You can sleep when you die

Feb 09_Tuesday  Manzanillo

Two days of living hell break the spell of paradise. The sun has set and finally it’s time to rest; and now I can’t sleep.  It had been a frightful two days.

This morning I awoke at the same place I put down the anchor in the dark last night  –  which is always a sailor’s first blessing of the day.  I was at a depth of 40 feet offshore the broad open Santiago Beach. Morning view from my anchorage in Santiago Bay Manzanillo beach front hotels for miles






I had once again broken a rule:  no going into a foreign port after dark.  But the sea gods favored me with a mill pond and reflected light, and that plus skill and luck brought me safely to anchor.

After breakfast I literally held my breath wondering if the engine would start.  It did, and I motored around the bend to Las Hadas Marina, picked up 400 liters of diesel fuel, and then did my first Mediterranean Mooring – something I had only read about (wedged between boats with a fore and aft tie with the stern tied to the dock).

It was a bit clumsy, but successful.  RD Med moored stern to with dinghy platform for a lift

And I achieved a goal I had longed for several days – tied safely to a dock with no more anxiety about the safety of RD.

We had been threatened for the past two days.  But I’m telling this story backwards in time, so I’ll switch.

Saturday morning Feb 06
I awoke in fine spirits and a plan to sail the 10 miles from Tenacatiti to Barra, where I had made arrangements to take a slip at Barra marina.  That would give me a pass to watch the big game at the Barra de Navidad Resort.  I departed around 9 am and I was motor-sailing about 1 mile from the anchorage when the engine suddenly quit.

Garmin chart-plotter will put you on the rocksSilence is the one thing you don’t want to hear either when you are flying or motor-sailing… especially so when there is pounding surf and fiberglass-eating rocks to your left and to your right.

Fiberglass-eating rocks
Real uncharted rocks


When fuel doesn’t flow in the engine, adrenaline flows in your body.


My first action was to head out to sea.  I coaxed RD from a starboard to  a port tack – no where near the direction I wanted to travel, but only one thought was paramount – get far away from those fiberglass-eating rocks with pounding surf.  Then I set RD on beam reach on auto pilot.  Contrary to what you might think, for the sailor the open sea is safe.  Only near shore can the devil come up and grab your hull.  With RD safe and stable on  her own, next I turned my attention to my engine.  All attempts failed to get a restart.  Now what?  I had several options – each one with a risk I’d like to avoid.  The most prudent option was to return to the Tenacatita anchorage I had left a half hour ago.  But Tenacatita for all its beauty is a remote isolated place without any services.  I could retrace my path on the track on the chart-plotter, I knew the anchorage, and the winds would allow me to safely sail there.  And so I silently sailed into the anchorage, picked my spot, lowered sails, and set the anchor – all single-handed.  It worked exactly as I had rehearsed it, and in fact a neighboring boat complemented me on my seamanship.  No matter how dire or complex the circumstances, ego still plays its role.  I must confess to some muted pride in pulling that off as routine as parking a car.

I spent the rest of the day deep in the bowels of RD inspecting the fuel system and changing fuel filters – a tedious messy job made more unpleasant by 80 plus degree heat, the smell of diesel fuel, cramped quarters and sweat dripping profusely on to my glasses just at the moment I needed to see plainly.  Late in the evening I had the engine running and was cautiously optimistic about her performance.  But residual worry kept me from sound sleep.

Sunday Feb 07
The world stops for the Super Bowl, and so I took a respite from my engine problems (see separate blog).

Monday Feb 08
My suspense an anxiety (not about the Game) continued the next morning.  The engine started, I up-anchored and motor-sailed for one-half hour out of the harbor between the fiberglass-eating rocky shores, and the engine quit again. It was a nightmarish repeat of the previous attempt.

Now I decided that I needed professional help.  So this time I elected to sail the 30 miles to Manzanillo, where services were available.  I set a new course and soon the chart-plotter informed me that if I kept up my current speed I would arrive at sunset.  But two hours later the wind gave up and left me bouncing like a cork with no propulsion.


Parenthetically I was three miles off shore and in plain sight of the bulk carrier Los Llanitos (see my blog Wreck on the Rocks) that was driven to the rocks by storm wind and waves.  It was a vivid reminder that should winds continue to be still and currents running in the wrong direction that I too could suffer the same fate on a clear day.

With nothing else to do but bob aimlessly about I went to work on the engine.  After another three hours of sweat and diesel in the bilge (this time add the unpleasantness of a rolling sea) and changing gaskets I got the engine started.

Now the chart-plotter informed me that I would arrive near Manzanillo at abut 10 pm.  And there I was again faced with going into a foreign port for the first time after dark.  Not a best bet!

And that brings me to this moment of trying to explain the hours of emotional high alert, the sweat and perseverance that it took to get here.  I had an adventure I didn’t want; I was not happier than I’ve ever been.  But perseverance, and skill and knowledge to outwit the foibles of the Lehman engine and a lurking devil brought me to safe harbor.
So I have the sailor’s version of ‘jet lag.”  I guess I’ll just have to wait until sleep catches up with me.  Until then I’m comforted with an old saying:

“you can sleep when you die.”



2 thoughts on “You can sleep when you die

  1. Phew! I’ve been reading this adventure backwards, so I did know your survived before I read the last chapter. Good for you/ You deserve some cheering from the sidelines! For the engine work…not your football prowess!


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