Episode 7. Sailing life and strife

Candeux, a brand new 48 foot aluminium catamaran, continues its slow voyage to Thailand from the Philippines via Malaysian Borneo and the Peninsula with owner Ben and crew Hugh.

After crossing from Negros Island to Palawan Island we eventually arrive, after numerous misadventures, at Puerto Princessa, the capital of the Palawan Province.  We anchor off the Abanico Yacht Club in a secure anchorage amongst about 25 other yachts.

We have had good reports about the establishment, which is not actually a club, but rather a restaurant/bar/café catering primarily for the sailing fraternity.  After a quick shower, we dinghy over to see what it’s like.  John and Cissy, who own this sailors’ rest, welcome us.  The Abanico Yacht Club is a great stop and location.  The club is deep within the all-weather harbour of Puerto Princessa, and is easy to reach and to anchor off.  It is then just a short, calm dinghy ride to the bamboo and thatch building suspended over the water.  You can enjoy good food, cold beer and wine while sitting over the water chatting to other sailors who are either coming from or going to your destination, or somewhere else in the world.

Puerto Princessa, as the capital of Palawan Province and a major port, has most things a sailor could need.  If they don’t have it, they will make it, as we discovered when we went looking for a coupling repair for our much troubled starboard diesel engine.  More of that later.

Our mission here is a small amount of rest and recreation, re-provisioning, checking over the boat after its various encounters with rocks, reefs and breakages and, most importantly, sorting out that starboard engine.  It has not been right since our departure from Mactan Island in Cebu two weeks ago.

After a night of cold beers, good food and interesting company, our first full day in Puerto Princessa is spent, as usual, shopping for provisions and/or bits to repair and prepare the boat. We engage the recommended trik driver, Roland, and set off into the town proper.  This is probably more dangerous (although its standard local transport) than we want to think about.  A trik is a motorbike which has a (usually very rusty) metal frame bolted on, so that two passengers can sit both beside and behind the bike rider.  One or many more (plus their shopping), sit facing backwards beside and forward of the bike-rider himself.  Hugh spotted nine people crammed onto one trik and considers that a record.  But you never can tell.

Uppermost on the shopping list is getting a good internet connection and downloading the charts we need for Ben’s Garmin chartplotter.  So far, we have only had the Garmin’s base map and the use of its AIS function (the latter, very valuable). We are also using Ben’s Open CPN charts on his laptop but these do not have fine detail including depths, while the charts are also missing significant land detail at lower zooms.  We have therefore been relying on Hugh’s $40 Navionics app on his tablet to provide the close quarters detail needed to navigate safely.

We have variously been getting our weather forecasts via ugrib, zygrib, Pocketgrib and Windpro amongst others.  They all have their strengths and weaknesses.  However, they all rely on an internet connection.  On Candeux we only have VHF radio and no means to receive email, so we are dependent on receiving weather via the mobile phone’s data connection.  This has obvious drawbacks – forecasts can be dated and/or unavailable.

It takes a bit of mucking about but we get all our provisions and new internet contracts that we are assured will give us coverage all the way to Thailand.  Well ….

The next day, Sunday, is to be spent sorting-out the starboard engine.  It has been a problem since our departure from Mactan Island in Cebu.  It shudders badly.  Ben is pretty confident that he can sort it, given time, effort and parts.  The basic problem is that the bolts securing the engine to the boat were not tightened properly at installation (and one is missing entirely), nor was the engine aligned with the propeller shaft.  Thus, everything shook excessively and the coupling was put under enormous pressure.  Ben suspects that it has split.  We are also worried that, as a result of this, the stern-gland and/or the cutlass bearing may also have been damaged.  Ben seeks advice from the many years of experience assembled at the yacht club.

The general consensus around the Yacht Club beer table (and Ben’s own assessment) is that we should be able to repair the damaged coupling.  The Club owner, John, seems to think that we can fix the coupling by using part of some blue bins (garbage bins?). Hugh is not too sure about this.  There are numerous work-arounds bandied about but until we detach the coupling from the engine and propeller shaft, we won’t really know what is required, or doable.  Mike, the ‘local’ Belgian, seems fairly knowledgeable abut engines and agrees to come over to Candeux and have a look.  He confirms the view that it’s the coupling and that the alignment is out.  Not surprising, with only three bolts out of four holding the shaking engine.

We do have the option of ordering a new coupling and having it sent from Australia, but this would entail a fair delay and keep us in Puerto Princessa much longer than we want.  We could instead have it sent to Kudat in Malaysia, at the top of Borneo, the next port where there is also a shipyard.  Again, we could face uncertain delivery issues and delays.  Regardless, we need to get the cracked original coupling fixed (if possible), and order a new one from Australia as a back-up for whatever fix we can get here.

Ben focusses on stage one – trying to get the damaged coupling off.  This should be relatively easy, but isn’t.  In constructing the boat, the propeller shaft has been left too long, so that the coupling can’t be removed without cutting the stainless steel propeller shaft itself.  Damn.  This is not as it should be.  The coupling should be able to be removed without affecting the propeller shaft.  Cutting a stainless steel propeller shaft in the confines of the tiny engine bay (with the limited tools available) is not fun or easy.  Nonetheless, Ben turns his body into a pretzel and gets to it.  Eventually, we get it off and confirm the suspicion that the coupling is split.  The best option seems to be to have a metal band compressed onto the circumference of the 50mm coupling to hold it together.  Let’s hope the vaunted skills of the Philippine’s metal fabricators are up to it.

Having cut the propeller shaft and extracted the coupling, we need to obtain a bolt (to replace the one that was always missing!) to secure the engine to the mounts, get the coupling repaired (if possible) and realign it.  Then we can then determine if the stern gland or cutlass bearing are damaged!  Nothing to it, except yet more hours and hours of time in the confined engine bay, in the tropical heat, plus the commingling of blood, sweat and swearing (no tears, at this stage, at least), and course, nothing is easy to access and none of our tools seem to be the ones needed.

Even so, all this should be within the skipper’s cunning (being a clever clog with this sort of stuff), Hugh hopes.  And it’s kind of imperative.  Coastal hopping is one thing.  Crossing the South China Sea, spending two nights at sea, while potentially having to motor the whole way (we’re still in the SE monsoons but with ether no wind or from the wrong direction) and/or encountering challenging seas, is another matter entirely.  In either scenario, or variations thereof, we need Candeux to be in top condition.

By late lunchtime and with the day’s pain largely over, we reward ourselves with the regular Sunday lunch at the club.  Plenty of good food, with conversation among the visiting yachties and various locals, makes for a very pleasant afternoon out.

However, recreation is a scarce commodity.  Next morning we set out to call on Boy (the yacht club’s recommended metal worker) to see if he can work some magic on the cracked coupling.  Boy runs a largely open air machinery shop with what appears to be a dirt floor.  This is not immediately encouraging.  However, he does have some serious machinery and there is plenty of work going on.  Boy is also a down-to-business kind of guy.  Within no time at all, we are squatting around a rusting pile of metal bits and pieces of all shapes looking for a piece that can be used as a band to encircle the coupling.  Considering what we are looking at, Hugh is beginning to think that this might not be going to work and we will either be departing Puerto Princessa with only one engine (and it jerry-rigged) or waiting for a new coupling from Australia.  However Ben and Boy have been rummaging in the metal pile and seem to have found a very rusted, but quite thick, circular piece of metal and have agreed on what needs to be done.

Boy's open air workshop

Boy’s open air workshop where marvels happen

We leave Boy and the lads to it and set off to get yet more provisions and boat bits.  Boy says he will have it sorted in a couple of hours.  We decide we need to get a decent coffee and head to Itoys, the relatively upmarket café in town.  After this, there’s more potentially fruitless struggles to get adequate internet (yesterday’s version didn’t work at all!) and the buying of second hand clothes to trade/give to locals at the coming more remote anchorages.

After a couple of hours, we return to Boy, and, hasn’t he done a good job – a solid, bright, shining metal band compressed around the coupling.  It looks even stronger than the original.  The price?  It’s 1000 pesos (about $50).  Great value.  It’s back to Candeux to put the starboard engine back together.  This is duly achieved and the new coupling put to the test.  It all works, and there is no damage to the stern gland or cutlass bearing.  Ben and Boy have come up trumps.


Boy’s handiwork installed and ready to go

Today also brings Jim and Sheryl to the Abanico Yacht Club.  They have arrived from Kudat on a catamaran Odyssey 8.  Kudat is our destination in Malaysia on Wednesday.  Idyllically, they normally live in Tin Can Bay in Queensland for half the year and spend the rest of the time cruising.  Tough life.  After a tiring but successful day, we enjoy dinner and company at the club and make plans for a Melbourne Cup day party tomorrow at local restaurant Tom Tom’s.

We awake to another perfect tropical morning.  We have high hopes of joining Jim and Sheryl at Tom Tom’s to watch the cup but there is just too much to do on the boat. There’s still more maintenance, we need to get fuel, do more shopping for odds and ends, more provisioning and going to Immigration to clear out. We don’t get to Tom Tom’s.

The day also brings news of a prospective cyclone.  The weather synoptic chart actually shows it coming from the east and appearing to pass north of us.  Ben and I decide that we will leave at first light tomorrow to get to Brookes Point (90nm away).  It will be a long day.  By evening, we are ready to relax and have dinner at the club.  Dinner rolls on into the night with people coming and going.  Jim and Sheryl turn up after dinner.  They did get to Tom Toms Restaurant to celebrate Melbourne Cup Day and Sheryl picked the winner.  The table continues to grow to include them plus Klaus, John and Wilma (locals) and finally Shane, Mai and Shane’s dad, who have also just come up from Kudat.  A good night with lots of boating stories.

We eventually leave them to it, so we can get to bed for a 4am wake-up. This should allow us to arrive at Brookes Point (south of Puerto Princessa) before nightfall and, we hope, before and well clear of the cyclone which should still be east and further north of us.  We hope…..


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