|nonoctave.com / Rebel Yell / Part VII / Chapter 1|
|Rebel Yell||Jason Scott||Part VII - The Final Word: Be Prepared Or Be Lost|
We had had sought the Wayward Wind and found it pleasing. Like the never fully broken stallion, with proper mutual respect, he gave the greatest ride.
No one can convince me that luck does not run in cycles. This being the case, when luck starts to turn, one way or the other, warning signs start to appear which portend the coming of a new way of things. The only problem is that the harbingers are usually so casual at the start that most of us are not astute enough to recognize the beast for what it is.
Since delivery of the yacht REBEL YELL in Taiwan there had been a series of events which kept getting more and more serious. Not that recognition was a problem. Each difficulty required a fix and, up to the point of getting to Singapore, the pace of the game had been kept . . . just barely! The real dilemma in recognition was that so much fun was being had in the sailing itself coupled with the interesting people and places visited that there was little time to really take note of the gathering storm clouds of events. Like all major tempests, the clouds build up slowly but inexorably. They look innocuous, even pleasing, when they are scattered but beware when they all get together! Such was the case when we reached Singapore and cloud number 1 was seen forming on the horizon.
Arrival at a foreign yacht club should be done with a degree of nonchalance and flair for, everyone knows that the critical eye of fellow yachtsmen will be following your every move. Thus I set about to come in to the Royal Singapore Yacht Club and, while bringing the boat in, demonstrate to the locals a little leisure with dignity!
Any yacht club with such a prestigious name had to be the best, I reasoned, and so no local inquiries as to the facility itself were made.7 We just examined the charts and sailed in! The RSYC is located on the southwestern section of the island in what was laughingly referred to as a river. If the skyline of this exotic oriental city had not been so entrancing, perhaps a better job of assessing what was on the charts would have been done.
West of Singapore harbor itself the water gets shallower and shallower until you finally reach a point where the water just runs out beneath you. Unfortunately, there isn’t much detail of such on the charts.8 But there were other signs for the prudent mariner.
Land doesn’t change much when it dips into the water. Therefore, it would have been reasonable to assume that if there was a long gentle slope ashore, that slope would continue right down into the sea. This is commonly referred to as a shoal! Furthermore, if there were slow rivers which came to the sea under these conditions, one could assume for sure that the rivers would be exceedingly shallow and full of sand bars and such. But, gee, the charts did not indicate such a thing! Just showed that there was a channel of sorts right to the club moorings.
On we powered toward the telltale vision of a forest of masts clustered in the sanctuary and, upon making a turn towards such, I managed to lodge the keel well into the mud bar with a sickening sluuurrrp!9 Now that’s damned embarrassing! Make your first landfall in a new country and manage to put aground! A gross error in seamanship! It was the first in a series of mishaps which fortold of things to come.
No point in making a big deal out of our predicament. I instructed the two Filipino crewmen to set the anchor, though the usual firm decisive tone of my voice didn’t seem to come through. My crewmen, as if to pour salt into my open pride, proceeded to lower themselves into the water and wade, anchor in hand, a respectable distance from the prow and set it down. Now, they really didn’t have to be so disdainful! The Admiral muttered a few snide remarks about walking on water which were summarily ignored.
The GD dinghy was tossed overboard and, with the Admiral and my son aboard, I gathered up what dignity I had left and rowed ashore. (It was hard to maintain dignity in a dinghy which insisted on floating with but two inches of freeboard. At least I was spared its usual propensity for filling with water and forcing me to row with it in that condition!)
We made the dry bar (the one inside) and ordered a wet one. Not a single Brit commented on my error in seamanship except to advise (offhandedly) that the ty-ed would be in round five-ish in the morning. ’Nuff said. We left early enough to avoid any further comment and sailed back eastward around Singapore Island to the anchorage most traveling yachts used: the sailing club at Changi. It was located in a beautiful spot in the channel between Singapore Island itself and the mainland of Malaysia.
The people and beauty of Singapore were so great that we spent an entire month there socializing and getting ready for the cruise to Djakarta and onward across the Indian Ocean. The family didn’t even stay on the boat during our visit. We were met the day we anchored at Changi by Rama, an India type Indian who just happened to be the Chief Air Controller for Singapore Airlines. He took us to his new two bedroom apartment on the 17th floor and turned over the keys to us for our entire stay. Now, that’s real hospitality!
I tried to put Florento ashore and learned from the authorities that if I did not sent him back from whence he came by air carrier, there was a built in liability for a $1000 fine . . . American money! The Zombie had to be beached for many reasons most of which involved safety of the boat but, factually, he contributed to my increasingly deteriorating relationship with the wife.10 It was almost necessary to tie Ernie to the mast to keep him from leaving for home at the some time his buddy was put ashore. Ah, the responsibilities of command!11
A highly recommended cost sharing Brit and his son (about Jeff’s age) were taken aboard for the trip to Djakarta. In addition, I found a scruffy looking Aussie who was hitchhiking his way around the world and, after checking his passport, references (as well as possible) and his odor, he was signed aboard. The main problem with him was his english. No one could understand his dialect, even the Brit! There was another even more significant problem with the crew. My wife, the Admiral, advised me that she was going to jump ship.12
Now, amongst cruising sailors, having a wife desert the ship in the midst of a cruise is a common occurrence. She decided that life aboard was too constrictive and not up to her standards of luxury. I guess the communication gap had really become large. Her ultimatum that I had to sell the boat right there and then or risk losing her as a wife didn’t set too well with me. I didn’t really think she was serious about “the boat or me” theorem and when I joltingly reminded her that I could always sell the boat but used wives were a drug on the market and “you can’t hardly get nuthin’ for ’em” didn’t set too well with her. She had undoubtedly lost her sense of humor somewhere on the way. She was even more perturbed when our son, Jeff, informed her that he “was going on with Dad.” The fact that the troubles with pirates and such were now behind us and the “easy” part of the voyage to the Med was ahead was not enough to dissuade her from bailing out. As it turned out, the marriage ended as Jeff and I waved goodbye to her at the airport. Another nail in the coffin!13
The day after The Admiral left, we set sail on the eastern passageway (there are two main shipping lanes south from Singapore through multitudinous islands). Because it was so late in the year, the decision had been made not to try to go north through the straits of Mallaca past India and on direct to Africa. I had discussed this with the skipper of the world cruising trimaran ANDURIL and convinced him that it would be folly to buck head winds and the dangers of cyclones off Sri Lanka that time of year (August 7) when sailing in the trades would be much safer and delightful. Sandstrom (Don and Jo Anne are San Francisco sailors who had been cruising for five years at that time with their two sons) and his crew left after us on a much faster boat headed for Christmas and Cocos Islands as we headed for Java. We would meet under unusual circumstances later.
The passage through the Raiu Islands and the Lingga Archipelago was made for the most part by motor sailing. Commercial traffic through these islands is dense. It helped that, before leaving the States, I had rigged up an ordinary police radar detector to enable us to pick up the freighters radar before they ran into us. (A radar reflector is essentially useless as the crew aboard the large ships, for the most part, do not monitor it. I decided long ago that it was safer for me to see them than to expect them to see me!)
Up to this time the weather had been ideal except for the lack of wind. The ever nagging problem of using too much fuel was noted. Also, the engine started its nasty habit of speeding up and dropping off as it had before.
We were between Lingga and Singkep Islands just after crossing the equator the night before. It clouded up suddenly and the rains came and came . . . and came . . . and came! No wind at first . . . just rain. It rained so hard that it was impossible to see the distance from the wheel to the cockpit hatch. All sails were down and we moved forward blindly into the torrent. Then, the wind came. All that could be done was to keep compass course and a close watch on the depth sounder to maintain the channel. Two dangers were imminent: if we wandered outside the shipping channel, there were numerous reefs and islands just waiting to gobble us up and, if that were not enough to worry about, there was the danger of being run over by the numerous freighters moving through the channel. These were the conditions for some five hours of fretful navigation. We saw nothing ahead of us, to the side of us or behind us!
When she finally blew out and we were once again able to take a visual bearing, we discovered that even though the engine had been run at full bore during the tempest we had traveled backwards some six miles! No damage was done but we had a crew of really damp sailors. The engine was still missing beats and we were still using way too much fuel. A real indication of mechanical trouble somewhere. Based on our fuel consumption the decision was made to put in to the port of Palembang, Sumatra to load up again.
The road to Palembang (Crosby and Hope missed this one) consisted of going up the Palembang river for some 40 miles. The entrance to the river was a narrow channel dredged from the center of the Strait of Bandka and marked by a series of almost indiscernible channel markers, many of which were missing. Its course was snakey. We managed to pull in to the entrance port the river itself and threw the hook for the night.
The next morning, after consulting with the natives ashore at the port office (such as it was), it was determined that we would be better off trying to make Djakarta with low fuel and a reluctant engine than to try and move up that slow moving narrow and shallow jungle river under the same conditions. It was a right choice as we were to learn.
As we approached the southern entrance to Bandka Strait, our spirits were high. The cooking on board (the greatest morale builder of cruisers) was being done by our paying guest, a droll Brit named David Hannon, and was superb.14 He had informed all of us that he loved to cook and no one else was permitted in the galley. Of course we were all devastated by his insistence. Dave had stocked up in Singapore on the most exotic spices, sauces, chutneys and canned foods imaginable. All of these he put together at mealtime with gusto. Looking into the galley while sailing through these steamy tropical seas one would see him pouring over the stove, dripping with perspiration and singing bawdy English sea ditties. He loved it! Good for us too because we would most probably have starved to death before any of the rest of us got down into that galley under those conditions. Every day . . . gourmet meals! Oh, David how I missed you when you left ship!
Our charts, such as they were, (British charts are nowhere near as good as American charts) were very sketchy about the strait. It was worrisome, particularly at night. The most logical method of navigation was to follow the freighters through the narrows and keep a close watch on the depth sounder.
The night of August 14 was moonless and typically as black as pitch. I secured from my watch and instructed the crew to maintain a holdout on the foredeck as we moved along. The depth sounder was to be monitored every 15 minutes. If the depths came up to less than 10 fathoms, I was to be awakened. In close quarters such as these the Captain does not sleep well. At 0200 they woke me. There had been a continual shoaling to 8 fathoms and then, abruptly, we had only 5 beneath us. Danger!
Nothing could be seen in any direction. The charts showed nothing in the way of our course but something made me wary. I took the wheel and did a 180, a procedure which had saved my rear on more than on occasion when flying. We powered on that course for half an hour and hove to until dawn.
When light appeared, we saw it. A shiver went down all of our backs. Right there on our former course stood an island . . . palm trees and all. Another few hundred yards in the dark and we would have been on a coral reef! That island was nowhere to be found on our charts! Again, following intuition had paid off but we were not through with our run of bad luck.
Some of the jovial spirit disappeared. The crew was now inordinately quiet then . . . at 1030, the engine too was quiet. It gasped, moaned, shuddered and quit! No wind and no engine. To add spice to the situation, the electric bilge pump (a Japsco) swallowed a bit of bilge debris it didn’t like and quit on us. So did the manual pump. It seems that the Talwanese had used plain unreinforced rubber hose and it collapsed from exposure to diesel fuel in the bilge. It nagged me that there seemed to always be diesel fuel in the bilge.
No wind was forthcoming as we lay dead in a glassy sea. That first night, so stranded, the watch wakened me just after midnight. A band of lights as big as a hotel was bearing down on us and we couldn’t maneuver. My radar warning device had done its job of alerting the crew to a problem.
There was a procedure to be followed under these circumstances. First, the strobe light was activated. Still they bore down on us. Then, the 300,000 candlepower search light was turned on and shined on our sail. Still no recognition. The search light was played on the water ahead of the container ship and on its sides . . . still a collision course. My final act of last resort was to shine that very powerful light right into the bridge of the freighter. That illegal act saved us. We probably interrupted the helmsman’s reading of his comic book but that was the way the fortune cookie crumbled! They reacted, at the last moment, after passing close enough to almost swamp us! By this time the entire crew was alert and on deck. The Brit said it all.
“I say, Jason. I think that someone bloody well has it in for us!”
We bailed for three days and finally the wind came up. A beam reach right into the port city of Tandjung Priok. REBEL YELL came in under full sail, swung around into the wind and dropped anchor. Just like the old timers had done for hundreds of years in this cross roads of the spice islands. Anchored with us were the 100+ foot island traders which had given us some concern for worry earlier (are they friendly or not?) on our way past Sumatra. They had appeared scruffy close up but under sail these schooners were absolutely beautiful . . . and fast!
Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to discover
the real cause of all your problems
David and his son left ship for home. We made such repairs as we could to become seaworthy again. The Seimans company wanted to tear down my engine for an exploratory operation at a cost of just $1200. I opted to remove and clean the injectors and change the filters. They were water logged and filthy. The wily Javanese stuck me for $200 for five feet of the proper bilge hose but there was no choice but to pay. His was the only store in town who sold “surplus” US Navy supplies. I didn’t question his source.
I put an extremely unhappy son aboard an airliner for home to go back to school.15 He still has not forgiven me for not taking him across the Indian Ocean with us. I would have but didn’t like the way the boat was behaving.
We left the dirtiest filthy most disease ridden port I’d ever been in August 25 without starting the engine. Just set sail and hauled anchor. Saturday the 26th we were fully in the trades in a 25 knot quarter beam reach as we cleared Sunda Strait. The last landfall we could see on our way to Diego Garcia, some 2300 miles away, was Krakatoa . . . she hadn’t given up smoking yet!
The first 9 days on this leg were the most beautiful and satisfying sailing before or since. Nine days and nights without changing sail or course. The Sayes Rig carried us true and it was not necessary to use the wheel. The skies, night and day, were clear and the long swell of the unrestrained Indian Ocean moved with us and pushed us on. The only evidence of other human life came two days out. An airliner.
Before leaving the States I had managed to purchase a used Narco transceiver just for its ability to communicate on the international calling frequency for aircraft 122.5. It was fun to call up that airliner (they must monitor that frequency) and identify myself.
“Big Bird, this is the Ketch REBEL YELL. Look out your port window.”
“Indonesian flight 26 (I think that was it) I see you little buddy. What can I do for you?” An american accent!
“Just for fun gimmie a fix, Big Bird. With your fancy nav gear.”
We talked for a bit until the range faded and it was fun. I am convinced that this mode of communication is the best for long distance cruising sailors. At least the pilots will always talk to you and, sometimes will even relay messages to your home port. Also, they always report your position.
We were making an amazingly good 180 miles per day. I used the open time to train the two members of the crew how to navigate by the sun. It took just three one hour sessions using the Jason Scott Kiss and Make Up method. (Keep It Simple Stupid and Make Up the rest!)
Two days out of Diego Garcia, REBEL ran over a 30 foot whale. Luckily it was just as startled as we were and did not thrash. It could have done terminal damage. We consistently ran into schools of porpoises and their cousins, pilot whales, traveling with them. There were so many sometimes it looked as though you could get out and walk on them!
September 9 we picked up the Diego Garcia Beacon . . . right on course 270°. It’s a real turn-on to verify your navigation. The Jabsco pump quit working again but the whale was OK. That night we lost our navigation lights! Good old Taiwanese fine workmanship!
The noon fix on the 10th verified our position as South 7° 39′; East 73° 08′. Still right on course but the island was not visible (The highest point on Diego Garcia is a 100 foot palm tree). We did spot a Russian trawler (hah) about the same time we saw the lights of the island. He was undoubtedly fishing! We hove to off the island and waited until morning light to get through the reef. Oh, boy was that the right move!
The entrance to DG lagoon is on the north side and it was necessary to power in against the prevailing trades. September 11 at dawn we started the engine after adding 10 gallons of fuel as a precaution, lashed the jib down on the deck and started for the entrance. At a point parallel to the entrance lighthouse, the engine started running slower and slower and then quit all together. Right in the middle of the reef entrance. The readied jib was hauled up and we turned downwind out of the channel.
All sail was then hoisted to give us better control for the close tacking which would be necessary to make the harbor under sail alone. Then the second failure in the series occurred. This one was much more serious than an engine quitting. The steering cable broke! Taiwan engineering again! No power and now no controls!
Two things were done simultaneously. We broke out the emergency tiller (connected directly to the rudder post) and fired a distress flare. Good thing too because, as it turned out the third failure was upon us. The vertical shaft of the emergency was too short to accommodate steering. Another example of the thoroughness of Taiwanese engineering! It came to me that we were in deep yogurt! The trades were drifting us much too quickly into the beach. I got on the VHF and made the call all skippers dread.
“Mayday, Mayday. This is the ketch REBEL YELL just outside the entrance to Diego Garcia. I have lost power and steering and am drifting into the beach. Mayday, Mayday!”
Just the one transmission. Things were happening so fast that was all we had time for. There was one more option . . . the Sayes Rig. The self steering wind vane could also be used to steer the boat if there was enough way through the water. It worked long enough for me to clear the beach and turn the boat back towards the lagoon entrance again.
The US Navy appeared in a landing craft and gave us a towing line REBEL YELL, no longer so virginal, was ignominiously towed into port. We all heaved a sigh of relief. It is not too often that one survives three successive and almost simultaneous major failures and avoids ending up on the beach or worse. I silently cursed the builder, the engineer and every single Taiwanese who ever worked on a yacht.
The Navy, after checking elsewhere, discovered that I had a kind of security clearance which made them nervous (what I saw on the island was different than what others would recognize) and so they moved us to the other side of the lagoon. There at anchor sat the ANDURIL and the Sandstrom family.
Between three Navy and the Sandstroms, we managed to discover the problem which had plagued the yacht since launching and also repair the steering cable. It seems that the yacht builder had made the fuel tank out of unrefined, unpurified scrap metal and the moment it was exposed to sea water in the bilge, it leaked. Fuel out and sea water in! Diesels do not run well on sea water!
The Navy kindly rewelded the tank bottom and, after a most pleasant week on their quiet, beautiful tropical island (this is contrary to some USN opinions) we were ready to move on. Jeffry’s cat was beached there (She had made it a habit to use my three pairs of tennies as her private head and thereby made herself persona non grata.)16
The Navy was not too happy about us being in the harbor and were most anxious for us to leave. It did not seem to matter that a yacht flying the flag of the Netherlands had been at anchor for some time before we arrived and was still there when we left. The fact that there were several good looking, somewhat accommodating young ladies aboard certainly could not have had anything to do with the Yankee hospitality they were enjoying. (A regular landing pattern had been established between the base and the boat.)
As we were getting ready to leave the Brits who administer the island brought 12 gallons of diesel fuel aboard to replenish that which had been dumped. When I complained that 12 gallons was a somewhat sparse amount to sail the 2400 miles to the Seychelles, I received the following typically British comment:
“Well, h’its a saay-lin’ boat hisn’t it?”
What could be said? We made it to the Seychelles and used but six of the twelve allocated. It was true! REBEL YELL was a sailing boat. . . finally!
*** *** *** *** ***
There is more to be told but the drama of taking delivery and sailing
a very sick yacht was over. From that point on, it was a matter of pure
adventure and strange ports until civilization was reached again. The wind
was not Wayward anymore . . . just Restless.