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Lady Ann - James the autopilot: friend or foe?

22/05/2013, 16:25UTC, POS:37*463N 44*44.2W

When our autopilot James broke down at the very moment Bermuda's
magnificent skyline dropped behind the horizon we were at first a little
sad. From chilled out night watches with lots of books, star studies and
a steady sleep for the standby watch, sailing changed to work. Hard
work. Four hours a day and two hours a night nothing else than the wind,
the instruments and the almighty wheel. And after your watch? No
relaxation but another two or four hours as a standby.

As a standby watch you are, with all possible respect, the servant of
the next helmsman. Bringing coffee, playing music, grinding in sails,
opening lids from water bottles, scratching backs. As the standby watch
you are in no position to question any request from the helmsman. After
all: he cannot leave the wheel.

I think you understand that life in the Post James Era is different. But
there is another side of the coin. Because there is no autopilot to
handle the tricky parts, you find yourself in a 13 knots surf running
downwind in a stiff 35 knots breeze surrounded by huge swells. Working
the wheel like it is a gym instrument. And let's be honest. After all,
this is one of the greatest feelings one can possibly have.

Yesterday the wind dropped, so we were finally able to replace James for
his spare brother. The level of relaxation is back during the night
watches. But the level of excitement and satisfaction is not
automatically as high as in the days of manual steering. Everyone
onboard feels that. Thankfully, oftentimes when I peek out of the
companionway to see how things are outside, I see James' brother having
a break, and a busy helmsman with sweat on his head, but a smile on its

Simple deprivation can let you reconsider of what you are actually
doing: sailing a mighty ocean with good company on a beautiful boat in
great weather. It could have been worse.


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