After losing the prop and resorting to the outboard for the second time, Spirit of Cardiff was almost rundown before arriving at Singapore. Now they head into the lawless Sulu Sea… Clive Tully reports:
“It’s almost too good to be true. After thinking we’re going to arrive at Raffles Marina after the computerised fuel pumps have switched off for the evening, we’ve made up enough time to guarantee our arrival and still get some diesel. We’re at the bottom end of the Malacca Strait, about 40 miles from Singapore.
Then suddenly the engine races, and we lose forward motion. Alan revs the throttle, but all he’s rewarded with is a lot of noise. For a moment we think the propellor is cavitating, where air in the water causes it to lose its grip. We’ve had it a few times before, and it can be quite unnerving – rather like a car with a slipping clutch.
But it proves much worse. When Alan jumps over the back into the water to inspect the prop, he finds it’s gone, the blades and outer shell completely stripped off. We’d been dodging debris in the water for much of the journey down the strait – everything from coconuts complete with husks to entire tree trunks. And we’ve had a few bumps along the way, so it may be that one of those weakened a blade.
But now the problem is replacing the prop. We’re disabled, a sitting duck in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and it’s getting dark. Steve joins Alan in the water. We have a spare prop, but the problem is getting the remains of the old one off. The tools we have don’t afford enough grip, and because the boat’s transmission is fluid, there’s no way it can be locked to provide some resistance to Alan’s heaving on the nut with a socket wrench. Just to add to the excitement, a cargo ship is heading straight for us. I grab the two-way radio.
“This is Spirit of Cardiff, Spirit of Cardiff, calling ship bearing down on yellow powerboat. Do you receive? Over.” There’s no reply. I try again. And again. The ship is getting closer. “It’s close, but it’s going to miss us,” I tell Alan and Steve. Just watch out for the wash.”
The ship, with an Arabic name, misses us by about a hundred feet. “They’ve probably got it on autopilot, and they’re watching telly,” reckons Steve. In the process of wrestling with the broken remains of the prop, Alan has cut himself and is bleeding profusely. This is even worse. We’ve not seen evidence of sharks, but we know they’re there.
With the right tool, replacing the prop is a five minute job. But we don’t have the right tool – there simply isn’t space for everything. “OK, it’s time to get the outboard on,” decides Alan. For the second time in three weeks we struggle to manhandle the wing engine from its home in one side of the engine box to the back of the boat, and then connect up fuel and power lines.
Progress is pathetically slow with the spare, about 3 knots, so we know it’s going to take us all night to get there. We take a course as close inshore as we dare to avoid the big ships – even so, one gets close enough to warrant my dashing out of the cabin to flash a torch at the ship’s bridge, just to make sure they’ve seen us.
After a painfully long night we pull into Raffles Marina, around 12 hours later than expected, where we’re met by the newly elected chairman of the Spirit of Cardiff fan club in Singapore. Choy Cheok Wing is a RIB enthusiast, and has been following our progress avidly on the website. As a Raffles Marina member, he’s organised everything for us, including an impressive selection of provisions. Not just the bare essentials, but some cans of Singapore’s excellent Tiger Beer, and even a couple of bottles of wine.
We also get the chance to take a proper shower, and do some laundry. So for the first time in nearly a month we have clean clothes which aren’t impregnated with salt.
Then we’re joined by Major Tan Hua Chiow from Raffles Marina, who stands us all a fantastic breakfast. We’re deeply inde