Episode 5. Reef grief in Araceli

New catamaran Candeux, with skipper Ben and fist mate Hugh aboard, heads from Araceli down Palawan Island.

Araceli town on Dumaran Island (immediately north of Palawan Island) has been a fun overnight stop with Peter, May and Ron on another catamaran, inviting us to drinks and the swapping of tales and knowledge.  But, the morning after our arrival, Candeux (a new 48 foot aluminium catamaran) with owner/skipper Ben and first mate Hugh, is off again to make our way down Palawan Island and eventually across the Balabac Strait to Malaysian Kudat on the eastern tip of Borneo.  We think about going ashore at Araceli to dump rubbish and get fuel and water, but decide that we can make do until we get to Roxas (pronounced Roh haas) 35 nm SW. We up anchor.

skipper-ben-on-the-helm

Skipper Ben on the helm

Hugh has plotted the route to our next anchorage at Roxas using the Navionics app on his tablet. Ben, the skipper, has copied this to the Open CPN chart on his laptop.  We are heading ESE from the anchorage.  Ben is at the helm.  He has his head down.  Hugh presumes he’s peering into the bridge-deck, checking his laptop chart for all those tricky reefs in this anchorage.  However, oddly, we seem to be heading directly for the southern headland of the Bay.  At the bow, Hugh, curious (anxious?) comes back towards the cockpit and sees that Ben is actually checking tides on his Iphone.  Ben seems relaxed, but if he is planning to cut the corner and cross the coral shelf on a high, or rising tide (best option, but a bad plan), Hugh thinks that this may need a rethink.

Hugh observes: “Ben, we might be getting a bit too close to the southern shore.”  Ben replies: “We’re OK.”  Hugh is now actually back in the cockpit watching the depth gauge with a very high degree of interest.  It is shallowing.  “Ben, it’s shallowing, deeper water is to port. I think we should turn to port.”   4m… 3.5m… 3m… Hugh is getting a bad feeling that there is a certain numerical inevitability about this.  So, Hugh, conscious of our near catastrophe when the steering failed off Manucan Island, and Ben’s penchant for rock rubbing at Port Bonbonon, persists:  “Ben, it’s still shallowing.  We should turn.”  2m…1.5m…1m…  “Ben! Safe water is behind us.”  Whack.  We hit the coral shelf, but we are still going forward.  “Ben, full astern.  Stop.”  Ben reduces speed, but we are still going forward. Bang, crack, splinter.  “Oh s*!%.”  The port sacrificial wooden rudder-box block has exploded (nasty big sound).  Still, the wood block, by exploding, has allowed the rudder-box to float up.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t all quite gone to design.  The starboard sacrificial rudder-box block hasn’t broken.  The rudder is jammed in the rudder-box; which means that the steering has seized.  We can’t steer the boat.  Deja vu, Manucan Island.

Hugh notices that we are now drifting down onto a small wooden fishing vessel.  Hugh makes urgent arm movements to the fisherman in an attempt to convey the idea that we have no steerage and that a great lump of pointy metal resembling two large, sharp javelins is about to impale him. The fisherman smiles and waves back.  No, no, no.  We are not being friendly.  Hugh next tries pretending that he is steering something and then throws his arms up in the air.  These gestures seem to get through, or the fast approaching aluminium juggernaut makes its point/points.  The fisherman moves, quite quickly now.  Meanwhile, back to our problems.  Ben has let go the anchor to stop us drifting further onto the reef where we could expect the sounds of soft aluminium being torn apart and the unexpected experience of indoor swimming.  Fortunately the wind is actually offshore so we are being blown into deeper water.  Either hoping that it’s a quick fix, or in a fit of frustration, Ben is kicking the rudderstock.  This is probably hurting, but Ben is beyond pain.  Hugh suggests a piece of metal or wood and a big hammer; which could also be combined with a rope tackle.  Ben hobbles down to his workbench to get the necessary sophisticated technical aid: a bit of wood and a hammer.  These are applied to the rudderstock and the box is free.  There are few things on a boat more useful than a handy two by four and a bloody big hammer (as Ben and Hugh will unfortunately continue to discover during the voyage).  The task now is to fit another wood block (one of only two) to the rudder-box. Ben hammers it into the slot.  Yes.  We have steerage and now head directly, but slowly, back into deeper water.

Well, our pride took a bit of a pounding.  The rudder-box took a beating (as did Ben’s feet).  The reef hammered us and, unfortunately, also took a few hits.  But it did make us take notice of where we were and what could happen.  With the best of intentions, we also terrified a local fisherman (as wellas ourselves).  Whether the fisherman’s look of fear was the prospect of his impending impalement or the shock for witnessing Hugh’s urgent arm antics, will never be known.  Still, we all survived – just.

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