There was little to choose from here.  I had already installed a set of Autohelm instruments and it was a simple choice of brand.  I wanted the integration for easier navigation.  Now that was over... Which model do we get?


That wasn't so hard to answer either.  I looked at the West Marine adviser and it said go up one size if you are going off shore.  I even called Autohelm to confirm this.  They did.  The choice was easy then.  I would purchase the Autohelm ST4000W (for wheel, they have a model for tillers also).   That was then.  There selection procedures and specifications have been downgraded since then.  That makes the ST4000W the correct size, not one up.


It has been reasonably reliable.  We have gone through 4 belts, 1 motor/wheel unit, and 1 complete system to date.  This left us hand steering for about 4000+nmls. of the 8000 nmls. this year.  I do not wish that on my worst enemy.  Well maybe I do!  Hand steering for days on end is no fun.  Try it some time you may need it.  We went through some really hard days and nights.   Actually the days were easier than the nights.  We tried several different time schedules.  We started at 4 hours on and off.  That didn't work so we dropped it to 2 hours, that was kind of okay, but Jerry was still taking a beating and that wasn't fair.  We ended up doing 1 hour on and 1 hour off.  Take your boat out and try it for.... lets say 12 hours, a simple sail you say.  It's not so easy.   The belts we could deal with.  We had a spare with us.  They got us to the Marquises and they were about done for.  We tried to get more shipped in but the next place to get shipping or that sort of supply was Tahiti.  A loooong way off.


DO NOT BE FOOLED BY THE SALES & SERVICE STATION LISTINGs FROM AUTOHELM.  We got to Tahiti, called the authorized (listed in their book of world wide sales and service stations) dealer for sales and service and was told very bluntly that they do not stock spare parts for anything over the ST3000, and at that they only stocked belts.  A simple car fan belt works well as a substitute for that model.   We inquired about service?  That was an even bigger joke.  We were told that they could "send it to New Zealand or West Marine in the USA".   Not the answer we expected nor wanted to hear.  A call to West Marine had to be made to order spare belts.  Since Jerry was flying back in a couple of days she picked them up herself.  At that time we didn't know about the gearbox shaft seizing up on us, being the probable cause of the belts wearing quicker.


By the time we reached Niue, we had it all figured out and made a lengthy call, US$160.00, to West Marine for a replacement.  Even though it took a while for the representative at West Marine to understand our predicament, she did in the end and had a completely new system shipped to us in Tongatapu.  That was still over 500 nmls. away.  Still better than nothing.  We thought that it would be there and all our problems solved.... cough, cough.  West Marine came through, the unit arrived in just a few days, long before we got there.  We installed it, and after testing the motor/wheel unit we still had problems.  We installed the entire unit, just to make sure it wasn't something else that was wrong.  The new unit also proved to be a defective unit.  It got us to the Bay Of Islands in New Zealand where another call to West Marine got us another unit in less than 3 days.  This one worked well.  It still wanders more than it should but it does steer the boat, most of the time!


We now have the job of finding a more suitable Autopilot unit for Mouse Pad.   There is only one manufacturer that has a flawless record with all the cruisers we have spoken to, that is the Robertson.  The Autohelm is okay for motoring or sailing in calm weather, but we need a more reliable unit for the heavier weather times.  The two boats, Lazy Jack and Scoots, that have the Robertson unit say they have never had even a hiccup out of it.   We spoke with people with many other brands and no one else could make that statement.  We are sold.



West Marine has all my business FOR LIFE.  They came through for me.   They not only got the units to me promptly but they paid the shipping on the New Zealand unit, coming and going.  WELL DONE WEST MARINE.  I am sure that if you haven't already, you will read more about the autopilot in Jerry's Journal.  WE promptly ordered a thousand dollars worth of spare parts from West Marine to be shipped to us in the Bay of Islands.  They arrived in three days.


Some items are as cheap or cheaper in New Zealand while others are a total rip off.  For example:
Product US Cost NZ Cost Deal?
a tube of caulking US$4.00 NZ$19.00 RIP OFF
6 volt Trojan battery US$70.00 NZ$220.00 RIP OFF
VHF radio US$250.00 NZ$250.00 DEAL
Bottom paint (per gal) US$80.00 NZ$60.00 DEAL

The New Zealand dollar is presently just under 2 NZ$ to 1 US$.  By the way, the batteries are NOT imported they are made in NZ with NZ parts.... go figure?   Therefore it is wise to do some price comparisons before you spend your money.


Created by the Skipper of Mouse Pad.
Copyright © 1995-2005  All rights reserved.Mouse Pad
Revised: 19 September, 2005 .