches are holding.

We'd bought a Dewalt inflator. It has a high-volume pump that runs off the same 20V batteries as our drill and saw. It does 90% of the air. Then. We top off with the hand pump to get the tubes to pressure. This works well.

Cooking Under Way. This isn't easy. In rough conditions, below deck can be hard. At night, in rough conditions, it's really hard. During the day, it helps to take the sun-shade off the window and gaze at the horizon while cooking.

CA made a pasta salad. Boiled pasta. Chopped veggies and cheese. Assembled our dinner bowls and put them in the fridge to wait for party time. I was impressed that we could have something so fancy. I hoovered mine without taking a picture.

Tohatsu-san. Mr. Tohatsu, sometimes known as Mr. Nissan, but his real family name is Tohatsu, worked flawlessly. It's an 8 HP, two-stroke engine, and it started on the first pull.

The. First. Pull.

(I'd tested it at the dock, Friday. That was 20 or 30 pulls. And then. He ran. Perfectly. But Saturday night, on our way to a party?? Wham. First. Pull.)

On our previous boat, we had a tiny (1.75HP) two-stroke engine. It stopped working. I took the entire thing apart, found the bit of crud jammed into one of the valves, put it back together. And it worked. Tohatsu-san holds few terrors.

Anchor Chain
Snubber and Anchor Chain

Anchor. Chain needs work. A thorough cleaning. Checking for links that are too thin.

The picture is looking down from the pulpit at snubber and chain.

Party. Delightful. The West Creek Yacht Club folks sat, masked, in a big circle and shouted at each other. It was fun. Distant, social, fun. Much hand washing afterwords. These are good people. Careful, prudent sailors.

Full Moon. Over the river. We're a few days past full, so, the moon rose well after sunset.

Night Lights. Maybe four years ago, in an Ace hardware store, we say a box of green, rubber, solar-powered globes. They are Firefly Silicone solar lanterns. (

These Firefly lights can be charged from USB ports (which we have a lot of.) But. They can be placed under the window of the dodger to charge. Then you can hang them from the bow and stern to provide low-level marker lights for inattentive power boaters who don't see the mast-head light.

They're on-at-dusk, off-at-dawn, and you can set them out when you anchor and leave them there. I recommend using a tiny loop of string to let them hang below the level of the aft bulwarks. They will fill the aft cabin with light. All night. (Bring them in when you travel to avoid salt spray.)

The Luci inflatable lantern covers our cockpit needs nicely. It seems to charge readily and lasts easily as long as we need light in the cockpit at night.

Stove Igniter. Dead. We had replaced the "Spark Module" on the Force 10. That wasn't it. We're going to replace the button. We don't really know what failed, and I worry about playing with it. The Spark Module turns 1.5V DC to 12,000 V at the burner. I'm a little cautious about doing diagnostics. It seems better to just replace things. Until the button arrives, it's the flint striker. Works well. Can recommend everyone have one by their propane stove. Better than matches.

The Bar. I broke the catch on the bar door. It's an old Perko 0559 catch. We need to replace several. I like the Perko Cupboard Bolt. It's surface mount without too much fuss. I think the other cabinets with the original catches should be upgraded to bolts. CA found some on eBay.

Here's a picture of a clamp with line tying the bar closed. Sad.

Bar Cover with Lashing
Broken clip means lashing the bar closed

Autopilot Pump. Sunday morning. Plenty of hot coffee. Good night's sleep. Beautiful, clear day. I looked the pump over carefully. Not a drop of missing hydraulic fluid (pressure is high, manual steering works.) Wires are solid. Fuse is good.

Flip through the "Commissioning" pages on the Simrad AP-44 display. Eventually, I would up at the "Rudder Test" option in the Autopilot control panel. This did nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zip point Doo Doo.

Test. Failed. Tried it several times to be sure. Failure.

Bad. I think the pump is dead. But shows no signs of death. Physically, it looks good. CA disputes calling it dead when it doesn't have a sign of failure.

And. Worse. I didn't install this. I paid folks to install it. That ramps up the "I don't know what I don't know" factor. What don't I know about this? While CA doesn't dispute this, she has some weird confidence I should be able to "somehow" diagnose the problem.

Much Worse. It's almost inaccessible. It's behind the muffler (the big black hoses to the left) in the inaccessible corner of the engine room. To even reach it requires climbing over the engine. Looking closely at it? Nope.

Autopilot Pump
The autopilot pump

CA pointed out that I upgraded a lot of software. Perhaps some configuration parameter was not correctly saved and restored. Or maybe they added a feature which is now misconfigured.

"Bah," I replied. Foolishly.

After we got back to Herrington, I looked at the configuration parameters (again.) See the commissioning manual for the number of features that need to be setup correctly.

Eventually, I noticed "clutch". It was enabled. As if there's a clutch control somewhere. (There isn't.) (Apparently, there's an "engage" wire in the controller to trigger a clutch. But. We don't need it.)

Change the software settings from "clutch" to "auto". And the self-test seems to work. It worked twice at the dock. So. I think we're back in business.

Without an expensive new pump. And without a super-expensive service call to have experts look it over.

I'm going to track down the paper copy of my commissioning manual, and write down all the settings to be sure I've got a grip on this.