This week we are diverting from free flight and just going to tell a good yarn. In 2009 your host was about half way through a second circumnavigation when he was suddenly confronted with a rather daunting task- sailing a large catamaran from Bali to Langkawi, Malaysia (1500 nautical miles) across the two busiest shipping lanes on Earth (the Java Sea and the Malacca Straits) solo. This is an area of the world that is not only like a freeway on the ocean with enormous ships and fishing vessels moving at high speed it’s also famous for the worst electrical storms on the planet. Imagine sailing for 10 days alone getting only minutes of sleep at a time, sick with a nasty staph infection, autopilot on the glitch, and wicked storms that batter the boat and an increasingly unstable mind. Not much flying in this one, but it’s a pretty wild (and 100% true!) story. Hope you enjoy. To read the blog (and see some pics) post in its original format from back in 2009 go here.
TranscriptSpeaker 1 (0s): Hi there everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Cloudbase Mayhem, little behind this week. I returned from Macedonia to a whole bunch of work with the house project and just had my little girls five year birthday. So I'm a little behind in recording and have some really fun ones set up, but haven't been able to get them lined up with the time differences and everything. My next one is with Baptist slam Barrett who dominated in Macedonia and just did very well in the Europeans, which just finished.
But he was first or second, I think five outta seven days in Manson, which was pretty remarkable. So talked to him after the comp and gonna get him on the show to share all his secrets and all the things he's learned from the French team. And he's, I believe third in the world right now. So that should be a lot of fun. One quick bit of housekeeping before we get into this story, I've got a whole bunch more recaps hats, and a lot of different colors.
I'll have that up on the website in the next few days. So I've been waiting for a different style, different version. Take a look at that. And that's about all I have. I have hope you're all having some fun with this summer. Some huge flights went down the last couple weeks down over in Europe and some big ones starting to happen here in the states. And it seems like a pretty good summer, but I've had head down with, with building and enjoying doing these podcasts, cuz that's about all the flying I'm getting these days.
So This podcast is quite a bit different. I'm gonna tell you a story from my sailing days. The only thing it has to do with paragliding is that we were racing from Bali to lane Cowie and by we, I mean the boat and I, this is a solo story because we were trying to get to beer in India to fly. And, but we had just done a big full season in, in Southeast Asia, starting in Palau and ending up down in Bali.
And my crew, my chef, this guy named Bobby, who was from Bali, couldn't get, he had an expired passport and wouldn't be able to leave the country. And Jody, my partner at the time had to go to lane or sorry to qual Lumpur to get visas for us to go to India. And my first mate, this gal Sunita, who we'd gotten out of a slave labor contract in Pau, a whole nother story. She was fantastic little girl from Nepal who we kind of saved.
And she was terrific crew member for a whole bunch of months. Couldn't come. I can't remember why, but anyway, in the ninth hour I was without crew and had the solo discovery. This CATA ran, I CATA ran all. I capped around the world from 2006 to kind late 2011 and this kite surfing expedition that I used to be very involved with still involved with now, but don't run the boat anymore, obviously, but this was our, this was our vessel.
And I had to take her up through the Java Sea and the Malacca Straits, the two busiest shipping lanes in the world and had to do it solo. So a lot of folks always say, gosh, the best ones, the bed pod, best podcast are stories. And this is one I've had a lot of crazy things happen, obviously out on the boat and all those years and two times around the world. But this was one of the craziest the story I, I wrote blogs about all of our adventures out there.
This one was called hell Hath, no Fury. And like I said, it doesn't have much to do with flying. I was a very keen pilot back then just getting into it, getting pretty new and trying to get the beer, to get some hours and, and get off the ocean. And, but first we had to get the boat from a to B, from Bali up to lane Cali up in Malaysia. And it was about 1500 miles across the two busiest shipping lanes on Earth and some pretty heinous weather across the equator, which you always get across the doldrums.
But in this particular part of the world, it's really heinous. Cuz you get these crazy storms that come off Sumatra, they're actually called Sumatra's. So there's a little bit of background. I'm actually gonna read you this story. And it's just something for some reason lately it's been on my mind and I thought you all would enjoy it. So here we go. I'll I'll read hell Hath, no Fury. And, and I've got quite a few friends who have been contemplating getting into sailing, going out at Sea. So let this be a little warning.
Thankfully, not all like this, but it can be like this. Here we go. After our last trip ended in Bali, I had 24 hours to fuel the boat, fix a half a dozen urgent mechanical issues, check out the country and find some crew Sunita and Bobby were tied up in Bali and Jodi needed to be in Singapore or arranged travel visas. I had no desire to sail 1500 miles across the equator by myself, through the busiest shipping route in the world. I begged and completed with everyone. I knew regardless of their experience, but no one could commit is the day of departure wore on reality, which I'd been trying to optimistically ignore set in erased on my rented motorbike to the supermarket.
Rashly bought a bag full of fresh goods, some chocolate, lots of coffee and a bottle of scotch of sale alone. Before trust me, it's a necessity I was spent. We just finished four back to back trips instead of sleeping all night, I pumped out an endless stream emails as I hadn't had reliable internet in months when I finally did rele to exhaustion instead of sleeping, I fretted about the autopilot, which was on the glitch. Even a well rested person could only hand steer a boat for a few hours before making time consuming errors. The autopilot would also keep me off the helm so I could attend to things like charge sales and food.
The other device that had to work flawlessly was the radar. Once I got into the Java Sea, there would be an endless string of mammoth ships, cargo, freighters, tankers, et cetera, traveling at 25 knots going both directions from the time a human eye can pick out a vessel on the horizon. Traveling at that speed. You've got eight minutes before we can run you down a guard alarm alarm on the radar, sings out if a target gets too close. Well with the well-rested crew, the, the radar is merely back up to a diligent watch. But for me, the radar was the first line of defense.
I cannot stay away and sharp for 10 days. Both the Java, Sea and Straits are shallow and constructed by hundreds of violences. Some of them know larger than an acre and others like Java, Borno and Sumatra stretch. Hundreds of miles had no choice, but to run in the same waters, the giants did thousands of fishing vessels further complicate matters. Java is the most populated populated island on earth. Many of whom get sustenance from a catch from catch pull from the Java Sea at night at night, lights from these vessels are so dense and bright.
They appear as populated cities instead of vast expansive ocean. Even if you don't stray from the shipping lanes, it's easy to foul prop with netting. If this happens while solo, the consequences could be dire, but none of this was yet on my mind. As I pulled anchor, I kept repeating myself that everything was gonna be fine. I ignored my body's plea for sleep. Instead enjoyed the solace and beauty as the sun slipped behind the peaceful island of Bali, leaving a fiery Crimson sky in our wake as darkness set on that first night discovery and I found a rhythm. I cranked up the tunes, took a NPO, scotch, made some dinner and eased back in the cockpit and thought to myself, this might not be too bad by midnight.
We'd clear the lo box Straits. This felt like a huge Fe in itself. Now I could relax a bit as we had both an ocean on both sides of the boats, then a land and the currents, which can exceed seven knots in the Straits slowly ease their grip. The computer constantly provides updates on our estimated time of arrival, depending on our velocity made good. I've learned. It's usually demoralizing to watch this ever changing tease, but knowing we had to arrive in 10 days for a scheduled haul out for discovery, I couldn't help, but sing out as the hours and days diminished with our increased speed.
One not faster on this end equals a day and a half off the trip. I set the guard alarm on the radar, my clock alarm for 20 minutes and fell fast asleep as bad as it sounds. The body eventually adapts to these fleeting moments. Rest the alarm never fails to make me jump, but is a necessary component of the night by daybreak. I actually felt well rested, nice subtly breeze was setting in welcome relief as we'd burn precious fuel motoring. All night, I lowered the main sail set the jib and Jen and set off downwind wing on wing heading north Northwest across the Java Sea discovery seemed to be sailing slower than usual, which I thought was due to the current, but the sailing directions for the area refuted this claiming if anything, a northerly trend in October, could our hole be fouled so badly that it was slowing us down.
Wind east I'd have to die below to investigate. I remember a little over the next 48 hours other than other than a number of visits from dolphins and continually altering our course to give the growing numbers of boats, a wide birth at night, regardless of the hour, I could count over a dozen vessels on the horizon. Most of them winning over 3000 tons discoveries, 25 churning at 20 plus knots. When the wind died on the third day, I developed a routine by day. I tried to eat well, read a bit and allowed myself a daily DVD by mounting the laptop at the nav station.
So I could maintain, watch I'd long, given up any attempt at wearing clothes as the days were miser, miserly hot and well, why not? I have to act the part a mostly responsible captain year round. I might as well try to enjoy this trip as much as I could, but any semblance of pleasure was about to end rooting skies replaced the gray Stratus that had been our cover since departure. We were still 500 miles south of the equator of it appeared. The dreadful equatorial squalls were going to stall our future. The next morning, the first and many storms hit raindrops.
The size of golf balls came down in heating sheets. Visibility dropped to less than 20 meters. I could barely make out the bow of the boat from the inside of the saloon before the squall I'd counted two dozen ships at every point of the compass. And now I couldn't see a thing. The radar screen was solid snow. Its echos unable to penetrate the cascades of water. It was impossible to see other vessels and just as impossible for them, for them to see us. I felt like a blind man standing at the center of converging train tracks with locomotives coming from every direction.
We had nowhere to run great cracks of lightning scorched the heavy air followed immediately by explosions of thunder, which rattled the boat. It was continuous as if the sky was super charged with billions of mountain size spark plugs all firing at once. I still vividly remember that first night with these storms, just my hair. I'd go out on deck. I actually had hair back then and it would just stand up and be straight as it must have looked like Einstein. There was so much electricity in the air. It was really quite, it kind shook you up in the first hour.
I sat odd by the deluge, but as the time passed my nerves, my nerves began to unravel by the end of the second hour with no relent in the weather. I started to shake. I was soaked and naked, but the shaking wasn't due to cold. I kept sounding our Foghorn though. I knew it was pointless. An oncoming vessel. Wouldn't hear it. And certainly in no time to slow down or change course by the fourth hour I was well and truly scared shitless. I tried singing. I tried listening to music. I even tried scotch, but I couldn't calm down. And all my years at Sea, I'd never been so afraid, never felt so insignificant.
I don't like counting on luck to keep from getting run down, but that's the only weapon I had. I stood on deck and cussed the black in sky and shook my fist like a ranting child. I, I can't remember exactly coming off script here a bit, but I can't remember exactly, but this was I ninth or 10th time across the equator at this point. And I'd been at Sea for just about exactly. 10 years started in 99. This was 2009, some 10, 11 years by night fall, which is, which is, which was indistinguishable from the day the squall passed after nearly six hours of hell, but it was replaced by another of equal power of ferocity and another and another and another on the morning of the sixth day after battling for nearly 48 hours, I was jolted awake by silence, no torts, Torrance of rain, no cracks of thunder, only the steady hum of engines.
I raised my battered head off the wet pillow and scan scan the sky. It looked the same as it had, but the Sea was dead still. And the quiet was startling. I brewed a cup of coffee, which had long ago lost the ingredients to keep me awake and sat on the stern in a complete trance. My limbs aching from raw nerves. I killed the engines. We slowed to a stop for some time. I just stared at the horizon, resigned in no thought whatsoever, but the stillness was intolerable as the storms, my mind needed activity, something other than fear to keep it occupied.
I grabbed my mask fins and a metal spatula and dove overboard in the middle of the Straits and scraped the holy critters that in some places were three inches thick. Little wonder why we'd bend so slow. The job took two and a half hours. I cleaned my hands, which were bleeding and stung from contact with the sharp barnacles, started the engines and carried on north two knots faster than before a nasty staph infection had taken hold of my left leg and was growing into a small volcano, a sure indication of my physical exhaustion. I was falling apart. A note on the staff, again, going off script here.
When we went through the Panama canal in our first year as with this boat in 2007, we did this big trip with all these pros and big media thing. We had 25 people on board, you know, usually we'd have six and just got wicked run down. I was exhausted beyond, I was always exhausted running this boat, but I was beyond exhausted and Jodi and I started getting these really regular staff infections, which for her at times were life threatening.
She'd get 'em in her head and places that were, you know, just too close to the brain. And you had to be adamant about getting on really serious antibiotics. I would get 'em in my knees and my elbows. And they would take, I did antibiotics for the first year. And then I just got weary of taking so many antibiotics. So when I'd get 'em, I'd just kinda let them run their course. So you'd go through this really pitched few days of fever, just be, you know, being really sick. And then it eventually, you know, over two or three weeks go away and then I'd have a week or two a piece and then I'd get another one.
But I've since found out that actually Bruce, who used to support me in the ex ops first couple and he was a doctor and he was helpful through all of this cuz he was out on the boat quite a bit, but it was just basically from pure exhaustion. Staff infections are what you get often in the hospital when you're really sick and they can be they're nasty and they can be life threatening. So I started getting a pretty bad staff infection on this trip, back to the script here on the morning, the seventh day I realized we didn't have enough fuel. The days of motoring Laden Laden with barnacles had used up our reserves.
We were only 40 miles outta no point marina. This is a marina on the ESE side, just across the Straits from Singapore. You can see Singapore and often the distance, not very far 20 miles where I wanted to stop for the night and refuel before heading into the Malacca Straits. But it might as well have been on the moon. I spotted a cargo ship at anchor near the south end of Batam island. And motored slowly up to stern discovery seemed to toy dwarfed by the wrestling Hulk resting Hulk two dozen dirty men crowded around their AF deck and, and looked bemused a few stories down at me, Haggard and emaciated yelling for help using long ropes.
Their crew hoisted up two of my empty Jerry cans and filled them with diesel and lowered them back down, slinging fuel all over the deck. The fuel was filthy too dirty to even go get through the filter funnel into the tank, which caused me to spill over our gallon all over the tea decks. I painstakingly removed the gun from the filter with my hands and slowly got a few gallons down the funnel, hopefully enough to get us into port discovery. And I pulled into the swanky marina just across the channel from Singapore, right after sunset. Jodi met me on the docks and we dissolved into a heated fight.
She was frustrated with the lack of progress on the visas and I didn't have it in me to bear the news. We ate dinner in silence and rented a room at the hotel. Not surprisingly, neither of us slept much. Jody had to catch the sunrise ferry back to Singapore to catch a flight to Quala. Onur where she hoped to obtain the visas. And I had to get back to Sea by early afternoon, I had the boat fueled, cleaned up and ready to go. Five minutes outta the Marine of the port engine RPM gauge failed and the autopilot wouldn't work. I stopped the boat, jumped out into the engine room, tighten the fan belt, which, which cured the RPM gauge changed the fuel filters, which just needed to be done and did everything I could of to fix the autopilot late in the afternoon, we were underway again, but the autopilot only operated at random intervals.
The Malacca Straits looked like an Oceanside sized version of gridlock freeway traffic. I'd never seen a busier waterway. This was my first time through the Malacca Straits and it's kind of impossible to even describe. It's a long narrow straight between Malaysia and Sumatra. It's very shallow on the sides and it's just got this very narrow shipping lane that you have to stay in because right on the sides and talks about this in the story. But I wanted to give you a little more back story.
There's the, the fishermen set, these bamboo fish traps, and they're just right on the edge of the shipping lane. So you can't, you know, being a, we, we, we were shallow draft. We only pulled three and a half feet, so we could have easily just gone out of the shipping lanes, but you can't cuz you can't see 'em they're not marked, they don't have any lights on 'em. So you have to kind of stay in the shipping lanes and there's just huge ships going in and out of there constantly in both directions. So you really have to mind the rules of the road and it doesn't, I don't even talk about it in the story here, but I was constantly on the radio that night, just, you know, Hey, this is Stanley vessel discovery, you know?
So and so off your port or off your starboard at this distance, are you sure you see me because you know, we're on a collision course. It just, it required incredible diligence and it's incredibly confusing because the Straits are lighted really well with all the nav lights, but then you've got all these ships and it's a pretty, yeah, it's in some ways it's a pretty spooky place to go through. I've had other trips through that were not as bad as this one, but this one was, was by far the worst early in the evening with the glow Singapore fading off our Starboard's turn while doing my best to make sense of an orgy of navigation lights.
I suddenly saw a global fire swinging back and forth off our bow. I've rub my eyes a few times thinking I was hallucinating, but the flame remained. It was someone in distress, not for the first time in the last few days I swore that's. All I needed was to perform a rescue three Indonesian men operating a long boat filled with fuel drums had apparently lost their engine. It was hard to tell as we couldn't communicate, but it was simple enough to realize they needed help. I tossed them a thick mooring line, tied it off our stern cleat and turned towards shore an hour later after threading through a minefield of boats, I found a tug willing to take the cast aways to safety.
I wished them well kind of, I didn't speak, I don't speak Indonesia, but, and hurriedly carried on thankful it hadn't taken too much pressure. Precious time. The Malacca Straits are narrow and shallow and run Northwest Southeast 400 miles between Malaysia and Sumatra. The sailing directions warn to many dangers, but the three most stressed or weather systems known as Sumatra is violent squalls that generate off the Indonesian coast, the obvious shipping traffic and the shallow depths at the edge of the shipping lanes, which I've told you about with the re with the nets and radar, can't pick up any of the nets either.
They're invisible. A sidebar noted that more insurance claims caused by lightning strikes are filled in this part of the world than anywhere else. The lightning began far to or west at 2100 hours for two hours. There wasn't a sound, just a sky of mesmerizing, streaks of crooked, evil, white lines. There were multiple strikes. Every second. It was as impressive as it was scary. And I hoped it would remain on the horizon, but by midnight it was clear. We were not going to outrun the storm. For some reason, the slow advance, the lightning caused me to think it was only going to be electrical even though the menacing cloud line and all the telltale signs of strong wind shear, flat, bottom, massive vertical development, cold black, and huge kind of stuff you look for when you're paragliding.
The gust front was coming, looking back. My only excuse for getting caught. So blindly was the poor functioning of my tired mind when it slammed us, I was completely unprepared. The wind went from zero to 35 knots in a few seconds, sharp Sea followed instantly. I hadn't even bothered tore the main sale, which was fully deployed discovery, creamed off course, 45 degrees in the autopilot predict predictably failed to correct. I ran forward to the base of the mass to lower the sail. But when I got there stood duly for what seemed many minutes, doing nothing. The boat was shaking, violently rain, thunder and lightning seemed to be assailing us from every direction without an autopilot.
I couldn't get the pressure outta the sail to lower it. If I blew the main haard that the line that holds the main sail up the sail would wrap around the shrouds and break all the battens, which rip the sh sail shreds. Finally, I snapped outta my stoop and ran back to the helm. I floored the still running engines, cranked the wheel against the wind, hoping the sail could hold the enormous pressure and went dead into irons. As we rounded up, I, I ran forward again and blew the main haard and instantly, and thankfully the sail slammed down undamaged in an unorganized mess. I sprinted back to the Hellman, discovered the star starboard engine alarm was blaring.
The engine installed nothing I could do about it. Now I unfurled the sta STAs, the little sail between the gym and the main, instead of course, towards land screw the fishing nets I needed rest and cover. Cause we approached what I hoped was a usable Anchorage after hand staring through a blizzard of rain and lightning and a parade to tankers for nearly six hours. I remembered I'd fouled the engine. I furled the stay sail and let discovery slow without thinking things through very clearly, I grabbed my mask and underwater light and jumped into the cold black depths, holding, holding tight to the stern.
So little more color here. The storm had kind of pass, but it was pitch black. There was no moon. And this is just still when I read this. And when I think back about this, this is crazy. I put a knife in my mouth and one of the, one of the sheets from the, from the Gib when I'd furled it up and it was just the, the deck was a messed. When I, when the main sale came, crashing down, had gone overboard and gone into the prop. That's what stalled the engine.
So basically I put a mask on, put my fence on, put a knife in my mouth and jumped overboard and you know, didn't know how fast the boat was going. Even though we didn't have any sales up anymore, you know, probably still moving pretty good and didn't have myself even tied in. So if I wasn't able to get back onto the boat and missed it and you know, that that's it game over. So this was just insanely stupid. And just because I was so exhausted. So I jumped over and stuck my hand in the exhaust and kind the, the prop is about five feet in front of the transom.
So I had to kind of use the exhaust and pull myself up and grab onto the prop. And I could just feel it, the, the water's filthy in the Molo Straits. I couldn't, I wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway, it was midnight, but I pulled myself up and just kind of start hacking away at the, at the sheet and finally was able to get it all out of there. And, and I'd have to, I kept coming out and coming up for breath and going back down and coming up for breath and going back down and was able to grab the swim ladder when it was all done and come up onto the deck.
And I just sat there for a few minutes going, Jesus dude, idiot. So yeah, just an incredibly stupid thing to do. So then I fired up the engines and used the radar in depth sounder to find what I hope would be a good place to get some rest. This is another thing I don't really elaborate on in the story, but it needs some more color. These fishnets are everywhere. It just they're solid from one guys to the next, to the next to the next. So I kind of knew I was just gonna be sailing right through 'em and screw it.
I needed, I needed an anchor and I needed to sleep. And so I did, I went in, I couldn't see anything on the radar and I just left the shipping lanes a couple miles and put the anchor down. Then the anchor dragged for an hour and a half. And just, just this really weird silt mud in that part of the world. And, and I just sat there looking at the radar and looking at the charts and just kind of nodding my head and banging my head into the navigation table cause I'd fall asleep. And finally she sat and I just crashed, went to sleep and woke up the next morning.
And we were literally the, where I had come in was this tiny little gap that was probably twice as wide as discovery. You know, discovery was 30 foot beam. She said 57 foot CATA in. And I just totally by dumb luck gone right down this channel between the nets and set the anchor in this huge area that didn't have any nets in the middle of it. So we were kind of in this big swimming pool between all these nets and woke up to a perfect day, perfectly well rested. It was unbelievable.
Here we go. Yeah. There was only one convoluted path into the spot where we were anchored and somehow we'd managed to negotiate the maze by nothing, nothing more than dumb luck. I felt brilliant as fresh and alive as the day was bright discovering. I had been slammed with an impossible test to will, but somehow he'd pulled through. We turned north again and stayed true to our course until we reached lane Callie a day and a half later. I remember that period, the, the autopilot would only last for about 20 minutes at a time. So it was pretty exhausting. I would fall asleep and then realize, you know, something would make a sound or something wouldn't feel right and realize we were going 90 degrees to the course cuz the autopilot failed again.
But I never could get it fixed until we got the boat out of the water later that year. But more squalls battered us that night more boats nearly ran us down. More swearing exploded from my mouth at the increase in the unreliable autopilot, but nothing could stop us now by the time we'd reached Lynn cow, we or discovery was hauled right on schedule. I was in a pathetic state, but at the same time I felt a sense of great achievement and incredibly a welling sad sadness that it was over between the battles. There was pristine moments of clarity, precious and rare times of quiet and peace and some startling expressions of self that I could never do in the company of others.
No doubt. The experience has made me stronger and hopefully wise enough to never attempt again. And I end the story with a little quote from Peter McWilliams to avoid situations in which you might make mistakes, maybe the biggest mistake of all hope you all enjoyed that I will get back to regular podcasting as soon as possible. Thanks. See you on the next one. Cheers.
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