7 May 2022: Kill Me Now
7 May 2022
Puerto Real, Puerto Rico
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
17 knots coming from exactly the direction I need to travel
Not a cloud in sight!
Balmy for this time of year
Dry, thank goodness!
I spent a good portion of my downtime trying to figure out why I could not run my engine much higher than an idle for the past few months without it overheating.
I borrowed from friend Jay (from SV Frieda Kai) an infrared heat gun to follow directions from coach Jamie on trying to identify my issue. I was running the engine at anchor trying to get it up to temperature (good news is regardless of how this testing went I would have a cold refrigerator) and then check key areas like the thermostat, the mixing elbow, the hoses to the hot water tank and more. Based on Jamie’s descriptions I knew what I was looking for.
And when I checked temperatures I got relatively normal results. Maybe the only abnormal result was the mixing elbow. Something Jamie expected me to be able to grab and hold and be roughly equal temperature all over, seemed very, very hot near where the water hose entered it. However, there was a three day weather window coming to hop the Puerto Rican coast and a chance that removing the mixing elbow would render me immobile (the concern was a delicate metal gasket that was easy to damage when dismantling this part of the engine). I had no spare for it and still needed to be mindful of hurricane season and making progress south.
Jamie helped me over text message to check for airlocks in the cooling system and I spent a good day on all of this between testing, removing hoses, etc. We could only hope that maybe we had solved the problem and would find out on my roughly 50 nautical mile sail to Ponce (I could barely get the engine to operating temperature at anchor not under load so there was no way to test if it would overheat once I was actually motoring).
I pulled anchor early the next morning, around 4:30am, and after stowing the anchor followed by many minutes of trying to contain the mud that I had been covered in when last 20-feet of chain that came up with the anchor, I set off. The initial leg south had the wind off my beam so I raised my mainsail – with one reef in it as I expected more breeze around the corner – and pulled out the jib so I could shut off the engine. I sail as far as I could be turning upwind around the corner.
My plan was to motorsail with just the main up (as it provided nice stability in the choppy seas) and just get to Ponce. However, fate would intervene and sure make it seem like I was never meant to get to Ponce. The engine was overheating again and the slow idle upwind in these conditions was not sufficient. I was going to have to tack back and forth so that I could use the jib too.
And so I turned south, away from the coastline for my first tack. Luckily I left so early so that I still had a chance to make it by dark.
I did not like to see my heat gauge get much above this level as normal operating temperature is between 175F and 185F. And the only way I could keep it here was to have it in the absolutely lowest RPM’s possible. Not much help.
So now that I was at a sailable angle, I shut off the engine and sailed away from my destination. I made a few tacks for what felt like most of the day and was starting to have concerns about when I would arrive. Normally when I was planning an overnight sail, I made sure to get extra sleep in the preceding days so that I was on top of my game. However, I never thought this would be an overnight sail. And I had not slept enough the day before, that was for sure.
Feeling a little exhausted at the thought of how far was left to go, I made yet another tack. This time not waiting to get enough momentum before turning into the wind. I backwinded the sail and to be honest was not in the mood to tack back and redo it. A simple solution, turn on the
engine and give it a little juice and finish the turn. I do not do such terrible tacks often, but when I do this is an easy fix.
Just one problem. The “floating” dinghy bridle somehow ended up too close to the propeller in my poorly executed turn and as soon as I put it in gear I felt the engine struggle and stop. I knew exactly what happened as I had done this exact thing once when backing down on my anchor.
The only difference is that time I had an anchor and chain out and on the ground, I just had not yet backed down on it. So I jumped in with a pair of Goggles and sorted it out.
However, now I was five miles offshore. It was a different ballgame altogether.
There was plenty of wind today and my jib was already back winded so I was sitting pretty
comfortably in the heaved to position. That meant I had no reason to rush and could think things through and avoid making any rash decisions. Leaving your boat offshore as a solo sailor is one of the most dangerous things you can do.
You need to drop all the sails so the boat does not sail away from you. That means it is pretty subject to whatever sea state you find yourself in. In my case, it was pretty choppy and wavy.
Even though the sails are dropped, you still need to tether yourself to the vessel just in case. And before getting in you must ensure you have a way to get back onto the boat. In my case the swim ladder or if something went wrong with that (unlikely) I could crawl in the dinghy and then onto the boat.
Then you need to worry about getting hit in the head with the rocking and rolling hull of the sailboat. To be unconscious in the water with no crew member to retrieve you is certain death. And the same motion of the boat could result in the prop or rudder getting tangled in the tether that safely attaches you to the boat which could result in drowning.
I was glad to have good conditions and plenty of light remaining to sort this out slowly and methodically. It was important for my safety.
I also texted Jamie to see if I had missed anything and ensure someone knew I was entering the water. If he did not hear from me then he could sound the alarm. And I awaited his response, I lowered the swim ladder and used another line to secure the dinghy. That way if I had to cut the line, I did not risk losing my dinghy.
I grabbed my knife and swim mask and fins. But I had a feeling of dread in my stomach.
Based on Jamie’s reply I had not missed any important steps. But I decided to try and use the GoPro to take a look at the problem before getting in the water. After all, information is power and the last time this happened it was a just a twisted line and a very easy fix.
After grabbing the Go Pro and capturing the above picture, I knew it would be a similarly easy fix. And I realised I might be able to solve this without getting in the water. I tethered myself in so I could lean over the transom much further than I would normally be comfortable.
I could easily tell which was the coiled line. And I figured if I cut that line it would ease a lot of the tension on the shaft/propeller. Then perhaps I could pull on the other end and coax it to slide off of the propeller. I worked at this for over an hour and though I made some progress the issue still was not solved. As the light was going to be fading soon, I figured I needed to give up on this method and get in the water before it got dark.
I went forward to drop the sails and then messaged Jamie that I was getting in. I tied my tether to my waist and put on my mask and snorkel. I strapped my jackknife to me as well. I still had that apprehension (and really did not want to get wet and worry about drying off and rinsing the salt when I was already exhausted). Before climbing in, I went through one more time the list of things that could go wrong and visualised the method and plan to ensure no steps were missed. I just wanted the scenario to be controlled and safe and efficient. No dramas (a friend of mine had some serious dramas doing this exact thing only a couple weeks earlier). And just as I was about to get in, the dinghy line pulled free!
It must have been dropping the sails and bobbing around like a cork that managed to change the angle on the dinghy line and finish freeing what I hard started earlier. I was overjoyed, but I did not even have the energy for a proper celebration.
It was now sunset and I was still so far away from Ponce. However, I wanted to get to Ponce as that would be the best place to take off the mixing elbow and solve this engine problem once and for all. Plus my friend Jay on SV Freida Kai would be there for the day tomorrow and he was very knowledgeable on engines. It was always comfortable to have someone who knew engines when you were taking off a piece that could be damaged easily for which you did not have a spare. So, knowing it would be an unplanned overnight sail and with very little energy I decided not to raise the mainsail. I finished securing the dinghy and turned on the engine to get myself on course, listening for any sort of wobble or unusual sounds that would indicate a problem with the propeller or shaft. Nothing jumped out at me.
Then I pulled out the jib and set the autopilot. It was one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen in my life but I could hardly appreciate it in the state of exhaustion I was in. I am so glad I snapped the above picture to remember it.
It was only 7pm but I started my 20 minute nap routine to try and nip this exhaustion in the bud and grabbed my blanket and pillow to bring up to the cockpit. Immediately upon laying down, I noticed a new bruise along my rib cage from laying across the railing with all my weight for nearly an hour while I was attempting to sort out the line. It was tender. But that was not enough to keep me from getting some rest.
I needed to get as much rest in while away from land and traffic because no matter how tired I was, I was nervous about how much traffic would be out and about near Puerto Rico and I also stressed about sleeping through my alarm and waking up to find myself agound.
When I could I slept, but when I could not I was suffering. Exhausted and heavy islands and needed to rest but unable to.
This lasted until 7am the next morning. Luckily no more problems arose.
I had been messaging Jay about my current engine issues and he said to drop anchor next to him, get some sleep and ring him when I was ready to have some help taking a look at it. I had to drop anchor twice as the first one did not hold when backing down on it. And I collapsed into bed as soon as possible (realising later that I did not even close the anchor locker door that is how tired I was).
Thank god for sleep.
“I do not stop when I am tired. I only stop when I am done.”
– Marilyn Monroe