A Special Christmas Present For Stephane…


By John Simpson.

It’s strange how much experience can be gained from delivering strange yachts over long distances. A recent incident made me remember an excellent wheeze from long ago. Perhaps the incident below is more extreme than many of us delivery sailors would have to face…

Stephane Le Diraison’s fine present came when was competing in this years non-stop single-handed Vendee Globe race. He lost his mast on the 17th December in the Great Australian Bight deep into the Southern Ocean. Being uninjured from this incident. He managed to set up a good jury rig after cutting away his mast and saving his boom. Melbourne was his closest safe haven 950nm., away. Strong northerlies with limited upwind capability threatened to blow him away from the coast. He managed to talk to a bulk carrier 200 miles of the Victorian coast and was given 200 litres of fuel. This was transferred by rope line

“I really, really appreciate for me, it’s a very nice Christmas present you offer me,” Le Diraison told the crew of the ship.

Le Diraison filmed the delicate deep sea fuel exchange with the Captain J Neofotisto, posting it on YouTube, saying the magnanimous gesture defined the solidarity shown between seafarers.

Forty years ago I met a similar problem in Indonesia off Banka Island after almost running out of fuel. We’d left Singapore heading south at the end of July on a passage of 550 nm., bound for the Sunda Strait, situated between Java and the bottom of Sumatra. Hoping to pick up the SE Trades and cross the southern part of the Indian Ocean to South Africa, before the high risk cyclone season began in December. Delivering ’Kalayanee’, a 40ft. Thai built ketch through Indonesia during the mid ’70’s was a special experience for a rag and stick fan.

It was wonderful to find that virtually all the local trade between the 13,000 or so islands that make up this interesting country was still mostly done under sail. Many of the trading craft we saw were Pinisi ketches quite large at 75 to even well over 100 tons. There were some smaller sloops rigged. Most of these vessels seemed to have hull shapes rather similar to dhows, high accommodation at the stern (complete with thunder boxes on the back) and still used steering oars on either side. All were Gaff rigged often with seven sails; main and mizzen with topsails, three jibs and 20ft plus bowsprits. (See old photos at end)

Crossing the equator shortly after leaving Singapore we experienced head winds and huge squalls with strong winds. Each squall carrying copious amounts of heavy rain then leaving it flat calm, during the start of the SE monsoon season. Most squalls but not all of them built up in the afternoon, due to the large land mass of Sumatra close to starboard and its accompanying heat.

We’d lost our two best anchors and had used most of our fuel with only half the leg to Java completed. Probably all down to my lack of experience as a skipper. Finding a small Cargo ship close to Muntok. Then asking them for diesel felt like a brain wave; it’s more likely though I’d read about it somewhere before…

We came carefully alongside this very shabby third world ship and they hoisted aboard two of our 20 litre plastic cans. Their engines used heavy fuel but they were kind enough to give us normal diesel they used on a generator. Payment was offered and refused apart from a few packets of cigarettes (once lit they didn’t like them, due to the lack of cloves in the tobacco!). It enabled us to motor into Muntok harbour and re-fuel.

Endnote: The harbourmaster in Muntok had assured us that 100 gallons of diesel would be delivered right to the boat. This seemed impossible with no road to the jetty and ’Kalayanee’ rafted outside a large Singaporean tug. He was right though, it arrived alongside, two 50 gallon drums floating and towed behind a dugout canoe. A special kind of delivery not available in most yachting Mecca’s…