We stocked up on food, beer and diesel at the supermarket in Ipswich, and then prepared for the next leg of the trip - Den Helder, 140 nm away. As it would take around 30 hours and we wanted to arrive in the daylight, we left SYH at 10:15 on Thursday 19th May. The first part of the trip was lovely sailing - Force 3-4 and sunny.
All went really well for the first part of the trip - we finally got the sails up and switched off the engine. Marelle was sailing really well, even with two reefs in, but after a while the wind dropped a few knots and Martin took out the reefs. As the wind strengthened towards the evening, Martin put the reefs back in the main and we put on oilies ready for the night. The autopilot started struggling, making a loud clonking noise and having difficulty holding the course, so Martin took the main down and we carried on under just the jib, with a Force 5 SW wind.
At about 2 a.m. we crossed the first part of the Deep Water Route, used by big ships, although we didn't see any traffic nearby, and were nearly at the halfway point when the autopilot reported "Compass deviation too massive" and the boat started wandering around all over the place. Martin put the autopilot into standby, and we switched on the engine in case it was down to some electrical issue, tried restarting the autopilot, and checked for anything magnetic near the EV1 sensor, but nothing helped. Martin decided it would be better to head back to SYH rather than continue on to a strange port, so we headed back across the shipping lane, which had now filled up with ships going both north and south.
One ship was gigantic and had an unusual light spacing. We tacked back out of her path and then started across the shipping channel for the third time, this time fortunately made it across. It does seem rather like crossing a motorway very slowly, a scary experience especially once we had already had an unexplained equipment failure.
Martin thought he would have to hand steer all the way back, and it was now quite choppy and we were heading into a Force 6 wind, but after a couple of hours the autopilot compass decided to start working again spontaneously. It was a long slog to get back to SYH, and as we approached Ipswich and I got phone signal I started getting lots of texts from people who had seen we were heading back, and asking if we were ok - this was so nice to know people care enough to keep an eye on us!
Stephen was one of the people who had texted me, and luckily for us he was in SYH harbour office when we called to ask for our berth, so came and helped us moor up - much appreciated especially as we were both very tired.
We called Greenham Regis and Foxs Marina (local Raymarine agents) to report the autopilot problem, but there was nothing they could do until Monday so we had a restful weekend getting jobs done on the boat. I made another foredeck hatch cover as I had left the previous one at home, and Martin made some mounts for the TackTick instruments.
On Monday, Foxs called and said they had a replacement EV1 they could fit, and their engineer James came over to install it. He did a superb job, upgrading the software for the ACU200 also, and made sure the data sources on the chartplotter were set right, as well as tightening up the nut for the autopilot drive unit for us. Hopefully that should resolve the clonking noise, as it seems to have removed a lot of play from the system. We went out for a brief sea trial this time, and the compass deviation is now reading 3% instead of the 15% it had before, so is much better.