Candeux, a brand new 48 foot aluminium catamaran, under the command of the owner Ben, is slowing making its way from the Philippines to Thailand.
After nearly losing Ben to the shopping mecca that is not Tagbilaran, and then to the lost river refuge of Port Bonbonon, Candeux, with Ben and first mate Hugh, continues its voyage through the Philippines to Thailand, via Malaysia.
From Port Bonbonon, Candeux made its way up the west coast of the Philippine island of Negros to reach Point Catmon from where we will make a 65 nm passage to Manucan Island in the Cagayan Islands. This offers a possible good anchorage sheltered from the NE winds forecast to arrive in the next two days.
Unfortunately for our passage across the Sulu Sea, the NE winds don’t come in (we are actually a month too early in the season), so we are motor sailing. As we eventually approach Manucan, we can see some of the larger local fishing craft, bangkas (which translates as water-spiders). They are anchored close-in, in about four metres of water, on the south side. We are motor-sailing 200m off the north shore having a good look. There are charted depths of nine metres on the Island’s west so we head there to see the full picture. It soon becomes obvious that ahead of us is shallow, breaking water, charts not always being completely accurate. Ben attempts to make a quick u-turn to come south via the deeper water on Manucan’s east side.
However, it appears to Hugh that Ben is taking an inordinate, and somewhat untimely interest, in how well his new catamaran can execute a surprising number of sharp little circles. Given the increasing proximity (now 150m) of the coral reef lee shore, Hugh stresses the importance of going: ‘Back. Back!’ Ben now shares his little secret: “We’ve no steering”. Oh, bugger. Of all the times. Meanwhile, during Ben’s unscheduled circling, the trolling line has wrapped itself around the cockpit. Hugh has been anxious about the rudders for a while now: they having previously been whacked on rocks at Port Bonbonon (twice!), run over fisherman’s nets (en route) and now the appearance of unhappy banging noises at the stern. Hugh thinks that the rudders are seriously over it and that the trolling line could somehow have caught some fishing net debris which has seized-up under the rudders. Hugh gets a knife and cuts the cockpit free of the trolling line and hopefully the rudders of debris. Ben’s attention is elsewhere. He has now opened the locker in the bulkhead behind the wheel. I don’t think the rudders are in there, Ben. However, Ben has found that the steering chain has come off the cog.
Meanwhile, we are 100m from destruction and we’ve sacrificed our best lure, but at least we now know what the problem is. It appears that the tension on the steering chain was too loose (as well as there actually being too little chain), allowing the turnbuckle to ride over the cog, bend and then jump off. Ben who is dead clever with broken stuff (hmm, poor choice of words there) tries to fix it (90m to doom and closing). Hugh is very focused on dropping the anchor, so that, when the boat is stopped, we can attempt the fix. Ben thinks he can fix it now………..ah, 80m… maybe not. Quick. Anchor. Will it hold? 70m, 50m ………. Yes! We have stopped. We resume breathing. We set to work on the chain and cog and finally manage to get the chain, wire and bent turnbuckle back on. A very temporary fix. We carefully nurse the steering gear to retrieve the anchor, and go east to then turn south behind Manucan and anchor. Whew. Safe.
The important lesson we learned from this is to always assume the worst will happen at the worst possible time; and that fear is highly motivating. So, we are now anchored off a tiny, but dangerous, uninhabited island in the middle of the Sulu Sea with buggered steering, and we need to get to Dumaran Island in the Palawan Island group. Well, things could be worse. The fridge is working and we have beer. How bad can it be? I hope those fisherman have caught some fish.