|nonoctave.com / Rebel Yell / Part IV / Chapter 1|
|Rebel Yell||Jason Scott||Part IV - Maiden Cruise|
Half hearted work begets slipshod end results. Such slattern production points directly to the manufacturer’s own personal loose principles. In Taiwan, amongst yacht builders, this seems to be the rule, not the exception.
On a scale of 100, the desirability of Keelung as a port worthy of visit would have to fall somewhere around 5. Taiwan’s northernmost major port city is nondescript and its harbor is filthy. Five minutes after REBEL YELL was put into that water her bottom and top sides were covered with oil and slime. Keelung is also made somewhat less desirable by the omnipresent armed guards, all members of a most despotic police force. The latter seemed determined to spend most of their time waiting for us to do something which would justify their throwing us out of the harbor earlier than planned.
During the previous calendar year when the decision was made to build and take delivery of this William Garden style ketch (design stolen from Mr. Garden), we had been subject to the expected warnings from Stateside Cassandras who delighted in telling us tales of all that could happen to American innocents who dared deal directly with wily foreign boat builders. Those tales were, of course, enhanced but we were to learn there was more than a modicum of truth in all of them.
During the final three months of the construction exercise, I was in Taiwan attempting to watch over the construction project. At the end when my complaints had built into wails of protest, the builder advised me that if delivery wasn’t made post haste, he would abrogate the contract. Over there a foreigner has little of any right to legal recourse. The word had been passed on that this particular builder had done exactly that to others and the question of refund had been laughed at in scorn. A carefully planned scenario had been followed to get the customer into this position. His final attempt to maneuver me into this situation (sexy interpreter) had been rebuffed by my wife immediately upon learning of the exercise. Women seem to sense intentions of this nature quicker than men and she vetoed the arrangement before I could succumb to this technique practiced in the ages far prior to Bathsheba’s appearance on the mid-east business scene.
Such were the onshore dealings with our Oriental craftsmen. Eventually the launch came about and my boat was in the water. She was beautiful and I was in love all over again. Unfortunately, cosmetics applied conscientiously, can deliberately cover up a multitude of sins.
Chris was excited too but, wisely, she assumed a façade of nondescript indifference to buffer my excitement. She contented herself with the chore of provisioning for what we thought would be an easy uneventful cruise down the east coast of Formosa, through the strait between Taiwan and the Phillipines and on to Manila. Our 10 year old son, Jeffry, concerned himself with haggling with the local merchants about the price of mounted Formosa butterflies (largest in the world) and playing chess with a beautiful young Taiwanese girl who had befriended him.
The crew selected to supplement the family was a good one. One of the best I’d ever had. Displaying what I thought was a rather finely honed managerial skill, assignments for the tasks which needed to be done before leaving the harbor were made. Rest assured, there were more critical tasks to be done than for a sail from the far western end of Long Island Sound to far downeast of Schoodle Point.
Checking out the boat and its systems was a major undertaking. There had been and there would be no local cooperation. We didn’t have sufficient time to do the job right. TB had made prior arrangements with local authorities for us to leave the country post haste. It was apparently common practice.
The builder’s point of view after witnessing a shouting match between him and one of his prior customers who took delivery while REBEL YELL was still “under construction.” It seems that the other yacht owner kept insisting that the builder make sufficient repairs to keep the boat from slowly sinking from all the built in leaks. TB kept insisting that the customer had taken delivery so therefore his problems were no longer of concern to him. I didn’t think it too unreasonable of the buyer to expect that a new boat did not leak. He was forced to sail with an unseaworthy boat. (I had the opportunity later to follow this saga through to its conclusion or, at least, the yacht to a friendly port and can report that the frustrated owner made it to Manila with his leaky boat and family of four despite long sessions with bailing buckets and rosary beads.)
Checking out a boat while under way was next to impossible within the confines of the harbor at Keelung. The quarters were close and the volume of traffic was awesome. But, sailing outside the harbor was strictly verboten unless you just kept on going! The official reason for this rule was that Taiwan was still in a state of war with the People’s Republic of China and therefore traffic in and out of harbors and around the island had to be controlled to a point of paranoia. They (the builder and his co-conspirators in officialdom) had taken the precaution in our case by tying us up alongside the Chief of Harbor Police’s launch.
Chris, after spending the first day after the launch recovering from the rigors of the celebration the night before, disappeared each day with her little cohort into the by-ways of the local black market. They would reappear each evening loaded with canned food and other necessities for the trip. They also frequently returned just loaded! This attested to their great zest for life or to the trepidation with which Chris approached going to sea in a locally built boat. It also added considerable spice to the evenings with the men and it didn’t seem to effect the quality of their purchases.
A word about commodities. We had to be careful even of relatively standard items such as toilet paper. The texture of Taiwan TP ranged from a coarseness grade similar to medium sandpaper (dubbed True Grit) to that which all Americans there referred to as “Old Skiddoo” for obvious reasons. All of the local TP was quite incompatible with the best of marine toilets and would have caused much embarrassment at sea if used even once in an emergency!
Along these same lines, one of the things Campbell and I inspected during checkout was the plumbing system. The story was well known all over Taiwan of the American who seriously annoyed our friend TB. It seems that the offended builder had the outlet from the head rigged to dump directly into the bilge. A few days at sea after clearing Keelung, the consequences were duly noted by all who had the courage to remain on board. Even then, every one had to stay on deck until they were able to reach safe haven in Okinawa where the problem could be corrected. There are a few around who still insist that it was all a horrible mistake!
Soon it was obvious that any problems encountered during the commissioning process were mine and mine alone! This was somewhat disconcerting having paid TB for the commissioning service. It seems that by then he had developed an uncanny ability to be somewhere else when the clarion call for help came. Even the now carefully pristine services of my “interpreter” had vanished. The desperate call for help to the broker in the States was ignored. Now that he had been paid he didn’t consider it in good taste to return my call or answer my wires. (So much for the real need to go through a broker!)
With but a week in which to complete our work, there was no point in pursuing the issue. We busied ourselves finding and correcting all the faults we could. Our time problem was compounded by the local Harbor Police’s annoying habit of moving us from mooring to mooring on but a moment’s notice. We had been forewarned of this inducement to leave.
One fine morning they demanded that we cast off and park for the day alongside another quay between two other boats. The space I had to put it into was 41.5 feet! As a matter of dogmatic pride in my boat handling ability, I tried to comply and damned near made it! This kind of harassment ceased after we made friends with a mysterious American-educated Chinese with the unlikely oriental name of Tom Shay. Tom had power and friends in very high places and he used them to our advantage.1
Commissioning went on until the morning of April 15. We seemed to be ready to sail. One minor detail was left to be resolved, not with the builder but between the owners. The appointment of skipper. Of course, I had taken this for granted but had totally overlooked the feminist mystique. It was necessary to assure Chris that even though I would run the ship at sea, a job she was willing to concede under certain conditions, she would have her say in port. To facilitate this, she agreed to assume the title of Admiral.
Interestingly enough, even though the title was conferred in fun, we found out later that when sailing in the Orient and through the Muslim states, titles meant a lot if they appeared on the official papers. The deference was duly noted and appreciated by the Admiral!
A fast last check of the provisions and consumables were made. Seventy gallons of diesel fuel in the main tank and 20 in reserve cans. Enough food to supply the crew of five for 45 days. One case of oil for the engine. Five one gallon jugs of stove alcohol and enough of the other kind for the crew under quasi-controlled use. (A happy hour was permitted each day in the evening just before dinner. Everyone could participate except the watchstander would would delay doing his thing until the watch was completed.)
A last minute check of weather conditions forecast for the morrow called for scattered clouds, wind from 003 degrees at 10 to 15 knots, a moderate sea state and balmy temperature. Ideal sailing conditions!
The great day arrived and the oriental sun dawned bright and beautiful. Everyone in the crew had slept aboard. We were not only bright eyed but bushy tailed! This feat was accomplished before the fact by curtailing the pre-sail festivities early. Excitement was in the air.
Chris prepared hot cakes, bacon and eggs and scones for all and the breakfast on the fantail was spiced with bubbling talk and laughter. The anticipation of pending adventure was in the air.
Immediately after breakfast, I took off for the Harbor Master’s office for clearance and thereafter to the police station to recover my rifle which had been held in bond with much ado. Campbell and Bob went into town again to buy replacement running rigging. It seems that TB had furnished us with polypropylene to use as sheets and halyards. It’s hard to believe that in the rush to commissions no one had noticed that major gaff earlier. Shows just how much TB knew about sailing boats! We bought excellent woven rope locally at an unforgivably low price.
At the police station it was necessary to stand through a half hour lecture on gun control and then provided an armed escort back to the yacht. It took some three hours to prepare to clear. To emphasize the point, the police captain left two armed guards to see to it that no one came aboard and no one left. It passed through my mind that it was indeed fortunate that this country was so friendly to the US and its nationals.
The engine was started at 1000 hours and, without ceremony, the lines cast off. Chris’ friend and her husband came down to see us off bringing a last minute package from home. Four half gallons of good old REBEL YELL whiskey! My favorite of all sipping whiskies sent by friends in the south, the McMillens! Now, that’s real southern hospitality!
We were also honored by our band-box dressed agent still astride his Lambroghetti (was he permanently affixed to it?). He who had been so useless felt obliged to see us off. There was also an unsmiling police captain, two serious soldiers with the usual fixed bayoneted rifles, Jeff’s girl friend, and a few unknown hangers on. Tom Shay had been to the boat earlier in the morning and advised us that he would be on his yacht at sea monitoring the emergency channel in case he was needed. I couldn’t imagine the emergency, but he knew best!
REBEL YELL proudly pushed her prow into the waters of the inner harbor and headed outwards under 1600 RPM and bare poles. All sails were made ready for immediate hoisting including the 160% Genoa which had been handed on and tied aside to the life lines. The RPM was increased to 2200. Because of the restrictions of Keelung harbor, this was the first opportunity we had to run under power for any distance. There seemed to be an inordinate and increasing amount of vibration. Campbell took the wheel on request to confirm the feel and offer an opinion.
“Damned thing feels as though the rudder is shaking itself apart!” he offered.
“Could we have picked something up in the water to imbalance the prop?” I asked. “God knows the water is dirty enough to contain almost anything.”
Jeff joined me as I meandered over to the side and tried to see if something was visible.
“Think it was one of those dead bodies they dump in the water here in China like you told me, Dad?”
“That was long ago, Jeff. They don’t do that any more.”
“So you think!” came the word from Bob Peeples commenting softly to himself.
“Shut her down to idle, Campbell, and let’s see what we can see.”
“Not going to see anything unless you go over the side, skipper,” Campbell retorted.
“In this water?”
“I wouldn’t, but you’re the Captain! It’s your God given right. Even your duty!”
The vibration subsided somewhat at idle. I took the engine controls from Campbell, put the engine in reverse and cranked up the RPM. It got worse.
“Campbell, take over here and lay dead in the water. I’m going to try to raise the harbor master and ask for permission to lay alongside, get into the water and figure out if it is a problem we can fix here or if we have to go back to the dock.”
The effort to raise the harbor master were finally answered. It was then came the discovery that the name chosen for the boat was the worst possible for China. It tools 15 minutes of phonetic spelling and explanation to get around the fact that most orientals cannot pronounce “R"s, “Y"s and “L"s. What he did to the name REBEL YELL was something to hear!
The request was made to tie up for a few minutes to inspect the underside. The answer was quick in coming.
“You go! You no stay! You cleared papers! Not possible to return. You go!”
Momentary visions were entertained of REBEL slipping slowly and silently into the waters of the bay to the tune of Taiwanese officials still shouting that I had not cleared for the open ocean and had no right whatsoever to change course for the bottom. While thus being entertained, another voice came over the radio.
“Jason, this is Tom. What is the problem?”
I explained briefly.
“Stand by on this frequency.” His voice was strangely clipped.
Now, it’s a fact that we did not know where this guy came from, but his voice carried an authority which was unmistakable even though not a word of he was saying to the guy on the other end could be understood. There was an immediate change of attitude on the part of the harbor master’s spokesman. Soon, another voice was heard. Tom spoke more gently but did not relinquish the tone of authority. He must have put his point across because the conversation died abruptly.
“Jason, what do you want to do? You have permission to come alongside where you are and assess things. If you have to return you can do so; I’ll stand by.”
We nursed our candidate for Miss Shake-N-Bake to the nearest dock where I put on a bathing suit, went over the side, and inspected the prop and rudder. No visible problem. I climbed back aboard amid snide remarks about how I smelled. Ignoring the taunts and tending to business, I advised the harbor master that we were returning, started the engine, and cast off for the trip back to the dock. There was no point in trying to cover up the odor of my slime-covered body with clean clothes so there I sat, shivering with cold until Chris threw a foulweather jacket over me. Foul was right!
By then the Perkins was really vibrating, even at reduced power. Suddenly smoke started billowing out of the engine compartment. Opening it up to see if there was a fire we were all greeted with soot and oil thrown by the diesel from a ruptured exhaust manifold line. At least there was no fire. We continued back towards the dock.
It was necessary to go below again and chance opening the compartment where we could see the coupling to the drive shaft. As suspected, the drive shaft was whipping unmercifully. She was closed up and it was back to the radio and our friend Tom!
“That sphincter from the factory did not align the engine properly or even tie it down securely! The gottdamn thing is shaking itself to pieces. Hopefully it will hang together long enough to get back to the dock,” he was informed.
“I read you. I’m on my way in. If you flounder, I’ll pull you in myself. I’ve already called and told the factory to stand by. They’ll send someone out immediately.” Good old Tom. Evidently he even had some influence with TB.
I made my way back to the cockpit and advised the crew. The engine got worse each moment and, by the time we made it in and tied up, the cabin was filled with smoke.
The vibration succeeded in splitting the welds in the exhaust system. (Welds? Such as they were!) Campbell and Bob looked at the mess.
“Well, at least the head doesn’t dump into the bilge,” said Bob with an air of optimism.
We looked at the dock. Our friends, the harbor police, armed soldiers and a bevy of customs agents were there to greet us and read us our rights. By the time Tom arrived, we were all fuming.
“The factory men will be here tomorrow to assess the damage and find out what spares they need to provide. In the mean time, I suggest that all of us get together with our working clothes tomorrow and align the engine.” Shay, addressing us only, had deliberately ignored the ROC officialdom who had gathered, much to their discomfort.
“Tom, I don’t think I can be civil to anyone from the factory,” I gritted between my teeth.
“Not to worry, friend. I’ll handle what needs to be done from here out.” He saw Chris’ looking disgustedly at the sooty mess below. “Also, don’t worry about cleaning up. This was caused by their neglect and therefore it is their problem. It will be taken care of.” He smiled a kind of wicked smile.
“Good thing you were smart enough to withhold final payment until you clear the harbor. No one had thought of that until now!”
He climbed out of the cabin door and made his way to the rail, where he paused for an afterthought.
“Jason, even though official permission will not be granted if you ask, you may leave the boat tonight for dinner ashore. I have taken the liberty to make such arrangements for you at the hotel. One person must be kept aboard as guard. I’ll send one of my own men for that.”
If it were not for Tom Shay, we would have been forced out of the bay and into the open ocean with a crippled boat as others had been before us. We spent the night at the hotel as his guests. I must have left half the harbor in the bath tub.
With the engine aligned and a new exhaust system (these seem to be constant problems with some Taiwan manufacturers), a new sailing date of 17 April was set. Tom came aboard early that morning for help and a final look.
“I’m afraid I cannot be at sea with you this time,” he informed us. “I have, however, left word at the proper levels that you are to be treated with respect.” (God, what a change. To be treated with respect!)
There was a definite note of somberness with the crew when we pushed off for the second time. The engine was running smoothly and did not seem to object when power was increased. I put Bob at the wheel and went below to check the harbor charts one more time. We hadn’t made it to the outer harbor when a cry of distress came from the helm.
“Jason, the gottdamn thing is overheating.”
I took one look at the temperature gauge and dashed below to open up the engine compartment once again. The problem was obvious. Steam was jetting out of the heat exchanger which separated the sea water coolant and the fresh water internal to the engine. The weld had given way on the bottom and all of our fresh water coolant had blown out. I gave the order to turn around and make for the dock again. Then it was on the radio to advise the Harbor Master of our actions. They didn’t even bother to answer! (Oriental custom to ignore that which they cannot control.) We proceeded to tie up at the same old dock and I went ashore to get hold of our agent. Let him contact the factory! This time the harbor police didn’t bother to arrive. Everyone ashore wanted to pretend we didn’t exist.
Upon returning to the boat, I noted Bob, Campbell, Chris and Jeff all peering at the leaking water. “Well, at least the exhaust welds held this time,” Campbell remarked quite dryly.
“Yeah, and it looks as though the head is still connected overboard and not to the bilge,” Bob added. It was funny but I was not in the mood for levity.
This time, the factory sent the Perkins engine representative down to check the cooling system and see to it that repairs were properly made. At least that is what he passed himself off as. I was to find out when we got to Manila that he wasn’t. It didn’t really matter, though. The “new” engine he had installed in my boat was used and as such carried no warranty!
It took but one day to repair the faulty welds. We were ready to try it one more time. Tom called and advised us that we had set two new world records for returning a new boat to the docks. Most others were so sick of the problems of delivery that they just left Taiwan as best they could. He also wanted to inform me that light gale winds were being forecast by evening. At least they were coming from the right direction for a good ride south.2
We cleared the dock at 0900 the following morning. At 0940 we moved past the point of no return. . .the breakwater. REBEL YELL was in her own element for the first time. The unrestrained swell of open sea felt good and we quickly set working sail into light winds and a friendly sky. Our first touch of good fortune. The gales were not to be!
Chris, who had been inordinately quiet since the first aborted start, retired to the master cabin, pulled out a book and settled down to read. Her door was closed, meaning “Stay out!” Jeff went forward to his own private cabin, pulled the sliding door shut and started assembling his Micronauts collection. Bob took the first three hours watch at the wheel, while we two old timers relaxed on the fan tail enjoying a cold bottle of beer.
“You know something, Campbell?” Silence.
“Murphy. You know Murphy’s Law?” More silence.
“Murphy wasn’t an Irishman, you know. He was a Taiwanese boatbuilder by the name of Moi Fee!”
He nodded and lay back.
I didn’t know it then but, our troubles had just begun with our “made in Taiwan” label. As Jackie Gleason would say, “we hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet!”
|Chapter 1||Chapter 2|