Death of an Auto Pilot

We check the weather. We check it again. We check it on multiple websites and apps to be sure. We REALLY want to sail on this next passage! The weather calls for wind 15-20 knots, seas 4-7 feet for several days. This means we can sail!

We wait until ten o’clock in the morning to leave Charleston so we can hitch a ride with the outgoing current. Stephane’s on the bow pulling up the anchor, I’m in the cockpit moving the boat to help him get the anchor up properly. And then, as Steve S. warned might happen, we hit YET ANOTHER SNAG. Some old chain that someone left at the bottom of our anchorage wrapped around our anchor. Seriously? This is not a sailing skill we are looking to acquire except we are getting uncannily good at it.

Image 1

Rusty old chain wrapped around The Bruce (one of our anchors).

Thankfully with a good, strong reverse-and-punch-it, we are able to free our anchor and leave Charleston on schedule. Thank goodness it did not turn into an epic.


We get out into the Atlantic. The day is gloomy and the waves are pretty big (for us), but guess what else was out there? W-I-N-D. We switched out our yankee (smaller jib) for our genoa (larger jib for light air), got it flying, raised the main, and away we went! No motoring this time! We figured out our best point of sail for the direction we were going, set Mark (we named our auto-pilot Mark. Most people name their auto-pilots “Otto” haha), and settled into the wind and waves.

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Wing on wing! The mainsail is on one side of the boat and the jib is on the other side.


Early into the night, Mark burned out. For good. No more auto pilot. We knew that Mark was underpowered for our kind of boat but realized later that he is meant to steer a 16,000 pound-max boat -we are 30,000 pounds + so, it makes sense that Mark couldn’t hang, particularly in these conditions.


The wind kept picking up and the waves got bigger. We reefed once and then once more (reefing is making the mainsail smaller). We were running (sailing downwind) so it didn’t feel as scary as it would have been had we been sailing into the wind. So here we are, middle of the night, winds getting stronger, waves getting bigger, and no auto pilot. So we have to take shorter shifts/watches.  It’s really hard to stare at a compass for hours at a time, fighting the wheel to keep your heading. Plus it’s kind of boring too.


We continue the short watches through the morning and by mid-morning we decide to duck into the next safe inlet we can. We’re tired and cold and ready to be out of the wind. We sail into Saint Andrew’s Inlet, drop anchor just outside Jekyll Creek / Jekyll Island for the night, and breathe a sigh of relief. Canned chicken never tasted so good! (Actually it was canned turkey. Still, tasted good).


Tomorrow we’ll take the ICW for a change and complete the final 20 miles to get to Cumberland Island, GA.


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This is Mark, our auto pilot. He’s the gray inner circle attached to the wheel. We asked too much of him on this last trip. He gave his all though. Thank you, Mark.


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Nope – it’s not Charleston but the bridge sure looks the same, right? Our anchorage just outside Jekyll Creek, GA.


Image 19

What do you suppose this gigantic tank of a ship carries? It reminds me of something out of Star Wars…




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    • The other "S"s on November 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm
    • Reply

    I think that’s an auto carrier – there’s a huge port for such things next to Alysia’s marina – we watched thousands of MInis/BMWs being off-loaded.
    As I said, we only used “Mark” in dead calm conditions (like crossing the Pamlico Sound). Had my eyes on a $5,000.00 hydraulic below deck unit (B&G I think) but it was time to “Let it go, let it go . . .

    • The other "S"s on November 12, 2014 at 1:47 pm
    • Reply

    Oh, and congrats! That’s the first time that the Genoa was ever hanked on. You dun good!

  1. S- S and I are in agreement that you and S should have gone ahead and purchased the $5k SuperMark 🙂 dang it! Now we might have to…actually I think we may replace the motor ($65) and use Mark as he was intended. -S

    • anthony pylar on November 13, 2014 at 6:06 am
    • Reply

    Leave it to the rude dog……always a wanderer

    • Cindy on November 13, 2014 at 6:27 pm
    • Reply

    Poor Mark!

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