Episode 10. Flat chat to Kudat

Ben and Hugh, aboard the new Mumby catamaran  Candeux, leave Balabac Island in the Philippines for Kudat on the top western tip of Malaysian Borneo, on their way to Thailand.

We are expecting winds from the north to north west at 10-15 knots.  Lovely.   They may build to 20 knots around 2000hrs but we expect to be in Kudat, Malaysia, by then.   Naturally, things don’t turn out that way.

The winds are as predicted, but the 20 knots kicks in early and the seas become short cross seas. Candeux is handling this well but we are making slower time.  But the real issue under these more demanding wind and sea conditions is the steering.  It’s sort of had it.  When we hit the rocks at Brookes Point not only did the steering cross-arm between the two hulls get bent, there now appears to be something much more seriously wrong.  These relatively mild conditions are making steering very hard.  The autopilot cannot hold the boat with the 20 knots and cross seas.  The wheel is so heavy that Hugh is steering by pushing down on the helm wheel spokes with his feet and holding it in this manner.  Clearly, there is a risk that the pressure on the steering system could cause a failure.  Kudat is not far from Balabac Island, but there are plenty of hazards and lee shores.  We are also a bit concerned because there is a cyclone heading towards Cebu and it may affect our area (it actually did kill over 100 people and displace many more but, as it happened, this turned out to be well north of us).


Hugh gets the hang of steering with his feet

We suspect that the port rudder and/or the stock to which it is attached were bent when we hit the rock shelf at Brookes Point.  We reflect that while the starboard rudder exploded its sacrificial wood block and floated up, the port block did not give.  Brave, and probably foolish, of it.  Thus the rudder, and the cross-beam steering arm, took the full force (going both onto the rocks and reversing off!).  Well, we can’t do anything about it now.  We are doing nine knots and Kudat is still ahead of us and a cyclone is behind.  Nothing to do but hope it all holds together.  However, the steering chain and turnbuckle (still a temporary fix from Manucan Island) and/or the cross-beam and rudder, could fail at any time.  And we are trying not to think about the errant steering keyway which went walkabout at Balabac.

Somewhat to our surprise, and relief, we arrive in Kudat at 1330hrs.  This was a quick run, even though there was the real prospect that the steering system could give up at any time.  We anchor in the ‘duckpond’, an area just outside the defunct Kudat Yacht Club and the Penuwasa Shipyard, but there is no time to rest or celebrate our arrival in Malaysia.  We promptly start trying to figure out the problem with the port rudder.  Yes, it is really buggered.  In fact, it is bent more severely than the bent steering arm.  Well, that explains the Herculean force needed to steer the boat.

The rudder stock (a big tube of stainless steel) has been bent backwards as it enters the rudder, as well as being bent sideways: so much so in fact, that we are wondering if mere human strength can get it out of the rudder box.  It’s a bit worrying.  The good news, and the reason we pushed on as we did from Balabac, is that Kudat has the large Penuwasa shipyard which has metal presses, welding and serious machinery; all of which we are going to need.

Ben makes a quick dash over to the shipyard to check that they have the equipment and machinery that we will need and to book us in for tomorrow.  He returns and confirms that they have everything and he has made all the arrangements to get sorted tomorrow.

The only problem now is the actual getting of the bent rudder and attached stock out of the rudder-box.  We give it a go.  It is seriously stuck – the various bends preventing it from being removed.  Now, “where is, ‘that bit of wood’?” thinks Hugh.  This now famous one- metre length of otherwise purposeless wood has made itself indispensable over numerous mishaps on our way to Kudat, and now it is needed again.  Hugh, appreciating the inherent value of ‘that bit of wood’, has stowed it where we can find it (no longer in the yet-to-arrive Duncan’s cabin).  It is soon brought into play and after lots of huffing and puffing, tension, swearing, we manage to free the rudder.  “Yeah!” .

It has now been a big day and we are seriously tired and over it.  We have done all we can for the present.  We decide to shower and go ashore to the marina resort 100 metres off the bow (as opposed to the buggered marina, to starboard) which we understand has food and beer.  Goodoh.  This actually proves to be a fairly disappointing affair, but it was food, beer (warm!) and a distraction. We will have to get a better eating result tomorrow.

Saturday arrives and we have work to do.  Having got the rudder off, we now head to the shipyard to see what can be achieved, but today we meet the big boss who doesn’t seem keen to help and, to ensure we don’t misunderstand him, just walks off.  Oh, oh.  Feeling not a little bit anxious about this, we try to find and engage Clarence, whom we know from other yachties, studied Finance and Banking at Melbourne University and who has married the boss’s daughter (brave).  We hope that maybe there are fond memories of the Land Downunder.  We find him and he seems pretty grumpy (like father-in-law, like son).  However, we work on him and finally he reluctantly goes off to persuade the big boss to agree to work on our rudder.  The rudder and stock are duly attached to large machines and straightened.  But, while they do the job well, we are anxious that there was one press too far with the machinery – possibly resulting in a crack in the stock.

Still, with this critical job done (we hope), we struggle to load the rudder and us back in the tender and deposit it back on the boat.  We decide we need a break from the boat embuggerances and head to town for some diversion.  At last, we get local SIMs and an internet modem and finally manage to download the Garmin charts for Ben’s chartplotter.  Yes, we have not had quite the complete navigation system with Ben’s limited Open CPN on a laptop and Hugh’s Navionics App on a tablet.  However, Ben now has charts for his Garmin chartplotter which provides close-quarters (zoom detail) combined with AIS.  The limitation is that it has a very small screen, and it is behind the smoked glass of the saloon window, meaning that it can only be viewed with the saloon window totally removed.  Not so good when it rains.  We have dinner at the nearby Kudat Golf Club: a marginally better eating experience – marginally.

On Sunday we opt for a day of rest – with a bit of boat work.  Ben gets stuck into this and that and finally gets Hugh’s fan operational.  Hallelujah.  That’s been a long time coming, but we have had rather a lot of other issues to contend with.  We decide on another trip to town to see what sights there are to see, which is not many.  We do find the laundromat, a now vital resource, and we soon discover that Kudat’s main centre is not where the laundromat is (whoops).  We also find the local market (the most interesting part of town) but even so, there’s not much to capture our interest.  However, there are most things that the sailor could need to provision and repair a boat.  To really see any place you need to commit time, and we haven’t really had any of that.  Thus far, we have basically been on a delivery run getting Candeux from the Philippines to Thailand.

We return to Canduex to recuperate.  After a siesta, hunger emerges and we make yet another foray into town in pursuit of good food.  Unfortunately, we spend a long, hot early evening wandering the foreshore of Kudat town looking for a restaurant along the waterfront which we are told has good food (and also serves beer – cold).  Nothing is open and there are no taxis at all.  We ask a few locals.  They think we are mad.  Taxis?  Not at night, only during market hours.  Oh, silly us.  Of course.  In a desperate effort to track down the alternative, the “up-market” Hok Cheng Restaurant, which we are told is a bit pricey but also good, we call into a nearby hotel to try to call the restaurant, find out where it is and how we can get there. The girl at the desk can’t speak or read English but has an English language phone book.  Fortunately, we can read English.  We manage to find the Hok Cheng Restaurant and they are happy to come and collect us to take us to the restaurant.  One minute, we are struggling to get the basics and the next we are almost royalty.  Hugh knows which he prefers.  Well, the restaurant is not flash, nor busy – we are the only customers, but the food is OK and the beer is cold.  We are treated very well and the owner’s daughter also drives us back to the Marina with a tour of the town thrown in on the way.  Service, or what.

The following morning Ben is still worried that when the rudder (and its attached stock) was in the metal press to straighten the stock, the workers at the shipyard went a bit too far and this introduced the now-visible hairline crack.  As Ben observes, “It may not look like much now, but it could well fail at precisely the wrong moment.”  We have to take it off again (ugh!) and transport this heavy and unwieldy monster by dinghy to the Penuwasa Shipyard.  The shipyard boss was not very keen on fixing the rudder stock in the first place.  He is even less interested now, given that he feels the job is fine and, from his perspective, we seem to be back as unsatisfied customers.  Hugh, in his rusty Indonesian, attempts to explain to the Malay speaking boss that the shipyard did a great job yesterday (true) but we would just like a bit of spot welding and a grind.  Hugh makes it very clear that we see this as ‘new’ work, and that we are happy to pay.  This sorts it, and he will do the job.

We finally re-install the rudder, again.  Hugh’s experience in steering Candeux with his feet encourages him to develop a plan if we lose one of the rudders.  The boat has two rudders, of course –it is a catamaran – but the difficulty is that if we lose one we can’t operate the other without the supporting cross-beam arm being able to function.  Hugh devises a system using rigging wire, split pins and shackles to allow the cross-beam arm to still move freely and under control even if one rudder is disengaged.  We just have to buy the necessary bits: maybe in Kota Kinabalu.  Let’s hope nothing happens before that, but given our penchant for hitting things with the rudders.….

Still, the rudders are in place, we have an emergency plan and the hairline crack is repaired so we head off to Immigration, then Customs, and finally the Harbour Master in preparation for our departure tomorrow.  This takes forever.  But, yes it’s not over yet.  Ben, who is a good cook and loves his local provisions shopping, also wants to make a visit to the local markets for supplies. “Really?” says Hugh.  But Ben is off.  He can be stubborn when he wants to be.  Anyway, we are swimming in our sweat as we struggle back to the boat with yet more supplies.  Now we are really buggered.

Tonight we run into Leslie and Rene (temporary residents at the marina) and we all decide to go to dinner at the golf club nearby.  We are also joined by Howard who has brought his boat up from Darwin to get the labour-intensive work done at the Penuwasa Shipyard before sailing it back to Australia for sale. The pleasant and varied collection of sailors keeps appearing from all quarters.

There are the resident yachties (suspended in the nether world of the closed marina), passing sailors (like ourselves), divers, and even documentary film makers, Janz and Sue.  They are refitting a steel bilge keel boat to mount a search for a previously lost and undiscovered 16th century civilization that will “force people to rethink who they really are and how we all got here”.  Hugh suspects that even though Janz and Sue are good company and seem sane and articulate, they must be mad.

We eventually call it a night, knowing that tomorrow we will cross from east to west over the top of Borneo, and then follow the coast south to collect our third crew member Duncan before Candeux eventually crosses the South China Sea towards Malaysia, the Singapore Straits, Straits of Malacca and Thailand.  Nothing to it….


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