Windless & Windlass-less

September 20, 2019

In some ways, living aboard a sailboat full-time is a world apart from life ashore.  In other ways, the guy on the boat next you is no different than a dirt dweller’s next door neighbour.

Take, for instance, the idea of necessity versus luxury.  Oftentimes the only distinction between the two is whether I have it or you have it… if I have it, it’s out of necessity.  If you have it and I don’t, it must be superfluous.

We don’t have a bow thruster; therefore, we deal with it.  We certainly could use one every now and then, but we don’t consider one a necessity.  To the contrary, we actually find a great deal of satisfaction in successfully working through a situation without having to rely on a bow thruster.

On the other hand, we do have an electric windlass, and certainly consider it more than a luxury.

But tell someone who doesn’t have an electric windlass that yours is broken… the chances are nearly one hundred percent that you will elicit exactly zero sympathy from them.


After an uneventful six hours travelling from Guanaja to Roatan, we opted to anchor at Lime Cay Bight, which was completely undeveloped except for a few houses and Mango Resort, with its five colourful overwater bungalows.

Our Rocna anchor typically does much better in sand than grass, which has a tendency to get piled up in a big mound, preventing the anchor’s tip from digging in properly.  However, after leaving the Bahamas, we have found it much more challenging to find good patches of sand to anchor in.  More and more, we find ourselves searching bays covered in turtle grass.

Such was the case with Lime Cay Bight.

After unsuccessfully searching for the right combination of depth and bottom composition, we eventually had to settle for multiple attempts to set the anchor in turtle grass.

On occasion, the deck connection at the bow for our windlass remote control acts up.  You push the up button… nothing.  You push the down button… nothing.  Shit.

The seemingly arbitrary feisty behaviour is, no doubt, the result of mild corrosion which is inevitable given the location’s exposure to the elements.  Sometimes it requires nothing more than a wiggle; other times a more thorough cleaning is needed to get it working again.

To complicate the challenge of repeated attempts to set the anchor, the windlass connection decided to play up as well… not very nice of it.

Normally, wiggling the connection either works or you get nothing.  Worst case scenario, if necessary, we bail out on the remote control at the bow and operate the windlass from the cockpit, which can get tricksy.   Either it’s difficult to see what’s happening, or Kris operates the windlass from the cockpit while I am sorting things out at the bow – not something I like to do (there are many stories of nine fingered sailors who have had their hands too close to a windlass and chain being operated by someone else.  Not ideal.

However, something else was going on as well.

Intermittently, the click of the solenoid could be heard, which seemed to indicate that the connection was okay but the windlass was not engaging (much like the click you hear when you try to start your car and the battery is almost dead – ignition on… no starter).  Doble caca!

Finally, after multiple attempts and an ongoing dialogue of swear words with myself, we were able to get a good anchor set with our ailing windlass.

And though Manny, the owner of Mango Resort, was very friendly, the resort was officially closed for September.  Like so many other people, he reminded us that very few people come visiting at this time of year… ya, ya… we know.

This left a bit of dinghy exploration and snorkelling to be done as off-boat activities, but nothing more.  We hadn’t gotten a chance to fill our tanks since our last dive, so going for a dive was off the table.

We ended up waiting five days for enough wind so we could sail the ten miles to French Harbor instead of motoring.  During that time, I tried to do a bit of diagnostics on the windlass.  However, I was hesitant to dig in too deep, not wanting to chance having the windlass die completely while we had no nearby access to any services whatsoever.

In theory, our windlass can be operated manually if necessary, but I have never been able to get the damn thing sorted out for a multitude of reasons.  Which leaves hauling up everything by hand.

Now, I realise I’m no spring chicken, but I do consider myself in better-than-poor shape, and I have never been timid about breaking a sweat.  What I don’t understand is the physics that makes a half inch chain more than twice the weight of a three-eighths inch chain.  I’ve already had a science teacher tell me that’s impossible but, like electrical voodoo, I believe it to be true.

Regardless, hauling up the ground tackle by hand would be my fallback plan, not the primary strategy.

When the wind finally picked up, we managed to get the anchor up with our still debilitated windlass and make it to French Harbor, where we found more visiting sailboats than we had for the previous five months combined!  This included three people we met briefly while at anchor at Michael’s Rock on Guanaja – Josh and Sarah, aboard S/V Off The Grid, as well as Craig, back aboard his boat S/V Samba Pa Ti, who had just been joined by his daughter Zoe.

Now that we were back amongst the civilised world, with access to hardware stores, mechanics, and other resources including Internet, the windlass issues could be properly dug into, hopefully with a happy resolution.

Armed with a multimeter, Nigel Caulder’s Boat Mechanic’s Bible, and an Internet connection to get real-time advice as needed, Exit’s Chief Engineer (me) commenced with diagnosing corroded connections, burned connectors, and overheating wire.  After quite some time, I emerged from the fray with a sneaking suspicion.  As a final act of confirmation, a battery was hauled up on deck and jumped directly to the windlass motor… nothing.


After twenty seven years residing at the bow of a boat, the windlass motor itself appeared to have finally given up the ghost.

Tablespoons of black powder, the remnants of the carbon brushes, poured out of the inside when we opened the motor… not good.

If we couldn’t get the motor repaired, chances are we’d have to replace the windlass entirely… I’m guessing a $3000-4000 prospect for an electric windlass… Eek!

But, a windlass motor is not that different from a starter motor, and identical to the motors which raise and lower the lobster traps on the local fishing boats… so, it’s not like we’re trying to locate a brain surgeon… stay optimistic.

After asking a few people and posing a few questions to forums, we had a very general area that a mechanic could possibly be found in with an even more general description of how to find him.  After a while of walking, and looking… and asking, and walking… we stumbled upon an open door of an unmarked building.

The entire inside of the room was essentially a huge pile of used mechanical and electrical parts with a few poorly defined paths running through, surrounded by shelves and tables piled high with more parts.  The guy behind the counter looked to be in his  twenties.  Possibly, the guy who just writes up the work orders… possibly, the mechanic.

His English was non-existent.

Our Spanish is pretty limited.

Where is the bathroom…?  How much for the beer…?

Pretty graspable stuff.

¿Permisso los pollos en el autobus?  Are chickens allowed in the bus?

Can even pull that one off…

But… The up and down positive electrical connections on my boat’s windlass motor have a direct short across them… can you fix this?  How much will it cost?  How long will it take?… Hmmmm. 

We did our best to communicate back and forth.  In the end he told us to come back in three hours.

I tried to clarify… Maybe get an estimate in three hours?

He tried to clarify… Maybe fixed in three hours.

As we walked away, Kris was not even remotely convinced.  Just leaving our windlass motor with a random guy we can’t even communicate with, eh..? Ok…really..?

It seemed like less of a gamble to me.  Whether this kid went and got the old man in back… or he was the fourth generation mechanic who actually performed the miracles, this room full of broken parts was not a graveyard of repair failures… to me it looked like   the product of years of salvage and scavenging work… parts to be used in the future.  Any repairman, not worth his weight in gold, would not have been in business long enough to gain this calibre of an in-stock parts inventory.

The motor was where it needed to be.  The question was simply, could it be revived or would it, too, become part of the shop’s spare parts inventory pile?

Three hours later, we poked our heads back through the doorway.

Sitting in a vice, sporting a brand new coat of glossy black spray paint, was our motor.  The middle post already had the black clamp from a set of jumper cables attached to it.  Arial (????), who turned out to be not just the cashier but also the Dude, touched the red clamp to one of the other two posts and the motor whirred to life.  Then he touched the other and the motor reversed direction.


He had documented the procedure with photos of various damaged parts that had been discovered during the surgery.  Lots of problems… Still… it lived.

And… the big question…

?Cuantas cuesta?  How much is the cost?

He writes on a piece of paper… three… two… zero… zero.  Three thousand two hundred…

Processing… processing… processing…

Wait… thirty two hundred Lempiras.

That’s… a hundred twenty dollars.


Fortunately, the reassembly process proved easier than the disassembly process.  And, though Jay (one of my electrical voodoo witchdoctor/advisors) had run the math and recommended we up-size the cabling gauge running to the windlass, we could delay that until after we reached the Rio Dulce.

So… the moment of truth…

When the up button was pressed and the chain began grinding its way up… and the down button started letting the chain back out…

… a true Johnny Bravo… VICTORY!… erupted from my lips.  Back in business!


To those sailors who haul up their ground tackle by hand, I salute you, oh salty dogs… and I promise to never bring up the existence of Exit’s stern anchor electric windlass in any bar conversation!

Amazingly, we have whittled away all but only about two weeks of our ninety day Honduran visa.  We don’t have long before we will be forced to clear out and head for Guatemala.

Now if we could just get the wind-less bit sorted out.  A twenty four hour motor to Livingston is exactly what we want to avoid.

Nervous Locals


September 9, 2019

After arriving to Guanaja on July 10, uncertain as to whether we should even stop here to clear in or continue onward to Roatan, we now find ourselves finally departing only after spending two months here.

True, we did spend longer in the Bahamas.  But that’s a lot of islands and cays covering a lot of space.  While we may have spent a month in one area, in general, our movement was in a forward direction with little backtracking.

Now, for the past sixty days, we have rotated between three anchorages no less than ten times… El Bight – providing not only accessibility to Bonacca, but also maximum wind protection when things kicked up; Graham’s Cay – providing maximum breeze and ventilation relief when things really got hot; and Michael’s Rock – providing absolute solitude and incredible views both above and below the water when the weather cooperated.

Still, in the back of our minds, we were always aware of the fact that we were, to a certain degree, tempting fate.  Hurricane season in the Caribbean lasts roughly from the middle of July to the middle of November.

When we returned to Grand Cayman towards the end of June, after our visit to the States, our strategy was to make for the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.   A renowned haven for boaters to sit out the hurricane season, it has the benefit of never having been struck by a hurricane for as long as hurricanes have been recorded.

Unfortunately, our insurance company does not distinguish any location south of the Georgia border as being “hurricane safe” during that time frame.  The increase in our most recent premiums certainly reflected that perspective.

Nevertheless, even if we stopped along the way at either Belize or Honduras, the Rio Dulce was still attainable by mid-July.

And yet, here we are.

Stalled in Guanaja, enjoying the location… and then it’s three weeks after mid-July.

We still pay heed to the notion that, until we get to the Rio Dulce, it behooves us to pay particular attention to the SSB forecasts of weather guru Chris Parker, and not try to second guess any threatening weather that begins to develop in our direction.

Any potential hurricane that could threaten this location would almost certainly originate from Africa, giving plenty of forewarning for those ready to make the twenty-four hour jump to the Rio Dulce.

August 10, our twenty eighth wedding anniversary, comes and goes.

Still enjoying the location…

Kris heads to the mainland for a five day outback excursion while I remain aboard Exit diligently taking care of our baby at anchor.

Still enjoying the location…

August 15, marking the two year anniversary of Exit’s launch and our move onto the water, comes and goes.

That’s alright.  We’re only a month behind the tentative schedule we softly agreed to aspire towards.

Still enjoying the location…

I find myself suddenly bedridden, experiencing my own five day outback excursion in the form of three solid days of no food and anything-but-solid outback activity, while Kris  diligently takes care of her two babies at anchor.

Not enjoying the location so much right then…

But the darkness slowly passes.  It’s unicorns and rainbows and marshmallows again.  More diving.  More relaxing.  More snorkelling.  More drinking.

And then it’s September.

Holy shit… seriously?

As the haze begins to clear, a darkness returns, and one thing becomes certain.  Though we are not statistically in the safest place to be, we have just dodged a bullet.  During the first week of September, Hurricane Dorian, packing Category 5 winds of 185 miles per hour, has pummelled the Bahamas and U.S. east coast, largely in a reverse mirror of the path we took from Maine to Jamaica.

It was even less likely to directly affect us than it would Alabama (I probably just made someone’s list somewhere).

Nonetheless, two questions continued to remain at the forefront of our thoughts.

Was our dear friend Benjamin safe?  We had seen a photo posted a short time ago taken by Benjamin atop the mast of his sailboat Cracker Tale which sat spiderwebbed into the mangroves near Marsh Harbor, Abacos just twenty four hours before Dorian levelled the Bahamian town.  We had heard nothing from him since the storm hit.

Were we beginning to confuse comfortable with complacent?  Though the two are nearly opposites of one another (acceptance of one’s environment vs. ignoring one’s environment), at times they can be very hard to distinguish between.

In this case, the finger snap that awoke us from the hypnosis of comfort transitioning towards the paralysis of complacency came from the local population.

When people who have lived in an area for their entire lives observe that the current  season has been particularly dry, and that drought conditions historically signal a high danger for storms and hurricanes, one would be foolhardy not to take heed.

Whether a local insight, or an understandable reaction to the devastation witnessed with Dorian, the locals have begun to grow nervous.

Regardless, we are pushing our luck.  Hurricane season is reaching its zenith, and we need to be in the Rio Dulce.

Again and again we hear, you guys are kind of behind everybody else… which makes us laugh.  We’re generally okay with that.  However, as tempting as it may seem, rolling into the Rio Dulce in mid-November, just as the boats are starting to head out in the opposite direction would be rather ridiculous.

The real question is… can we get there before October?

As we raise anchor inside the reef of Guanaja for the final time during this visit, we have to say a huge thank you to Don and Annette for all the hospitality, kindness, and generosity offered to us during our stay.  Sure Feels Good knowing we have friends in Honduras we can always return to.

We also receive a long awaited update from our friends James and Dena aboard S/V Cetacea.  The text reads:  Benjamin is ok.  But his boat is, in his words, toast.

We have to smile.

In the big picture, some things are simply more important than others.


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