I bought the autopilot for the boat about 1999. She was docked in Kemah, Texas as part of the divorce awfulness. Racing was coming to an end, and I had delusionaly considered single handing. I called up Sea Tech in Kemah and ordered up an autopilot. Having seen all of the shiny ads in the sailing magazines, I had decided on B&G brand. The young man on the other end of the line was silent. "Any problems with that?" I asked. He said that he had seen a lot of B&G stuff come in for repairs. "Then what would you buy?" I asked. He said Simrad AP22 with a Robertson linear drive attached to the rudder post. I have never received better advice. The unit worked flawlessly for 10 years. It was never powerful enough for the big waves, but I preferred to hand steer in the rough stuff anyway.
Then about 4 or 5 years ago ago it began to slow down. It took longer to wake up and engage. It became weaker and weaker. By last year even motoring in a flat clam was a problem and by this June during our delivery to the yard, the autopilot flatly refused to stay on track. It knew where it was supposed to go but just did not have the "oomph" to do so. My diagnosis was loss of hydraulic fluid in the linear drive. I called tech support for Simrad, and he agreed with me. He told me to locate the tank and look for a hemisphere. Unscrew this and add hydraulic fluid. He recommend Pure Oceans brand (which is the house brand for West Marine, go figure?). "Don't use transmission fluid which is too thin and don't fill the tank more than 75%. It needs air to self bleed. Good luck." were his final words.
Now, dear readers, I do not even like to fix things. I only do so because I have to, and I figured that a service call would be over $500.00. I found the tank by wedging as far back into the stern compartment as I could. I marveled at the unit as it looked new after all the years. Those Danes, who originally started Robertson, really used quality stuff. I looked at it three times and looked at the schematic three times before I realized that what I had taken to be a round headed screw was this fabled hemisphere. I had actually kept the instruction manual all these years, It is also available on line. Now how it get it off. The unit was wedged underneath a bulkhead with only an inch of clearance. No screwdriver in my bag would fit. Eventually, I had to breakdown and borrow a special tool from the yard. Thanks, Sadler Point Marina!
Finally, I had access to the tank, and as expected it was bone dry. For a dip stick I improvised with stir sticks courtesy of Starbucks. I carefully added just the recommend amount of hydraulic fluid and used the special tool to close up the tank. The whole job took 4 or 5 hours including 20 trips into the stern lazerette, two trips to the office and one trip to West Marine. But it was done.
Two days later on our delivery on the St Johns River of White Pepper from Sadler Point Marina to Green Cove Springs Marina, I tried out the unit. It worked perfectly and seemed to have all of the power it displayed in more youthful days. The sense of satisfaction was intense!
As long time readers of this blog we understand: to boat is to fix things. This time it worked out wonderfully well. But from now on we have to carry an extra bottle of fluid, and I have to make a trip to Harbor Freight to buy a special tool.
Finally as a caution, I have praised Simrad and Robertson, but both companies as well as B&G have been bought out by large marine conglomerates. I have no idea whether the quality has been maintained.