Leg 2, Day 14 – Autopilot versus Hand Steering

Emma Mitchell By

Leg 2, Day 14 – Autopilot versus Hand Steering

The route from San Francisco to where we are now, just over 500 miles south of Hawaii has not been a straight one. For those of you who have been monitoring the map on our website you will have seen a few wobbles and the occasional loop the loop in our track as we get challenged by unfavourable winds and currents. Looking at the track on our chart plotter is even more entertaining as you can see every twist and turn, the times we go backwards when we change pairs, the times we went the wrong way when LP and Nat were perfecting their dance routine and the times the currents made our track draw a picture of a face. We have two methods for steering Doris, the autopilot and hand steering. The autopilot tiller can be attached to the rudder and shunts to and fro moving the rudder the required amount. Using the chart plotter we can either set it to stick to a particular heading or put in a waypoint that we want to reach and navigate towards that. With the hand steering we move the line attached to the rudder and jam it off in a cleat at our right hand side, adjusting it as necessary to hold a course. There are positives and negatives to both of these options and I thought I’d tell you about them so you can understand what we are dealing with next time you think we are rowing in the wrong direction.


Pros: – The tiller does the work for you and all the rowers have to worry about is the rowing. This makes for very happy rowers.

– If you send Doris to a waypoint our very intelligent autopilot can read the waves and position us in the best place on them leading to a more comfortable ride.

– When sending us to a waypoint you also get a countdown of how many miles you have left until you reach it which is a good way to chunk time.


– The autopilot is very noisy and so it keeps us awake at night. This is especially bad if you are in the position where you head is directly under the autopilot shelf in the aft cabin.

– Sometimes we loose AIS or GPS signal briefly in the Pacific and when we do an alarm sounds and the autopilot looses where it is and needs to be reminded which waypoint to head for. This is especially annoying at night.

– We can only use the autopilot when we are travelling consistently 2kts or more which means that it is fairly rare that we get to enjoy it.



– This is a much quieter way to steer and leaves the aft cabin a lot more peaceful.

– Hand steering doesn’t use power from the batteries therefore leaving more energy for playing music through our deck speakers.

– Hand steering works when travelling at any speed.


– On a good day it is easy to hold a course using hand steering but on a bad day you can be moving the rudder every few strokes.

– Moving the line in and out of the cleat can leave you with steering blisters on the right hand index finger.

– On a bad day hand steering can lead to frustration and anger of the rowers. I do not use bad language often but the steering has led me to it on a number of occasions.



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  2. Jim Andrews says:

    And I thought you you were using a sextant and the stars! That was very interesting and it is good to see that you have technology at your disposal. You are doing fabulously well ladies the halfway point is getting ever closer. Well done and stay safe. XX

  3. Simon ty says:

    Sorry that niggly things like steering make yr life difficult. Boring to have to concentrate on it all the time.

    Is pissing down with rain here. Awful. No summer yet ( apart from last Saturday, and one day in May). I keep thinking of what news might be of interest, then I realise how trivial and irrelevant all the news is here. Do you care about the Yuan devaluation or Labour leadership contest ? And I am certainly not the one to give you showbiz gossip. The leak of 1000s of athletes blood data rumbles on….claims that hundreds were doping and athletics in danger of getting itself into the cycling corner. Appearing weak and failing to answer adequately the claims.

    Anyhow, off to walk the dog in the pouring rain xxx

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