Bossa Nova: Travels Of A Trailer Yacht

"Otto" - Adding An Autopilot
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Sailing single-handed means that oftentimes I have to be in two places at once:  raising the mainsail, for instance, while keeping Bossa Nova pointed into the wind. My "electronic helmsman" can save the day, but it took a lot of work to install "Otto".


"Otto" - you may remember him from the movie Airplane - is actually a Raymarine X-5 Smart Pilot, with a drive motor that attaches to Bossa Nova's helm wheel.  The system includes the wheel drive, a computer pack that installs belowdecks, an electronic "flux-gate" compass to maintain a heading, and a cockpit control display. 


The most troublesome item, and the first on the list, was running the electric cables through the spaces inside the boat.  An autopilot needs plenty of "juice," and I had to start with a heavier cable to the switch-panel inside the companionway (that's the main door from the cabin to the cockpit).  While I was at that, I had to replace the old panel with a larger one, with more switches for more circuits.  I also added a "bus bar" inside the back of the panel; this provides several screw-down "posts" for the negative, or "ground," side of my circuits.


The "computer pack" had to go on a vertical bulkhead (or wall), mounted "athwartships" (across the beam of the boat, from side to side as opposed to from bow to stern).  I put it at the top of a half-bulkhead on the port (left) side of the boat, above the aft berth where I sleep, because that's halfway between the switch panel and the helm wheel.  (Up in the cockpit, this bulkhead blocks off the fuel-tank "pockets" under the bench seats.  One might call them "lockers," but they're wide open to the outside air and there's no door to lock.) 
All my wiring would come back to this computer pack.  The space behind it is full of flotation-foam blocks, but there's an access panel that let me remove the blocks so I could pull cables and bolt-in fasteners behind the bulkhead.  Pulling those cables also meant I needed a fish-tape to do the job.  Sometimes the fish tape wasn't flexible enough to go where I needed; I found some really-long "zip ties" (cable ties) that could snake through the spaces where I needed to lead the cables. 
The flux-gate compass had to be installed away from any magnetic influences, which include DC electrical cables and steel fittings.  I put it on the starboard (right) bulkhead, across from the computer pack, and pulled its cable through beneath the cockpit deck to the computer.


Now for the wheel-drive.  This consists of a 14"-diameter ring that attaches to the back of the wheel, with a long tubular motor that protrudes out of the back of the ring.  It's actually designed to be clamped onto the side of a different-style helm pedestal, but I saw there was plenty of room for the back-end of the motor inside my helm.  I made a "compass template" that fit over the base bezel of my helm wheel, and used it to mark a hole to drill for the motor.  It was a perfect fit.  I left room at the sides of the motor for two bolts, which hold big nylon "fender washers" that clamp the motor in place from side to side.  There's a large pipe glassed in under the pedestal, for engine controls and any wiring, and I pulled the drive-motor cable through there and back up above the "headliner" in the space under the cockpit, then to the computer-pack.


Finally, the control/display head!  I had no good place to put it on the pedestal.  I didn't want it out of reach from the helm.  I finally put it on the "bench back" coaming behind the port-side cockpit seat, within easy reach when I'm sitting.  I had put some access plates into those coamings, to mount my heavy cleats, so I was able to work through the access plate to mount and wire-up the display.


I wish I could say that it all worked perfectly from this point.  It seemed to be OK when I started the "commissioning" process, but I'd gotten the motor wired backwards - which meant it turned the wheel left when it needed to go right.  Frustrating, but an easy fix - and now "Otto" keeps me on course when I have to leave the helm.

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