LAHOWIND » Just you, me, + the dog.

Coffin Island Was Nearly the Death of Us.

(Coffin Island, Puerto Rico)

I’ll tell you what, our second day at Coffin Island was definitely NO vacation. No walk in the park either.

I wish I could say we were sitting back sipping sundowners and snorkeling the island during our time anchored at Isla Caja de Muerta. Okay, fine…on day one, we were. But on day two, we were hunkered down and holding our breath through what was maybe one of the worst storms we have ever experienced (although, let’s be honest, we haven’t been through a ton).

Not only were we sitting on pins and needles as our little wine cork of a boat bobbed helplessly 250 feet from and way too close to a rocky shoreline, but also then to realize that our anchor chain was holding the load of the boat all by its lonesome because our bridle shackle had come apart and was now missing in the waters below made weathering the storm that much worse. Oh, and let’s certainly not forget having to call in SeaTow later that same day for a membership renewal after our engine refused to turn on from either a faulty starter or low batteries.

Pretty stellar day, wouldn’t you agree? ;))

Luckily, there were a few extreme “highs” to our day too that somehow managed to overshadow out all of ^^that^^ utter crappiness.

Regardless, here’s what I now know for certain. Waking up to horribly shitty, excuse the French, conditions at 5:30AM in a rather unprotected anchorage is not really the glamorous sailing vacation either of us had in mind when we left Naples last March. Surprise crap conditions, no less.

I know I’m not much of a meteorologist, but seriously how does a system the size of Puerto Rico literally just pop up out of nowhere? Ugh. After a fantastic arrival and first afternoon at Coffin Island, this surprise development started off our second day on a pretty craptastic note as the massive storm hammered us hard for several early morning hours as it moved over the entire island of Puerto Rico.

I’m talking 30 to 40 knot wind gusts, huge red fire-y colored blobs of yuck weather on the radar, severe marine warnings, and what felt like 200 strikes of lighting…all a little too close for comfort when you are sitting pretty in a big floating lightning rod of a home.

The whole time ^^this^^ weather situation was unraveling, we were being sucked closer and closer to shore as the wind pulled our anchor scope to the max and pushed us in the least optimal direction.

No bueno.


Sailing-Blog-Cruising-Caribbean-Puerto-Rico-Coffin-Island-Anchored-During-Riding-Out-Storm-Radar-Tropics-LAHOWIND-1 ^^that gross red blob and orange marine warning box just passed over our poor little boat anchored off Coffin Island.^^

We kept an eye on real time radar and our boat’s location offshore using our phone’s GPS as the system passed and eventually died out. Fortunately, our anchor held firm and we rode out a super intense patch of thunderstorms basically unscathed and no worse for the wear after it.

As conditions began to clear up, we assessed our anchor situation and immediately realized that our bridle shackle had loosened and come apart during all the craziness, leaving the rest of our bridle uselessly dangling below water and all of our boat’s weight and tension being supported by our windlass alone. Super.

Thankfully, we were anchored in water nearly as clear as the Bahamas and jumped in to dive for our missing shackle pieces. Amazingly, we were able to immediately spot and retrieve all three separate components that had come unscrewed and put everything back together with the added addition of a some seizing wire to keep the bridle shackle from unscrewing itself in the future (which we obviously should have done originally like we did with our shackle holding the anchor to the chain).

We also went ahead and re-anchored the boat a bit further from shore in case any more “surprise storms” popped up.


^^we were, perhaps, a little too close to shore.^^

After thinking our misfortune for the day was behind us, we set out to enjoy what was left of the day. While en route to take Oliver to shore for a potty break, we hit the cruising jackpot of a lifetime with a chance baby sea turtle encounter! I wrote a whole separate post about our once-in-a-lifetime sea turtle hatchling encounter >>here<< because it was downright amazing and definitely deserved its own post.

After experiencing such a low low with the storm, followed by an amazing high from the baby sea turtle sighting, we were not expecting another series of extreme ups and downs to follow. After dinghying around to explore Coffin Island and returning to the boat later that evening, we made the executive decision to go ahead and run the engine to charge our depleted battery bank — the result of several overcast days in a row.

You can tell where this is going, can’t you?

Yup, as luck would have it, our engine wouldn’t start. Fab. You. Less.

We tried and failed on about twenty different attempts to start her up, but just could not get our trusty Perkins 4-108 to turn over. As much as we would love to simply sail right out of the anchorage and on to our next destination without using an engine at all, that isn’t going to be happening any time soon. It’s one thing to sail out in open waters, but to sail through an unknown-to-us channel and into a packed anchorage in Salinas, and then have to anchor under sail (without having an engine as backup) probably isn’t the smartest idea for us still somewhat newbie sailors. Yes, I’m confident we could in fact do it if we had to, albeit it wouldn’t be pretty, but today (thankfully) wasn’t going to be the day.

So, thinking that our engine issue was mostly battery related, we launched into full blown energy conservation mode, knowing that the following day’s forecast was calling for more of the same — clouds and rain. The total opposite of what we needed with our main energy source being solar panels. We turned off all our lights, fans, the fridge, and anything else drawing power on the boat. We also went ahead and renewed our SeaTow membership by phone in case we found ourselves stranded at Coffin Island in a few days and in need of a tow back to the main land. PS – SeaTow not only covers mainland U.S., but also Puerto Rico, the USVI’s, and even the Bahamas (through an affiliate company). PPS – We ended up not needing a full blown SeaTow rescue, but at least now we have that peace of mind in our back pocket.

Thinking that our engine woes could also very likely be the result of a faulty starter (in combo with low batteries), Jereme got to reading our trusty Nigel Calder Mechanical + Electrical Manual and then proceeded to “tap” the starter with the end of a hammer. Real technical of a “fix,” I know. Jereme said if it were Nintendo, it would’ve been like he just removed the game cartridge from the console and blew air in it. ;)) You guys know what I’m talking about. Lol. Side note, our awesome Nigel Calder book has come in handy on a number of occasions. That guy knows it all. A huge thanks to our friends The Eick’s back in Naples for gifting us this treasure of a book before we left town.

And surprise surprise, that little hammer tap did the trick!!! The engine finally turned on!



We left that baby purring for the next several hours as we watched our batteries juice up and then made a super early 3:30AM departure from Coffin Island and headed for safe harbor in Salinas, where we knew we’d be spending the next several days fixing our engine.

Especially after our engine also overheated a tad on the trip to Salinas. I know, things just keep getting better.

We are definitely happy nothing more serious happened during our time in Coffin Island (which by the way is super beautiful), but we sure could manage without any more crappy early morning weather wakeup calls or engines not working from here on out.

>>Thanks for visiting LAHOWIND sailing blog! We’d love for you to get to know us and follow our story as we attempt to navigate a whole new world of sailing, as we cruise the Caribbean.

Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream PuffNovember 13, 2014 - 10:44 pm

Hi Guys,

We had a 4.108 on our previous boat. That thing ran and ran and ran. It even ran underwater once (another story).

The 4.108 is notorious for the starter solenoid getting stuck. A tap with a hammer usually does the trick but the little copper ring inside will get a burned spot each time it sticks. Then, it just has a hard time working. One of the causes for this is starting the engine with a low battery. Duh! We used the engine to charge the batteries.

If the hammer trick doesn’t work you can bypass the solenoid by using a screwdriver to short the points on the starter and jump the starter. It’ll give off a pretty good spark but it will let you know if the starter is good or bad and if it’s good the engine will start.

Hope this helps.

Happy trails!


Mark and Cindy
s/v Cream Puff

Mark RoopeNovember 14, 2014 - 6:42 am

It seems as though the Island was aptly named.
People think this cruising life is all glamour but I think it was summed up by someone who said.. round the world cruising is all about fixing your boat in exotic locations.
Just remember, if it is broken duct tape it, if it is not broken hit it and if neither of those work it is an electrical problem.
Glad your hammer worked.

Skelton CrewNovember 14, 2014 - 2:59 pm

So glad everything turned out okay! The worst storm we’ve ever been caught in was also not forecasted and in the wee hours of the morning with winds from the exact opposite direction as expected. Go figure 😉 Experiences gained are great, just not always that great while happening. Here’s hoping for more stellar days ahead! ~Jackie

Stephanie Gardiner - SV CambriaNovember 14, 2014 - 3:36 pm

Ahhh! The joys of cruising and living-aboard! If it’s not the middle of the night anchor-watch, then it’s the engine-watch. And if you’re really lucky, you get both at the same time. Glad all you guys lost was a little sleep!

LAHOWINDNovember 17, 2014 - 3:03 pm

Thanks everyone! Definitely a learning experience that we hope we won’t have to repeat all too often. :) -Kim