Engine trouble and kidnappings

25 Jun
Engine repairs

There’s a Yiddish proverb: “Man plans, God laughs.” The cruiser’s equivalent is to say that our plans are written in the sand, at low tide.

Yes, we still make plans. Usually, they’re weather driven: designed to avoid hurricane/cyclone/typhoon seasons on the grand scale, and pick days for optimal sailing on immediate front. The current “big plan” is next year’s Indian Ocean passages, starting early in 2015 and winding a slow path through a number of countries before South Africa. It’s trying to nail down any nearer term plans that has proved impossible. I hesitate share any, because every time we make them– even in a general sense (like, hey, let’s go to the Philippines this year!)- they change. Anything we commit to now will probably change a few more times!

Palawan Beach
Palawan. Source: alantankenghoe, Flickr

We had revised routing earlier based on the kidnappings in NE Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, decided to go north to Palawan island in the Philippines instead. News then came out that a couple disappeared from their cruising boat off Palawan. The same rebel group, Abu Sayaff (ASG), was fingered.

It’s disturbing, because:

1.       ASG kidnaps for profit. This would be their first cruising boat
2.       It’s Most of their activity lately has been in the Sulu archipelago, not Palawan

3.       They have a history of keeping hostage for years (or, killing them)
4.       A spokesman for the Abu Sayaff has stated that, “We have been trying hard to get an American because they may think we are afraid of them.” He added, “We want to fight the American people.” Great!

However, it seems just as possible that the couple simply had an accident or became crocodile lunch…as has happened recently in that area. Some reports say when their boat was found, nothing was missing- cash, laptops, etc., and towels were in the cockpit with the swim ladder down. Reports vary enough it’s hard to know where speculation and truth nest together, so we wait to see if more definitive information comes to light.

El Nido Palawan Big Lagoon
Palawan. Source: nenborromeo, Flickr

Waiting is easy, because we’re delayed getting our engine serviced. Parked in lovely Telaga Harbour near the Thai/Malay border for the duration, we spent nearly a month longer than we expected there as it dragged out. Then, there were the problems heading south down the peninsula. Dealing with the outcome of power problems in one marina added a few days, but the big culprit was when our newly tuned engine developed an irritating habit of overheating that defied diagnosis.

“This is frustrating” might be one of the more common phrases lately.

Gold- the Yanmar shop manual

But getting stressed out or frustrated by delays is pointless. It’s just the way it is (although there was no avoiding the stress of losing our engine, in little wind and more current, in the shipping lanes for one of Asia’s busiest ports. Yeah- that was stressful!). We could get worked up over the delays, but what good will that do? Smile, work on the problem, and try to make the most of the situation.

And yes, although it really is frustrating, the guys from Supreme Power Services have been great. To try and get the overheating problem solved they’ve spent more than 8 additional days on Totem so far, commuting from Kuala Lumpur to various location where Totem is. Yes, something happened while servicing that started it all, but they’ve generally done solid work at a fair price and they’re not charging for any of the extra time. Jamie’s been impressed with what they know, and happy with how much he’s learned a lot from them. Plus, they slid him a shop manual for our engine, which is you would think was gold plated!

This morning, we finally had a clean bill of health on the state of the engine: a presumed combination of air getting in (bits not put back together exactly right) and a bad radiator cap combining to cause the problems with different symptoms and under different conditions. So there was some irony when as they stood on the dock preparing to depart, Jamie realized the alternator was not properly charging, and discovered a broken diode. Because we are waiting for a replacement charger to use shore power or our generator, and the rainy season isn’t helping our green power generation… well, this getting juice into the battery bank just became a problem, and once again, our engine is not working.

Here we go again! I think I’ll grab the pilot charts for the Indian Ocean and make some popcorn.

Mellow go-with-the-flow types know we love it when you read this on Sailfeed website.


  1. Behan Gifford

    Hi sonofasailor35! I guess the #1 reason we aren’t sailing to Australia is that we really don’t have any interested in going back to Australia right now. Also, we very much want to take a northern route across the Indian Ocean, not a southern route, so Australia would be really out of the way! But sure, you could go that way, although if we were interested in a return to Oz + Southern IO transit, we’d go back through Indonesia and PNG first, because they were just that awesome.

  2. sonofasailor35

    I am not (yet) a bluewater sailor – little experience but plenty of plans. So, this is not a criticism, just a question: sailing from the Pacific to the Indian oceans, why not go south of Australia instead of north? I have only heard of one person who did this, a guy who wrote a book whose name I can’t remember who cruised with his family in the 60s and 70s. He says he was boarded by the Aussie coast guard south of Perth and they refused to believe he had sailed that way. If you look on the global ocean weather and wave websites (http://manati.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/ and http://www.oceanweather.com/), they seem to indicate that the weather is not all that extreme in the austral spring, most of the time, especially if you stay within 50 miles or so of the coastline. I know there’s just about no place to stop between Adelaide and Perth, but it seems better than facing being kidnapped.

  3. George and Kathleen

    Yuck…. Just settling in to our new home and trying to catch my breath and checkup on your gang. I guess that ace mechanic should have taken some lessons from Jamie. How is Utopia’s engine doing? This to will pass and you will be sailing adventuring once again SOON!!!

  4. Melissa Gifford

    You know this is the first time I’ve been nervous about you guys out in the big, bad world. I would be scared out of my skin thinking about being eaten by anything in the ocean, and yea, maybe getting kidnapped.

    I hear the Atlantic ocean is pretty safe these days.

  5. Rona House

    While I hear comments that cruising was more difficult in the days of sextant navigation and decidedly unreliable auxiliary power your description highlights the fallacy in such thinking!
    Cruising, like computer programming is a steady state bug situation. Every ‘solution’ introduces new problems to keep it fun.

  6. brian tennant

    sounds like cruising at its greatest, we have the same engine, not too many overheating problems of late but did have an issue couple of years ago, when the the intake went to fridge compressor cooling unit , the unit developed a crack where the anode inserts, when we bypassed the unit the problem went away, wish in hind site now i had replaced the unit on the spot while in new zealand, we still dont use the compressor for fridge,
    we are anchored in puerto princessa not far from the yacht that was brought here after the german couple went missing, and like you said everything was intact , including money, which would seem very strange that abu sayaf would leave anything of value behind especially money . yachts seem to be business as usual heading from puerto to kudat. we may even make the trip soon.
    the saying is plans change like the wind, hope your problems sort soon, we are having a green patch of everything working , this too shall pass but we are enjoying it for as long as it may last. take care brian and mitchell
    sv stella

  7. Rob van olmen

    That is a surprise, Supreme Power Engineering, the same guys, have just overhauled our engine. Everything seems to be fine now, just when the engine is cold, a noise that i cannot pinpoint. Most likely the bearing of the alternator we concluded. Still a good testrun to be done when we leave today from Danga Bay to the Tiomans.

    Hope your engine gets sorted quickly.

  8. KAthleen Simis

    YIKES! So glad to hear from you, because just today Morgan said, “Where the heck are they? I hope they don’t get kidnapped!” And here’s your article! So sorry, I know the feeling…but you are celebrating anyways, right? It’s almost naked in front of the island now, just us and Southern Wing (AUS, w/ dog Sasha), the barge, and Nigel’s empty boat. WEIRD. Good luck..,Miss y’all! xoxo

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