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Double-handed sailor Philip Meakins on the value of his autopilot and AIS 

Philip Meakins and his wife Lynda have sailed their Sigma 38 two-handed to the Caribbean and back, ably supported by a full suite of Raymarine autopilot and instruments. 

In August Philip and co-skipper Chris Choules competed in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race.

The Fastnet is considered one of the classic offshore races. It takes place every two years over a course of 608 nautical miles (1,126 km). The race starts off Cowes, on the Isle of Wight in England, rounds the Fastnet Rock off the south west coast of Ireland and then finishes at Plymouth in the south of England after passing south of the Isles of Scilly.

It has a reputation as the most gruelling and tactically challenging of the classic offshore races.

This year, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) rules specified that all yachts competing in Categories O, 1 and 2 were required to have an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitter on board.

Ambassador Philip Meakins

Philip Meakins 2
Here Philip Meakins gives us an insight into the excitement...  
As our Sigma 38, Festina Lente, rockets across the Irish Sea with 2 reefs down on a tight reach in 30 knots of wind, I’m snug in our windward bunk. Meanwhile, Chris keeps watch under the shelter of our tiny spray hood, completely dry despite the shockingly wet conditions outside. The Raymarine autopilot is in complete control, and although he might wring an extra tenth of a knot out of her by helming himself, Chris knows he would soon tire and is better pacing himself for when the wind comes ahead. Even then the Raymarine autopilot would outperform most helmsmen…

Two days later we are approaching the Lizard, the UK’s south west peninsula, with the tide against us and a big decision to make. The boats ahead have come to a stop. Do we go offshore to get out of the tidal acceleration zone, inshore to find a new breeze or straight down the middle? To our surprise, the fact that all boats have to be fitted with active AIS means we can monitor speed and direction vectors from boats in each of these areas and deduce what the wind is doing. Not only does it help with collision avoidance, AIS has become a potent meteorological tool and helps us take the inside route and get ahead of the huge park up at this classic tidal gate.

Later, as we ghost towards the finish in the dark, our new Raymarine multifunction display screen fills with hundreds of AIS targets as the whole fleet comes racing up astern with a new breeze. The radio is going mad as 200 boats report they are about to finish. No kidding - the whole fleet is about to finish and it would be more sensible for the few yachts in the universe who aren’t within 100 metres of finishing to radio in and tell the race officer not to worry about them!

Philip and co-skipper Chris Choules came 4th overall in the double-handed division and 11th out of 65 against the fully crewed boats in their class.

For more information about Raymarine autopilot and AIS systems, visit and