Circumnavigating cruising couple Jay Barry and Carol Martini from Gandalf spent time in one of many long range cruisers' most popular spots, Langkawi in Malaysia. Jay, who numbers among his many qualifications being a do-nut gourmet, tells this tale, which, as he says, includes all the best things and worst things about the life of a cruising sailor.
Jay Barry and Carol Martini and their sleek yacht Gandalf
Our time at Telaga Marina in Langkawi was as quiet as the legendary ‘month of Sundays’… until 8:50 a.m. one cloudy monsoonal day.
Knock Knock Knock.
'Who’s dumb enough to knock on our hull at this ungodly hour?'
'It must be important. Everybody knows better.'
Important it turns out to be - a rescue is in progress.
Before the drama unfolds, let me introduce you to the players.
First, the Boat that Needs to be Rescued: A rode-hard-and-put-away-rusty ketch with a German cruising couple who had spent too long in the Chagos archipelago and were returning on the 2500 mile journey entirely too late in the season, and hence in bad weather. A sudden squall had torn the mainsail twice, ripped up the jib, of course, like all of these stories, the motor won’t start.
Out of food, low on water, they had managed to drift close and get anchored on a lee shore of an island near Langkawi. If the anchor dragged, they would be on the rocks. Drama at its highest.
Second, the Rescue Boat: Dun Now. Rhoda & Max, two big-hearted Aussies on a 55 ft home-made fiberglass sloop with their two young boys, better known to every marina and anchorage from Darwin to Thailand as The Terribles.
And, finally, the Volunteers: Harold, a Dutch friend of the German boat; Francois, our French friend; and yours truly, Jay( - yes, it is true. While Jay was minding his own business sleeping, Rhoda, who knows we don’t get up until crack of noon, had volunteered his services. She was still laughing when Jay showed up by 9 am); and Don, from a catamaran Katrine who was having some engine trouble so was in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Rhonda got him too.)
At 9:00 am, the rescue expedition set out to sea on Dun Now. The weather had been great, sunny, with light winds and no sea swell. But the universe with its sense of humor drove in a SW monsoon front at 3am that morning with 25 knots and 9ft seas. Not a problem in the marina but out to sea... the big engine on Dun Now roared to life and off into the swells. The rescue party rolled and tossed.
Fortunately, the boat to be rescued was only six miles away. No big deal. They left the protection of the manmade islands straight out into the bounding main.
In an astonishingly short amount of time the entire ship was reduced to what is affectionately known as 'boat salad'. For the non-sailors, this is when everything in your house crash-lands on the floor: drawers open, dishes, knives, books fly about in an extraordinary amount of poltergeist-like activity. In minutes, the floor is gone, vanished beneath a mound of debris. At this point, a Terrible appears in the companionway and announces in his best Timmy-like 'Where the hell is Lassie' Voice: 'I want to go home NOW!'
Rhoda says he usually isn’t bothered by big seas, but he doesn’t like it when things start flying around. Alas, there is no Lassie for him. Then from inside the boat Rhoda shouts …as only she can: 'There is something wrong with the engine!!!'
Now, Jay's looking for Lassie. Max asks Jay to take the wheel while he goes forward to let the anchor out. He suggests that Max might rig a sail in case they have bigger troubles with the engine. Since we have all been marking time in the marina, none of our boats have been readied to go to sea.
Captain Max & Harold disappear below to fix the engine problem. The debris is shoveled away from the access floor board to the engine which is very hot and steaming. Meanwhile, the swells are getting worse. Dive tanks, compressors, tool boxes have come crashing into the cockpit.
Heroic efforts in untenable conditions find the cooling system of the engine has been clogged… by seashells. Seems when Max rigged the cooling system for the motor, he built a large manifold after the raw water filter that holds 10 gallons of sea water to use as a sea chest to divert salt water off to other parts of the boat (like sinks, johns, etc).
When only small amounts of nutrient-rich marina water was being flushed through this manifold, it had turned into a perfect environment for growing small clams. When the engine was started and the amount of flow increased, and with no filter to stop them, the shells were sucked up like a wet- vac into the impeller of the raw water cooling pump.
The pump clogged and destroyed itself. Great effort was made to pull hoses off, chase shells out, and install new impellers. Don’t forget, the boat is still going up and down 10 feet.
The younger of the Terribles, who had been quietly lying prone and seasick on the previously relative safety of the floor, began slowly sliding towards the open hole of the engine room. The Timmy WantaBe makes another appearance and demand to 'Go Home Now!'.
Kindly Grandfatherly Don says: 'come over here and hold my hand, I’m scared too.' Jay didn’t know what hand he was going to give him as he was holding on with both hands like the rest of the unlucky crew in the swell.
Timmy makes a face and goes below again. Mom’s a better bet.
The engine finally coughs to life. Water comes out the exhaust like it is suppose to. The boat goes forward, or rather back, to the marina. There will be delay in the rescue. Things are OK for 15 minutes. Then Rhoda (remember Rhoda?) Yells: 'Max, there’s REALLY something wrong'.
Heavy deisel exhaust is bellowing out of the bilge. The engine is shut down again just at the entrance to the marina. With rocks all around us, the sail is pulled out to give maintain some headway. Again, Max & Harold dive below.
The floor’s opened again. With the loss of the cooling water yet again (didn’t get all of the shells), the 1200F degree heat of the engine exhaust has melted the plastic muffler which cracked open along the upper seam completely filling the interior of the boat with deadly fumes.
Out goes Timmy. Out goes his limp seasick brother.
It’s time for Jay to get off the boat, literally.
With the help of the volunteers, the inflatable dinghy is hauled to the side of the stricken boat. Jay leaps in…and ties a bow & stern line (you didn’t think he was abandoning ship, did you?).
The dinghy is equipped with a 15hp outboard powerful enough to push the boat off the rocks and back into the marina.
A shore party had assembled to find out why the rescue has been aborted so soon. Seeing the smoke billowing out of the companionway, the girls on Oruga (ages 9 &12) said, 'Maybe Rhoda just burned the breakfast?'
The rescuers had become the need-to-be-rescued.
And what of the stranded sailboat so near yet so far? A second task force was commissioned using an ex-British lifeboat, with most of the original ‘volunteers’ (except Jay who declined, citing the extreme need of do-nuts) plus the marina manager who was kind enough to put a case of beer on ice for the successful return.