Autopilot Upgrade

Autopilot Upgrade

When we bought Red Rover two years ago, most of her navigation equipment was from the original 2005 install.  There was also some added items that previous owners had added over the years.  The equipment did a good job bringing us up the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle after closing on the boat in 2016.  But we both new that we’d like to upgrade before we took off to cruise “permanently”.  And we wanted to do it enough time before we leave so that we became comfortable with its operation as well as to work thru any bugs that could arise.  January of 2017 we decided to take the plunge and upgrade the navigation equipment minus the autopilots.  We love the new equipment and have really enjoyed learning/using it this past year.

Why did we decide to upgrade the autopilots?  They operated fine – nothing was “wrong” with them.  But there was an occasional hiccup with how the pilots dealt with the nav data coming from the navigation equipment after last years install.  We are part of the group who likes to have the routes that we’ve created on our chartplotters sent to the pilots.  The pilots take this nav data to “steer to” and make course changes when the boat reaches each plotted waypoint.  What was happening is the modern equipment was sending the data too fast and too much of it.  We then installed a different NEMA 2000 to NEMA 0183 converter that was programmable to dumb down the data and help make the pilots happier.  It worked much of the time.  But roughly every two hours, the pilot would error out and we would need to hit a button a few times to get it back on line.  So another upgrade was added to the “to do” list…

So this January at the Seattle Boat Show, we started looking at autopilots (uh oh – that’s how the electronics started last January).  Our ideal system included two pilot heads, two computers and four follow up levers, essentially how it was sent up originally.  The AccuSteer pumps were just fine and would stay put.  Simrad ended up being the only manufacturer whose system would really support four follow up levers.  Furuno had a work around way to do it, but I didn’t like how it would be done.  So, a new Spring project!

Unlike the navigation upgrade in the spring of 2017 where I did much of the demo myself and then assisted in the install (which means I pulled a lot of cables and watched how things were hooked up), I did the complete Autopilot install myself.  Between my navigation “apprenticeship” plus some electrical classes that I took this last year to fill the wholes in my knowledge, I felt very comfortable completing the install.  Plus, I had Scott with Emerald Harbor on my “phone a friend” speed dial as needed.

So back to demo’ing/pulling wires and equipment.  Most of the work surrounded cable to the wing and cockpit nav stations – removing and installing the follow up levers in those locations.  The flybridge and pilothouse access is fairly easy to work around.  The cabling/wiring was greatly reduced last year but I am still amazed at how much is in Red Rover.

Upper dash down.  This is pre-install of the two additional FI70s.
Almost empty dash…
Photos are great to assist in remembering how wiring should go back together!
Ceiling panel down running new cabling to the wing station.
Master stateroom closet and ceiling panel.
This is just below the wing station.
Starboard wing station before the original follow up lever was removed.
New follow up lever.  One hole that needs to be filled.
Original pilot computers before removal.
Updated AC70 autopilot computers
The NMEA 2000 backbone will replace much of this wad of wiring…


Once the old equipment was out of the dash, I had holes that needed to be filled and new holes to cut.  I epoxied plywood plugs in to the old holes and filled/sanded flat before adding new black laminate.  I also took this opportunity to permanently install the Xantrex battery monitor as well as to add two additional FI70 4.3″ displays in to the upper dash.

NMEA 2000 cables starting to be pulled.
A new hole was drilled for the water gauge and the battery monitor was placed by the genset panel.
The backside of the six FI70 4.3″ panels.  The two on the right are the new displays.
The two new FI70s were installed above the VHF.

The NMEA backbone initially ended in the engine room, far enough to get to the newly installed sounders last year.  So I needed to extend the backbone aft to the laz so that we could connect the cockpit station follow up unit.  As I am typing this, I now realize that I should have pulled the second (currently unused) backbone to the laz at the same time.  This second backbone will be utilized for monitoring equipment in the near future.  Another project!

Original end of our backbone.  Now extended to the laz.
New aft end of the backbone in laz.
After patching the dash, I cut in the holes for the new (or moved) pieces of equipment.
Test fit!
New laminate set after the holes were cut.  A laminate trimmer was used to finish the cutouts.
And how it looks now!
Another view of the helm.

On the flybridge, a new AP70 pilot head, follow up lever and second FI70 display panel was added.  I had a new aluminum dash panel routed and sent out to be powdercoated.

Flybridge dash.  The right side dash panel had to be remade with the updated pilot head.  I also took the opportunity to add another FI70 on the flying bridge.



After the physical install of the equipment, I started the “at dock” setup of the two computers.  When I got to the point where I had questions, I waited until Scott with Emerald Harbor Marine arrived to review/finalize the settings and then head out for a seatrial and on water setup/adjustments.

We had a beautiful day for the setup so it wasn’t to difficult to fine tune the pilots.  The one challenge boats with active fin stabilizers can have is the tuning of the pilot with the interaction of the fins.  When the fins are working to counteract the rolling of the boat, they themselves then turn the boat, which the rudder (pilots) are working to keep the boat tracking straight.  The other part of autopilot tuning is adjusting to a middle ground of the vessel stays pretty much on course with minimal wandering vs it making a lot of rudder adjustments all the time to stay on track.

I will admit that I never messed with the old autopilot settings.  I figured that if it was working, don’t mess with it.  And, we didn’t have a lot of experience with autopilots in other boats to know if what we had was “steering” well or not.  But the new AP70/AC70s work well.  Well, really well.  Since the first seatrial, we have worked to tune the pilots in different sea conditions and Red Rover’s tracking has definitely benefited from it.  And we have come to really love the upgrade, learning to use them and how much more we are enjoying being underway.

Seattle Boat Show/Nordhavn Weekend

Seattle Boat Show/Nordhavn Weekend

Whew!  What a weekend.  The “Great Seattle Boat Show” weekend is always a fun one for us – something we look forward to much as others likely look forward to Christmas morning.  We love wandering the aisles of the show, looking for things on our “list,” walking aboard vessels on Lake Union and seeing friends who come out for the show.  It’s the gathering of the tribe of boat nuts.


This is on N63 Peregrinations, but one of the options that we are looking at…
The Simrad Follow Up


Last year we were shopping for nav system “stuff” with the help of Larry from Emerald Harbor.  We weren’t planning to do the giant project for a few years, but alas, we did as evidenced by the gleaming Furuno screens now residing in the pilothouse.  This year we are looking for new auto pilots (again with Larry’s help), an updated Waggoner Guide (our smallest purchase for sure), a new sea kayak that is meant for NW waters vs. our existing warm water sit-on-top-kayak, and we are considering trading out our dinghy.  Hours of fun!


Alison’s kayak – what shall we name it?  The rep suggested “Don’t Flip Over”…



The weekend started with a fun gathering on Red Rover of friends Dale and Glenda (of N43 Serenity) down from Alaska for the show, and some local peeps with extensive Alaskan knowledge – Sam, Laura and Kevin of Slow Boat fame.

On Saturday morning, we hosted our first Nordhavn Dreamer open house.  What fun!  I think we might have to do that again.  We decided to have a little dreamer open house after a lot of banter on the Nordhavn Dreamer Groups (a message board of sorts) about the Seattle Boat Show, people traveling to see Nordhavns (only one in the show) and a long story about wife “eye rolling” around this Nordhavn thing.  Well that eye rolling commentary got me going.  If you’ve read this blog you know that I have no intention of being “the Admiral” (I call myself the Deck Boss) and that I was actually the one who said, “hey let’s live on this boat.”  Enough with husbands saying their wives are rolling their eyes already. So….we had an open house.  With mimosas of course.  It’s Boat Show time of year – celebrate! We had 11 guests all of whom were so delightful to chat with.  Some of them even left exchanging contact information with one another.  Completely consistent with the Nordhavn community that is a big part of owning this boat.  We love our boat to distraction and talking about her with other Nordhavn enthusiasts?  Nothing more fun than that!


Boat Show Mimosas!
Lively Nordhavn conversations!
Lugger Lovers!
Zoe and her Rocket!


Saturday afternoon was spent wandering the indoor show.  We went to one Boat Show University class but found that perhaps we were more graduate student level boaters.  More wandering.  And a new kayak purchase – an Eddyline Skylark that will be perfect for exploring the bays and inlets that Red Rover brings us to.  Surprisingly I opted for the blue hull (not red?  Gasp) and will pick up my new boat and Werner “Puget Sound” patterned paddle at the end of the show.  So excited!

On Saturday evening we went to the Nordhavn owner’s event at the Seattle Yacht Club Elliott Bay outstation, hosted by PAE.  Now Kevin and I are extroverted introverts.  We don’t traditionally do well in large parties and tend to run and hide.  But our friends Tom and Linda (N57 Meridian) and Dale and Glenda (N43 Serenity) were going to be there as well as Scott and Brad from Emerald Harbor who we think are the bees knees.  So we figured we’d be ok.  We walked up to a building with almost 100 Nordhavn owners in it.  Amazing.

The event was fun!  In fact, Kevin was probably one of the last owners there.  I dragged him out as Dan Streech (President of PAE, which is the parent company of Nordhavn) was plugging in a vacuum cleaner.  (Hello, he is behind the vacuum?  I love that – a president title and not above helping with clean up.)  I have to say, we have wanted to meet Dan for many years, ever since we became Dreamers.  We first watched the Nordhavn North Atlantic Rally (NAR) video back in 2008(ish) and learned about Dan and his partner in PAE, Jim Leishman.  And we were hooked.  Big time.  I think we’ve watched that video over 50 times since then. Most recently last week sitting on Red Rover. Seriously.  So meeting Dan was just fantastic.  He is as honest, down-to-earth, interesting, kind and knowledgeable in person as he comes across in the video and his interactions on the Dreamers and owner’s sites.  What a pleasure.  He probably thought I was a little silly as I told him all of this but he did give me a hug, so apparently I wasn’t too nutty.


Anyways, we talked to other owners, the ever- incredible-Lugger Bob (who had previously spent a day on our boat, in our engine room), our friends at Emerald Harbor and some of their spouses for the evening.  It went too quickly. What incredible, smart, interesting and down-to-earth people.  It felt like talking with people we’d known our entire lives.  It’s all about a shared passion – these amazing world-traveling trawlers.  But I think it is also about a personality type that lives behind the boat owners – people who are curious, thoughtful, kind and not hung up on themselves.  I mean these are people that own boats that are valued from over $500K to many millions of dollars.  But that doesn’t matter.  These are real people who are open and wonderful.  It was amazing.  We can’t wait to go to the PAE 40th anniversary party in Dana Point in April.