|nonoctave.com / Rebel Yell / Part V / Chapters 1-2|
|Rebel Yell||Jason Scott||Part V - In Search of A Wayward Wind|
The open arms welcome, Filipino style!
The crew of the ketch REBEL YELL felt no regrets as Taiwan slipped away behind. It was only possible to make about 5 miles off the coast after leaving Kaohsiung before the winds died completely. Even with that the family was in a festive and happy mood for having finally left the confines of such a restrictive and alien society. The condition of the yacht did leave a lot to be desired but hope was ahead. Reprieve was within sight in the form of the friendly Phillipine Archipelago for there existed competent help.
Sails were doused and REBEL moved southward throughout the night nursing a sick engine but trying her best to put as much distance between herself and our erstwhile nemesis before dawn. Fortunately the waters were placid and the night balmy. Under these conditions, 10 year old Jeff would handle the helm for about an hour, Chris would go at least three hours before fatigue set in and I handled a five hour shift.1
Motoring under circumstances of having no working self steering device was tedious enough but the rips and adverse currents off Taiwan did not make the task any easier. The realization that the jerry rig fix on the Sayes paddle which Croome had provided would not work at all and we were stuck with hand steering until a replacement part could be installed in Manila (Interestingly the manufacturer of the Sayes Rig was very hesitant about sending a model of their gear to Taiwan for fear that it would be copied. Indeed the Taiwanese did try to duplicate the rig and failed!) Under these circumstances it was not long before the entire short-handed crew became overly tired.
The lack of suitable winds coupled with the crippled pace we were forced to make under power extended our time under way. The winds, when they did honor us with their presence, were from the wrong direction (naturally) so it was necessary to take a very long tact in the general direction of Hong Kong. Care had to be taken not to navigate into a series of coral reefs and shoal waters which sprawled, sometimes unmarked always suspect, in the waters half way between Hong Kong and the Phillipines.
When the crew had finally had enough, down came the sails and we just drifted. Luckily the currents were favorable to our direction. One of us always slept or dozed on deck with a wary ear peeled for the telltale sound of an approaching ship. At night the use of our 1 Meg candlepower strobe flashing from the top of the mainmast provided us with a great sense of security until it too failed. (Lesson learned: buy aircraft type strobes. They last longer!)
Navigation was relatively simple. First of all, on a clear day, the Batanes Islands, uppermost in the Phillipine chain, are visible from the hills above Oluanpi. As long as we kept on a course which would lead us to the northwestern shore of Luzon there were no reefs or islands to concern ourselves about. The very strong radio beacons from Oluanpi and Hong Kong were at a wide angle and provided a good fix. In addition the standard AM civilian broadcasts from such towns as Vagan and Baguio on Luzon were partially in English and gave us music and news along with the opportunity to pick up additional points for RDF triangulation. The sextant stayed in its case.
It is important to make this passage as quickly as possible. Typhoons breed in the waters east of Luzon and somehow always seem to make it a point of scooting through the strait between Formosa and Luzon. The passage is known as Typhoon Alley for good reason!
Up to this time there had been no problems with the rigging or sails (Rigging was US made and the sails were from Hong Kong.) Unfortunately some of the turnbuckles bore the Made in ROC logo and therein our problems were supplemented. Midmorning of the 28th, the turnbuckle holding the stay which ran from the top of the mainmast to the top of the mizzen gave way. There was no option but to haul down the mizzen and use only the working jib for fear of putting too much stress on the remaining stays. This configuration was unfortunate for it is the mizzen which makes a ketch so easy to sail. Normally this repair can be made at sea but it requires hoisting someone up the mast using the sail winches. I was much too heavy for my shorthanded crew to hoist and Chris would not stand still for me hauling Jeff up to do the job. (Lesson learned: Always put steps on a cruising boat’s masts.)
Lack of proper sails further inhibited our progress as did the engine’s propensity for overheating. It was soon evident that not all the leaks in the cooling system had been repaired and frequent replenishing of the coolant at regular intervals was all that kept it going. In this manner we limped on.
On the morning of the 30th we sighted Luzon proper and an extremely tired crew continued motoring in dead calm until the early afternoon. Again we drifted while Jeff kept watch. Normally the adults slept during daylight hours in the warm sun. Our spirits were up and it didn’t seem all that bad.
May day (first of May that is) arrived and it became obvious that the crew could not continue in this marginal manner all the way to Manila. We would have to come in to some harbor for a few days R and R and try to pick up a couple of crew hands. Sailing under conditions of stress as we had since the cruise began is all work and no fun but, worse, leads to making critical mistakes.2 The closer we got to the Phillipines the safer we felt.
The Book of Sailing Instructions showed a nearby typhoon safe secondary port of Salamague nesting on the coast somewhat parallel to the major northern Luzon city of Vagan. We decided to make for it. The decision was met with much enthusiasm by one very tired crew.
A small tropical island protected the northern entrance to the harbor. The charts showed a sand bottom and a least depth in the channel of 3 fathoms so we steered the direct course between the island and the mainland. The closer we got to land the more enticing it became. Tropical growth was abundant and there were long stretches of glistening pure white sand. The sea was as clear as a mountain stream all the way to where it kissed the land. Coconut palms extended outward from the shore waving their pale green fronds at us gracefully as we slowly moved by under power. The entire scene looked to be the tropical paradise which we had been long looking forward to.
Beached on the small islet now to our starboard were numerous outrigger canoes manned by natives. On sight of us they jumped up and down and frantically waved greetings as we sailed stately past with our oversized ensign of stars and stripes fluttering proudly from the aft mizzen stay. Our spirits soared further and we forgot fatigue. Friendly natives at last! Even the engine seemed to run better!
Several of the beached outriggers were manned and pushed off into the water. The natives used small one cylinder gasoline engines to drive the light craft barely touching the surface at fantastic speeds. Soon we were flanged on both sides by several of these boats all carrying smiling and waving Filipinos.
“Can you believe this,” I beamed to Chris. “I feel like MacArthur when he waded ashore. We have returned!”
Calling one of them alongside, he was asked to guide us over the reef and into a safe anchorage. (Good routine for any strange port.) With an honor escort of several powered outriggers, we made for the harbor.
The anchorage itself was not enormous but it was securely protected by barrier reefs across the entire entrance except for a wide passage made distinct by the marked absence of breaking water. The depth sounder showed a constant reading of 60 feet in the channel. More than sufficient to accommodate almost any size vessel. There were no commercial craft in the harbor. We were led to a position about 80 feet off a derelict pier and one of the men who had been escorting us shut his motor off, leapt from his craft and swam towards us. We took him aboard.
Chris took the helm and Jeff, the native (who introduced himself as Ernie) and I released the CQR. When the chain signaled the end of its downward plunge, Chris reversed the engine and set the anchor. It was great holding ground! A single anchor was sufficient. Proper scope was let out and REBEL and her ailing engine came to rest in placid gentle water.
Jeff was bounding up and down from the excitement. As soon as we had made an appearance in the harbor, the villagers lined the shore and a flotilla of craft were launched in our direction. Outriggers, large bamboo poles, rafts, inner tubes, canoes and anything which would float started towards us just like a scene from a Hope-Crosby road movie. By the time we had finishing securing there must have been 75 or more craft carrying people of all ages and genders circling the yacht. In and out of the water! All were smiling and waving frantically just as if we had done something important. To them, our arrival was a happening!
Jeff was beside himself with the exhilarating realization that for the first time in several months there were all kinds of kids his age who all spoke English! He quickly donned his bathing suit.
“Can you make it to shore from here?”
That was tantamount to approval. He raced to the pulpit and dove off to join the rest of the squirming mass of humanity in the water. Some children on a bamboo raft paddled over to him and he scrambled aboard. With a beaming face and a wave, he disappeared ashore and didn’t show up again until nightfall. (He was an extremely self reliant and capable 10 year old and we figured that if he could haggle his way through the streets of Shim-in-Ding, there was no need to be concerned about his welfare in a place such as this.)
The signal flags were retrieved from below and hoisted with the flag message F R I E N D S. It didn’t matter if anyone could read it. We knew what it said and that’s what it’s all about! For the first time on our cruise, we felt genuinely welcome.
Life in a country barrio
Neither Chris or I had any intention of leaving the boat until at least one day of rest had passed. We needed the rest and had arrived safely in a serene tropical paradise of sorts where we could kick back in security and comfort. The scene was indicative of the cultural politeness and sensitivity of these beautiful people.
We kept to ourselves, neither seeking each other’s company, until the sun disappeared below the horizon. The lights of the barrio flickered on. Most were pressurized kerosene lanterns but there were a few electric bulbs strung here and there. It was then that the beacon established to guide ships in to the harbor began to show itself. Its color was blue instead of the red indicated on the charts. (Later when asked why the light was of a different color the harbor master gave a typical Filipino answer. “We didn’t like the color so we changed it!” Imagine, Pierre Cardin’s influence even way out there! Sort of reinforces the rule of never coming in to a foreign port at night or even believing totally in what is on the charts.)
There is never much twilight in the subtropics but an oversized moon was already up and it was spendiferously full. The always present special perfumes seemed to intensify and permeate the air with the coming of eventide.
On a gentle breeze the soft sounds of the village tenuously wafted toward the REBEL. With the exception of our arrival, the barrio had been quiescent during the heat of the day. Now it was awakening. Across the water came the sound of a guitar. The voice of a native singing the plaintive words of a Filipino love song seemed as clear as if it were one on one in the Hollywood Bowl. Everything in the so recent past which had been so unpleasant was forgotten in the magic of the moment in time and space. Our reverie was broken when we heard Jeff hailing us from shore asking for transportation back to the boat. I turned and spoke to Chris the first time since reverie started.
“They must have some ice ashore. How’d you like to have a nice cold Manhattan?”
She brightened at the prospect and the look on her face told me that a chord had been touched which was harmonious to the moment. Her voice was throaty.
“You’ve got a deal, sport!”
After delivering both Jeff and the ice aboard, we spent the rest of the evening absorbing the atmosphere generously laced with John Barleycorn. Jeff had immediately hit the sack not even asking for food. He must have been fed ashore. The soft strains of music and singing went on into the wee hours of the morning as was their custom but the crew of the REBEL YELL heard it only in the subconscious world of sleep. Thus passed the first day in paradise.
The polite and considerate Filipinos quelled their curiosity out of sheer courtesy and did not approach the yacht until they saw we had come on deck the following day. A large outrigger approached and the Barrio leader who also doubled as the Port Captain came aboard to welcome us and give us clearance. His name sounded in English like Joe and he was quite a character.
Joe appeared to be of the same generation so it could be assumed that he had been through the fighting in WWII. He was taller than most Filipinos and his face was weatherbeaten, character lined and leathered. A slight limp was evident when he walked and he moved as though he were in some degree of pain. His vocabulary set him apart as a man with more than a smattering of education, an enigma in such an isolated village. His clothes, while not selected from the pages off Esquire, were clean and well mended. Unlike the others, he wore shoes. . . sneakers. The others held him in obvious deference. Before getting down to government business, he presented us with a large basket of native fruit and requested our presence at dinner that evening in his home. We accepted the hospitality.
Through Joe we learned why our arrival had touched off such excitement. We were the first yacht to anchor in the harbor for 15 years! We were also invited to stay a bit, rest, make repairs and join them in their fiesta which was to begin that very night. We also accepted that offer. Chris went below and brought out a bottle of good old Rebel Yell sippin’ whiskey to seal the deal.
By the time Joe was ready to leave the boat, after many long winded toasts to friendship and brotherhood, he was aglow and singing songs. His limp also miraculously disappeared. It is always amazing how sharing a little Yankee Sunshine can warm the cockles of even the most hard hearted and open the door of friendship throughout the world. (We found that this technique also worked wonders in the “teetotaler” Muslim states we were subsequently to visit.) W.C. Fields admonition, “Ah, yes! One must never trust a man who doesn’t drink,” must have been heard around the world.
During the following week we slept in the morning, explored beaches and village in the afternoon and generally partied at night at the fiesta. Not losing sight of one of the major reasons we had come in to Salamague, we did manage to get into the town of Vagan for some spare parts and work needed for the boat. Ernie, the man who was destined to travel with me all the way to Tel Aviv, accompanied us on our sorties. We traveled au natural.
Ernie did not imbibe. This enhanced our ability to move adroitly and tend to the business of doing what we could to improve REBEL’s ailing condition before getting her to a major yacht hospital in Manila. He was also an excellent mechanic, fisherman and free-diver par excellance. His exuberant singing and guitar playing left much to be desired artistically but, like Charlie Brown, his sincerity made up for the lack of talent along these lines. Under his guidance, we shoved off for Vagan.
Our transportation system was the typical Filipino free enterprise three wheel taxi at a cost of $1.25 U.S. This magnanimous fee paid for the four of us: Chris, Jeff, Ernie and me. The taxi itself was uniquely Filipino in design and could only be described as “something else!” It consisted of a side car built of welded tubes to which a bicycle wheel had been attached, a framed canopy with ruffled edges, a windshield and inside seating for three. The entire contraption was bolted to a 125cc Kawasaki motorcycle of marginal vintage. The abortion was then painted with garish bright colored designs always with a religious motif. The designs and colors are specified by the owner himself and executed by local artists. Everybody gets into the act! Some of the units are owned by individuals but most are the property of entire families. Much of the time the taxi is the only means of earning a living in a country where the average salary for a man, when he works, is $50.00 per month. One thing is for certain: the Filipinos seem to have a certain genius for mechanically creating something out of nothing. An entire industry was created around WWII surplus jeeps abandoned by the allies.
Being an engineer of sorts, I examined the vehicle very carefully before committing my family to such. It was a source of wonderment just how the driver expected 125 cc of para-awesome power to pull four people and a driver up and down the hills. The real miracle came to pass when, along the way, he made room for extra passengers. They rode on the front and on the rear and all over each others. Some even clung precariously to the sides by their fingernails for short distances. Most of them carried bundles. Many of the women were pregnant.
Oh, it was true that when we came to a hill with our load, the driver would get a long run at top speed (not that much) on the approach then get almost to the top by momentum. The poor machine would cough and wheeze, going slower and slower, until it came to a stop somewhere along the slope where it gasped a couple of times, poured blue smoke from its tail pipe. . . and quit! At that moment, and not a second sooner, everyone would unload themselves and whatever they happened to be carrying and we all would push the poor beast up and over the top where we could load up, start up and coast down the hill. The whole ritual was not unlike that in San Francisco where everyone gets off the cable car and man-handles it around the turntable at the Embarcadero. This procedure was repeated at every hill encountered. No one can deny that the system had a certain charm which was native to the Phillipines. Another indigenous thing was noted along the way.
The Filipino has a very tender heart under normal circumstances. This manifested itself many times along the road whenever a pig or a chicken or, particularly, a dog crossed the street (which was often). In most other Asian countries the sight of anything moving across the road, be it beast or man, brought out the worst in the driver. The soft hearted Filipino, however, would come to a screeching halt (if one could screech at the speed the tricycles traveled) to avoid hitting the animal. In the process, his passengers were left to their own devices. Those who clung to the sides became quite adept at leaving the vehicle in a rolling motion to control their impact with the ground. Even the pregnant ladies!
We made many more than one trip into town. More for the fun of it than the work we got done. Always we traveled first class. (Inside on the seats rather than elsewhere.) This was probably first as a courtesy and second because we were the only paying customers. It was probably just as well I never offered my seat to the women (pregnant or no) as gymnastics were never my best sport!
One of the things which was duly impressive about the village was its cleanliness. Even though the floors were dirt in most of the houses, they were kept free of debris by constant sweeping. It was true that the family sow, goats, chickens and any other edible live stock were kept close by the house to prevent theft but the animals were immaculate. Many of the homes were built on stilts with family living quarters upstairs and the billet for the animals below. The roofs were thatched of palm. Not a single home had glass panes in the windows but some sported shutters. Cost was a factor there but more likely the fact that typhoons came through the area rather regularly made the use of glass panes impractical. Houses were mainframed with local wood cuttings and bamboo. Water was drawn from a shallow well which the government regularly sent health inspectors around to assure that there was no contamination from sewage. The water was not pumped out. It was drawn by dipping a large gourd below tied to a rope and a windless.
The time of day which we were up and exploring did not show much movement with the exception of the children. Most of the women were inside relaxing or attending to copious numbers of young ones underfoot. The men were all laying around in various positions under anything which would give them shelter from the heat of the midmorning sun. In this particular barrio, there was a palm thatched canopy over a group of picnic tables close to where the fishing outriggers had been beached. Piled (literally) on and wrapped around each other were most of the young men of the village . . . sleeping. They slept on tables, under the tables, on the benches and on top of each other. One friend commented wryly, “Pilipinos can sleep anywhere, anyplace, anytime!” Later it was discovered that they could also sleep very nicely while on watch with their eyes still open! This amazing facility was undoubtedly perfected early in life!
One thing was certain from the start. The Phillipines stand as one of the world’s last true matriarchys. The young girls are well versed in the fine art of femininity. They are beautiful, gracious, usually daintily well formed and domineering. The fault is really not theirs. It seems that the male of the species would rather let the ladies make all the decisions and, while in the process, do all the work. This trait in no way detracts from their maleness and seems to be accepted. Who is to say they are wrong? (The American Indian’s relationship with their women was much the same before the white man’s arrival.) This modus has no impact on their virility and ability to protect themselves and their families when the chips are down. There was no doubt in any citizen’s mind that Imelda, rather than Marcos, ran the government.
The morning after a hard night of fiesta, Ernie informed us that the Chief would appreciate it if we could move the “yat-ee” closer in to shore. It seems that Joe had sent out runners for a hundred miles to tell the people that the American yat-ee was anchored in their harbor for the fiesta. Becoming acclimatized rather rapidly into the local customs we were not anxious to haul a 50 pound anchor and its chain up by hand just to move a few hundred feet closer to shore. Mulling the options over I came up with what turned out to be a careless and ill conceived idea. Another brain storm which overcome logic!
“No sense in bringing it all the way up. We’ll just haul enough to clear thirty feet. Then we’ll move the boat until we’re in a depth where she’ll catch and voila there we are! The lazy man’s way to anchor!”
There was just one thing wrong with this theory. No one had taken time to advise me that six Japanese war ships had been sunk in the bay and none of the charts indicated anything except a clear bottom.3 As we were moving out according to plan the bow suddenly dipped into the water and the abruptness proceeded to rip a goodly part of the pulpit. Jeff, watching the depths from the pulpit had been shouting a warning just before the hit and was given an impromptu dunking for his trouble.4 (Too many dumb lessons here to be learned.) Ernie peered over the side as he helped Jeff back aboard.
“Japanese destroyer. You caught on ship with many dead people.” He furtively took another look. “I hope you haven’t torn something open so dead people float up.”
“Ernie, people dead for thirty years do not float,” I said as my Bowie knife cut the line attaching the chain in order to release the anchor before much more damage could occur.
The action of losing an expensive anchor and chain was traumatic. This time we circled the area carefully and did it right. Chris had come forward to survey the results of my brilliance and made the most of my embarrassment.
“Not to worry about the cost, my dear,” she said acidly. “We still have a couple of thousand left in my savings account which you haven’t got your sweaty paws on.” She did have a way with words!
Much later while sitting in the cockpit sipping a 14 cent San Miguel beer and feeling pretty disgusted with myself Ernie came alongside in his dugout with the errant anchor and chain which he and his friends had retrieved from where it was hooked on the destroyer.5 The thought came that he would be a good man to take on as crew.
It was soon evident why the Chief wanted the boat in closer. A large outrigger holding some 20 souls shoved off from shore regularly and slowly circled us.6 During the daylight hours and on into the moonlit evenings the shuttle ran about once per hour. The enterprising Joe was charging for the sightseeing to fill the coffers of the fiesta. No problem but after a few days of this we all began to have sympathy for the apes at the zoo!
Salamague was the first place we had the opportunity to use the dinghy extensively. This is as good a place as any to vent my hatred of that device! It is a well known fact that the true southerner cannot utter the word “Yankee” without prefacing it with the adjective expletive “damned”. In the yachting world the same goes for dinghies! We first discovered this flaw in our sailing system when we anchored out extensively for the first time. It was to plague us throughout the trip. The damned dinghy! Ours had been furnished by the yacht manufacturer at no additional cost. Hah!
Breathes there a yachtsman who has not upon occasion soundly cursed his dinghy? Even a good one. Generally speaking all dinks as they are obsequiously referred to are the object of intense hatred. And ours was not a good dink! As usual the Taiwanese builders had copied a reasonable design and royally screwed it up. The damned thing weighed a ton and it leaked like a sieve. They had neglected to seal the screws which held the keel and had layed on about six layers of fiberglass more than was necessary. Just to give it weight. As a result it was extremely difficult to launch let alone remove and hoist back on the boat after use. But when in the water it revealed its true nature and reveled in it! The slightest wave would swamp it. But it WAS true that it couldn’t sink. Totally that is. Even at its best it sported a freeboard of two inches.
The only redeeming feature of its design was its ability to float sightly under the surface of the water when carrying more than two passengers. This flaw in its nature made it somewhat uncomfortable for the occupants and a real bear to row. Another of its truly endearing features was its propensity to turn over at the slightest movement by one of the occupants. Trips of any distance had to be avoided as passengers aboard would require a period of adjustment afterwards to recover from a general state of rigor mortis from remaining firmly upright and still when underway. It took Chris at least an hour after any trip in the beast to gather her composure again after defying certain death by drowning. And drowning was a distinct possibility for all passengers even if the water was as smooth as glass. Each time we beached or returned aboard we breathed a sigh of relief and after offering a short prayer of thanks for deliverance resumed breathing again.
“The Queen, the Queen, where’s the Queen,” shouted the crowd.
“If she’s not here, you can have the Queen,” cried the King.
Ten thousand noblemen died in the rush!
. . . . . . Anon
The night before we were scheduled to hoist anchor and leave this lovely spot, I decided not to indulge too heavily in the festivities and get back to the boat early. When the parade ended I started to excuse myself for the evening but Joe gently restrained me.
“You cannot go now. We are going to crown the queen and king.”
“Joe I’ve gotta. If I don’t get at least one night’s sleep we’ll never make it in the morning.”
“You cannot go you have been given an honor which no other foreigner has ever had. You are going to crown our fiesta queen!” Hell, what could I say?
I crowned their Queen, toasted her reign copiously and had to be poured into the sack much too early in the morning. Needless to say we missed our scheduled sailing day.
|Chapters 1-2||Chapters 3-4|