Hey Conall, nice experience and mini-adventure! Thanks for sharing.
My personal opinion is that its best to steer by compass and to practice it in various sea conditions also. My autopilot went dead just as the seas off Oregon were pushing 25+ ft. There is no way the AP would have kept course anyway, so the three of us hand-steered for 3 days. Running with the waves on a dead reckon course, no chart plotter, and it all worked out perfectly well, right on track.
The 2 hour shifts weren't as fatiguing as my loud engines! (Take a guess… they were 6-71s).
Anyway, the next time you take bud "A" or "B" out, turn the plotter and your future-AP off and let them hand steer by compass. I'm curious how well they keep track then.