Isla Utila, Honduras

That’s the phrase that kept running through my mind when I arrived to Utila. It’s how my fellow Old Krank Bicycle Club member Carter MacEntyre (possibly misspelled) described every long distance ride he completed. This despite being a strong rider and riding several hundred miles per month.


I left Livingston, Guatemala on Monday, June 19, at about noon. There was a little wind, so I decided to sail out. There is a sand bank across the river entrance that limits the depth to 5 feet. My boat draws 4 feet, so no problem. Deeper draft vessels have to time the tide to enter and exit.

I was not mid-channel, but also not that close to shore when I went aground. Locals watch for this and have built a good business around it. A few minutes later and $50 lighter, I was on my way.

The first few hours were non-eventful. As the sun set, I was motor sailing due to light winds. I could see lightning in the distance, but was dry for the time being.

A sudden, strong squall with heavy rain forced me to lower the sails. I can roll the head sail from the cockpit, but have to go to the mast to drop the main. I wear a harness with 2 tethers when I leave the cockpit. The longer one attaches to Jack (safety) lines on deck and the short one attaches to the mast or rigging to keep me close to my work. After that, I was very wet and the auto tiller was steering while I went below to dry off.

I stayed below while the boat motored along. I could stay dry and take a look around while standing on the top step of the gangway. The combination of the wind and seas became too much for the auto tiller to steer. So I turned it off, shut off the engine and drifted. This tactic is called “lying ahull.” If I had some sail up, I could have “hove to”, but I wasn’t in the mood to do that.

There was nothing around us and the water was plenty deep. So, it was a safe place to just float around. It was also comfortable enough down below. It was too dark to see the waves and I don’t have a wind instrument. I don’t know how hard the wind was blowing, but my wind generator sounded like a small plane taking off. It normally hardly turns at all.

After 30 – 60 minutes, things settled down and I started the engine and carried on. I stayed below and all was well. Maybe an hour later, the rain and wind increased again and the auto tiller was showing signs of displeasure. When I would push a button, rather than the normal “Beep”, it would say, “Meh.” Then it just failed completely.

I didn’t note the time, but think it was before midnight. That meant that I had to hand steer the rest of the way. I wasted about an hour trying to get a couple bundgy cords to steer. I knew that would work, and it didn’t. So it was on the tiller to hand steer. It is very difficult to steer to the compass. There were no visible landmarks, so I had to follow the compass. Taking my eyes off of it for more that a few seconds would take me off course. That is very tiring. I would stop periodically and go below for a break while floating in neutral.

When the sun finally rose, I could at least see a point on the mainland. That made it much easier to steer. However, my plot charter told me I still had about 7 hours to reach my destination. I thought that I would never get there. But, of course, I did eventually. I anchored and called the port captain on the VHF radio.

I thought about asking if I could come in the next day, but I remembered when I cleared in as crew with Paul Sommers on “Dragons Wing.” Well. First, I arrived when he was out to lunch, so I stumbled off to have some myself. Then I looked for a cell phone SIM card to buy internet. That wasn’t easy, but got done.

Checking in took a lot longer than I thought it would. It was the same person, but the rules must have changed. He had a computer and I don’t remember that he did before. He spent a lot of time being careful with the forms and reading them over and over. He even had me take him to the boat to get photos. I thought he take a photo of the Hull number, or at least check it. He took a photo of the stern with the name and hailing port. When we returned to his office, he double checked everything and then told me to return the next morning.

Then, it was immigration. That didn’t take too long. They did have an electronic finger print machine that I think was new. He also printed my passport stamp with a computer printer rather that a manual stamp. The entry fee was $3.00.


I returned to the port captain’s office today and got my paperwork. He didn’t ask for any money and I didn’t offer any.

I just started to think about what I’m going to do about the auto tiller. This is a small island and I can’t just pop into a marine store. My next destination is 4 or 5 days at sea. I can’t hand steer that.

I’ll post some more about the island later. This is a big diving location. I’m not into that, but I’m checking into snorkeling with whale sharks. I’m also going to rent a Quad and ride around. There a very few roads and they are full of cycles and ATV’s.

This link will take you to map with my location.


The auto tiller


2 thoughts on “THE RIDE FROM HELL

  1. Ah, Tom, I am so sorry to hear about your travails with the autopilot! We had really difficult conditions going from Falmouth, MA to New Jersey (Cape May). I was really seasick, and while Paul was at the helm, the brand-new autopilot broke. Other than a couple of 45-min stints, when I took over, he had to hand steer for something like 40 hours without a break. Unbelievably awful. Things were fine with both of us hand-steering from that point until we got to Deltaville, VA, where DW went to a boatyard. We’d gone to the boat show in Annapolis, and Paul had had fabricated an extra-heavy-duty tongue for the heavy-duty autopilot he bought at the boat show. They installed both at the boatyard, and, oy, was it expensive, but so worth it. I really think that typical autopilots are designed for much lighter regular recreational sailing, daysailing, and maybe weekend trips, but not designed for the sort of use they get with blue water sailing.

    Hope things get easier and that you can fly home now and then to take a break.

    Paul is aboard DW, right now anchored in Pender Harbour on the (BC) Sunshine Coast, and heading for the Broughton Archipelago. He’ll be gone for another 3 or 4 weeks. Kids may join him for a weekend here and there, but he’s mostly doing this much easier trip by himself. Condo Association doesn’t allow “MindMyHouse” type people, so I’d have to pay petsitters, which is a really expensive proposition.

    saludos cordiales, Gayle


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