We’ve been four crew this leg. Enough, but sometimes you’d like another set of eyes or pair of hands. Running 4 hours on, and 4 off, when the weather is difficult, one definitely runs short of sleep. Popping up when something changes, when called, to check on a line of clouds, call for a reef (in or out) or a headsail change, any sleep pattern gets chopped up.
So while four is “enough” you’d need at least another two or three crew if you didnt have an “Audrey”. Audrey is the autopilot, of sufficient character, endurance and importance to deserve, even demand a name. A B&G (Brookes and Gatehouse – the most popular brand of high end sailing instrumentation) “brain” is coupled to a very well made (from Poole) electric hydraulic pump and ram, the ram is attached to the steering quadrant, translating electrical impulses into steering force.
Steering for much of the day, tirelessly and without complaint, Audrey is not without cost, particularly when conditions are “difficult”, and that cost is amps, electricity which has to be generated. You know when she’s working hard – the current draw goes up fairly dramatically. Worth it though, it’s one reason I tend to steer a lot on my watches. The other? “Practice makes perfect” my Grandmother used to say.
I said “without complaint” which is mostly true, however if speed falls too low, or you ask her to do something patently ridiculous, a plaintive beeping is set off and pretty much she downs tools shortly thereafter. When conditions are fairly serious (strong winds, big cross swells) you can hear the pump whirring overtime and the occasional loud grunt grunt grunt as the rudder is released from a particularly hard helm correction.
There is a simple keypad which is the most straightforward method of engaging and instructing Audrey (there are others via touch sensitive screens but they tend to be less than practical if it is howling and the rain is cascading). A big red standby button “STBY” for disengaging the auto steering, and a black “AUTO” button for calling on her services. Of course AUTO stands for “Audrey takes over” and STBY means “steer by yourself”.