Episode 4. Strangers and fiction

Candeux, a new 48 foot aluminium catamaran, continues its way westward through the Philippines to Thailand via Malaysia. Owner Ben and first mate Hugh have anchored at Manucan Island in the Cagayan Islands after nearly becoming a new addition as a wreck in the Notices to Mariners when Candeux’s steering failed at the worst possible time.

Having survived, we plan to depart for the 100nm run from Manucan Island to Araceli town on Dumaran Island (in the north of the Palawan group). Unfortunately, good things come alone, but trouble has many friends. As we prepare to get under way we are delayed because Ben discovers that the starboard engine-mount bolts have nearly worked themselves out!  He secures them as best as he can, but one is actually missing.  Unbelievable.  Candeux has not had the attention to detail in the build that it should have had.

We are also having a bit of trouble getting the anchor up.  It appears to be wedged under coral and, notwithstanding the missing engine bolt, we have to use full power ahead on both engines to try to retrieve the anchor.  This does not shift it.  Hugh suggests we motor slightly forward and to the side of the anchor and attempt to exert the pull forward and sideways. We manoeuvre to alter the angle of pull and we’re free. Yes! That was lucky.  Retrieving an anchor from eight metres would have been challenging. Hugh had previously noted that the chain shackle was not fitted into the lifting slot on the Manson anchor.  If we had rigged this at the time, we could have motored over the anchor allowing the shackle to slide forward and thus apply pull at the fluke end of the anchor.  It’ll be the next job, among quite a few others.

At least we have escaped Manucan Island, but our 0400hrs departure has now been delayed to 0530hours.  Our now three-day-old weather file suggests that we’ll have NE winds, which would have helped us.  However, we currently have WNW so it will be another day of motor-sailing.  At an average 6 knots on only one engine, it will be 16 hours to Dumaran Island. This means a night arrival (2130hrs) in a new anchorage, and negotiating the invisible fishing nets on the way. This will be fun.  By 0835hrs, we still have 80nm to our destination.  But the wind has turned to the north and so, with one engine, and the mainsail and headsail up, we are averaging eight knots. Ten hours to go, ETA 1830hrs (dark).  Hmmm.  We really do want to enter the Araceli anchorage in daylight, so we decide to risk the wounded beast (the starboard engine) and bring it into service.  We continue like this for about an hour (shudders notwithstanding) until the wind builds again to about 15 knots, so we turn off both the engines and to our surprise, we are still averaging 9 knots. Goodoh.  Within half an hour, oh dear, the wind is dropping again.  Bring back the beasts.  Ben gives the starboard engine another look.  It is shaking badly and Ben thinks that we risk damaging the cutlass bearing and shaft if we keep it going.  He now decides we won’t use the starboard engine unless tight manoeuvring is needed.  Luckily, the wind gave us some good miles.  ETA: 1730hrs.


Coming in to anchor at Araceli

We arrive with just enough light, as it is coming on dusk when we reach the outer harbour of Araceli.  Some of our sailing notes state that there is a quiet anchorage behind the town via a channel into a secluded bay.  We decide against this option, as a shallow, unlit channel, in what will by then be dark, seems unwise.  As we move into the bay, we see two other catamarans anchored. One is some way off to the north, the other is anchored in front of us, just off the town itself.  We opt to anchor in the same area.  We keep a good distance so as not to intrude on the other catamaran’s privacy, but we have barely got the anchor down when an inflatable leaves the other boat and is speeding our way.

Peter from the nearby catamaran comes alongside and invites us over for drinks.  Excellent.  Just what we need after a long day.  We grab a bottle of gin (all we’ve got) and head over to meet the owners, May and Ron. All three are Australians but live in Vanuatu.  Peter is actually a professional skipper but also seems to have mixed domestic duties.  How mixed is uncertain.  Peter spent over 20 years in the Australian Navy and is now exclusively skippering for Ron and May.  They all seem to spend their time just making periodic sailing trips.  Ron himself is now retired but his son(s) apparently continue to run his 108 companies.  Well, that’s a lot of companies for one man, thinks Hugh.  There is some suggestion that living in Vanuatu could be for tax purposes, but this remains somewhat vague.  Hugh comments, perhaps apropos of nothing, that the Australian Federal Police recently made a major drugs arrest on a yacht which was anchored, and for sale, in Vanuatu.  Ron and co, surprisingly, don’t seem to be aware of this and the conversation moves on to the more basic sailing matters of weather and navigation.

Our hosts’ catamaran is rather an odd affair. It’s about 40ft and is very low in the water. The bridge-deck clearance is probably only 0.6m; and Peter confesses that on a trip to Palau they had to turn back to Vanuatu when the bridge-deck developed a crack in the centre, meaning it could split in two – one pontoon going one way and one the other.  This does not surprise Ben or Hugh as the boat is so low that you’d even have trouble swimming under the bridge-deck.  In a seaway, the waves must continually bash into the bridge-deck.

At the stern the boat has also been extended and is only about 30cm above the water! So there is effectively an indoor swimming pool any time there is any sort of a sea.  However, it is a great entertaining area which opens directly into the centre of the boat, with apparently has two cabins, a head (or two?) and a galley within.  The boat seems to be designed as a floating apartment for a placid river, not as an ocean going vessel.  Still, it seems that Peter, at least, has done some sea miles in her.  It also appears that the owners sometimes/often/always? fly to where the boat is located after Peter has got her there (I guess with 108 companies….).

While the boat may be odd, Hugh feels that there’s more oddness here than meets the eye.  Peter has mentioned, perhaps a few too many times now, that the boat is really a floating two room apartment.  Two rooms?  Does he protest too much?  A ménage a trois?  Is there perhaps, only just the one room to the ‘apartment’?  Does it matter?  Have we been invited for a little more ‘ménage’?  The boat is effectively open-plan from the transom (what there is of it) through to the front of the bridge-deck (Hugh wonders where the galley, head, cabins – however many there are, might actually be). It also seems strange that a man of Ron’s gravitas and international importance (108 companies…) has only such a relatively ordinary, dare one suggest, odd boat.

Perhaps it’s just that, for Hugh and Ben, after a long day, and a preceding sequence of unfortunate sailing events (losing the steering, nearly wrecking the boat, Hugh’s close escape from deadly sea creatures, and the engine trying to jump ship); that nothing seems to be what it appears.  Whatever the truth may be, Peter, Ron and May were good hosts and generous with their knowledge.  Hugh suspects that a good night’s sleep and a new day dawning will put things back in perspective.  For a while, at least.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s