Our diesel engine has “un mal de tete” (a headache)

On the last day we sailed with our guests Micki and Nathan, we had a bit more adventure than they signed up for.

We sailed down the western coast of Martinique and then east from beautiful Anse d’Arlet to Sainte Anne. For most of the day, we were heading straight into the wind, using the diesel engine as well as the sails to give us a little boost in speed while cutting through big waves. All hands were safely wearing PFDs, and our guests got a lot of practice tacking. It was a bumpy and salty day for sure.

This boat felt awfully close!
So did this kite surfer!
So did this rock!

A couple of miles out from Ste Anne, with the masts of that massive anchorage in sight, we could no longer keep the staysail full of wind, so we attempted to furl it. Nope! The furling line was snagged on something so every attempt to put the sail safely away for the day resulted in loud and violent flogging instead. Capt. Mike went forward to investigate and discovered that we had an overwrap on the furling drum. It was going to be much too difficult to resolve it in the rough seas and high winds, so he decided we were better off simply dropping the staysail to the deck and fixing the furler later when we’d arrived in the protected anchorage. I took the helm to keep us pointed into the wind. And Mike, Micki, and Nathan went forward to wrestle the sail to the deck by dropping its halyard. Good thing it was the small sail!

While I was at the helm, I discovered a new and even more disturbing problem. Even with the throttle fully open, I couldn’t get enough power from the engine to keep us moving forward. And a sailboat needs to be moving at about 2 knots in order to be able to steer. We’d dropped down to less than a knot of speed-over-ground, so I really couldn’t steer at all. I got the Captain’s attention and explained as calmly as possible what I’d observed. That convinced him to stop messing around with the staysail and come back to the cockpit pronto!

Capt. Mike did a quick bit of troubleshooting and confirmed I was telling the truth. Almost no power coming from the engine. So, after an already long and difficult day, we were looking at another hour or more of sailing upwind and tacking in slow motion through the anchorage. We probably could have dropped anchor in deeper water far back in the harbor. But with guests aboard, we prioritized calmer water closer to shore, and a shorter dinghy ride to the dock when we had to offload people and luggage in our little dinghy Bug. Capt Mike took over at the helm and did an excellent job maneuvering Sanitas through the crowded anchorage, finding a spot just barely big enough for us to drop anchor between all the other boats.

We were all pretty much exhausted. Micki and Nathan helped clean up the boat from our rough passage, and then went ashore for an hour or so, giving Capt. Mike and I time to get the rest of the place organized with fewer adult bodies in the small space. Dinner was simply cartons of french vegetable soup – surprisingly good! – and we went to bed early. We’re safe and sound, and we’ll worry about that engine tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Our diesel engine has “un mal de tete” (a headache)

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