Engine Ingenuity

Originally published in The Coastal Passage Qld Australia 2013

There are things a cruising sailor prays will never happen. Engine breakdown is just one of them. Especially when there is not a breath of wind and major currents are against you. Engine breakdowns in some exotic places can prove a little problematical.

Sailing without an engine in the Singapore Straits is illegal. Caesura and crew were just about to tackle the Singapore Straits when it happened. Caesura is a 40 footer 15 tonne steel yacht, New Zealand design. Before we left Australian waters we had had an engine fright. Just before Airlie Beach a clickety clack sound like all the plates at a Greek party being broken at once sent shivers up our spines as we saw the dollars disappearing.

Engine off, we drifted into an anchorage to wake in the morning and examine the damage, fearing the worst. Caesura has a 72hp Ford engine which had never had a day’s problem in our ten years aboard. Luckily this time there was a reprieve, simply a loose alternator bracket which was easily fixed. Our trusty motor was A.O.K. We could breathe again and look forward to the delights of our voyage through Indonesia. 

Not for long however. Our peace of mind was shattered just 60 nm south of our Singapore crossing. On Sunday 21 October 2012 at 05.30 hrs we left our anchorage at Mesanuk, (00 degrees, 24’31 North by 04 degrees 32’79 East) on our way to Nongsa Point Marina, Batam Is, Indonesia. A mere 60nm which would take us three days! This was our last port of call in Indonesia before crossing the Singapore Straits. After one hour heading north we heard a slight change in engine noise so checked the oil pressure. It was zero. Instantly we turned off the engine. It smelled different too.

We decided to return downwind to what we knew was a safe anchorage to check things out when the engine was cool. Then we knew the worst; the engine had seized. We could not turn it by hand. The smell of hot oil was all pervasive. The engine room was covered in oil. An oil hose had broken loose and sprayed about seven litres of oil everywhere. A monumental mess. Not only had the oil hose broken loose but the alarm had failed to function also. What is that saying, ‘It never rains but what it pours?.’

There was nothing to do but up anchor and try to sail in no wind in a general northerly direction.  Avoiding the fish traps which are built like houses on stilts in the shallows where the counter current could help us, added spice to a very slow journey. 


Late that night we arrived in the southern part of Selat Riau (Strait) after a trip that should have been a quick 28nm under motor but which was in fact two to three times as far under sail. Ultra-light winds and sudden squalls from the north blocking all visibility did not help our speed. Luckily Seadragon II with Gary and Frances, were half a day ahead of us. Approaching the anchorage in pitch dark we could make out their faint anchor light sufficiently to allow us to anchor away from the myriad of fish traps.

Day two and we had to say farewell to Seadragon II. That day we made progress thanks to tacking constantly to find small counter currents, more than to any wind. Just as we were about to lose the current the light wind did a shift to the East to jest with us for a short moment before coming back right on the nose from the north again. Frustration! We took shelter near the Indonesian warship fleet at Tanjung Juban, Pulau Bintam and slept soundly. Day three and 12.5 nm to Nongsa Point. We hoisted the Delta flag ‘Keep Clear of me, I am Manoeuvring with Difficulty’, not that many people would know the meaning but we were moving from the Riau Straits closer to the very busy area of the Singapore Straits. We passed the day chasing currents, at times barely moving forward, tacking, tacking, tacking. Or being taken by the current.

When the scenery looked all too familiar, and it seemed we were stationary, we strapped our tinnie (dinghy) with its 3.3hp Mercury Outboard to the port side of Caesura for the last four nm using the last of our petrol. This enabled Caesura to make 1 knot in the shallowest parts avoiding adverse currents. Still no wind.

At one stage three yachts motored past us with one turning around to ask if we wanted a tow.  Caesura’s crew answered an enthusiastic “Yes please” but the captain said “No thank you”. Thank you Liberty for the offer!

Just as night fell 1nm East of Nongsa Point Marina a welcome sight appeared. The marina manager had come to tow us into the marina. We spent the next few days investigating the chances of repairing the motor in Batam which meant finding a good diesel mechanic. 

As we encountered many dead ends in our searches we realized we had to think laterally if we ever intended to cross the Singapore Straits. Christian organized for a steel bracket to be made for Caesura’s stern as we had located a new 25hp Yamaha long shaft outboard motor. Paying for it was another matter. The shop owner only dealt in cash. The maximum we could take out of the bank was 600 dollars per person per day. We did not want to use ATMs and alarm our bank so much that they stopped our cards, so getting the cash for the engine took many trips to the bank but finally we paid over the large bag of loot and became proud owners of our new outboard.

But we were none too sure how or if the engine would be able to push Caesura sufficiently well to keep out of the way of huge tankers or worse, barges towing.  Barges have little manoeuvrability. The plan was on our first day with the outboard to stay close to the Batam coast side of the Singapore Straits just in case we had to return to the marina. We loaded up with petrol and set off. It worked and at times we did an amazing 4 knots thanks to the currents.

On day two we crossed the Straits, taking into account positions of countless ships as shown on our AIS receiver. We anchored off Pulau Kukup on the second night and enjoyed a magnificent sunset. But the weather on day three was very different. As we hugged the Malaysian coast on our way north we encountered heavy thunder, lightning and rain making anchoring in areas with poor shelter impossible. So we kept going through the night to arrive on the afternoon of November 22nd in the Admiral Marina at Port Dickson.  And as I write at the end of February 2013, we are still in the marina.

After a couple of weeks or so we had a very valuable find. Whereas there are no slip or maintenance facilities here, only a hardstand for small boats, we heard of one man who flies to his clients far and wide, he is so very sought after. Mr Choo was our man – when we could track him down. There is a dire shortage of marine engineers in Malaysia because after the apprentices are qualified there are better paid jobs for them elsewhere.

We engaged Mr Choo, owner of the Supreme Power Engineering Co because according to many sources, he is the best.  With temperatures of 30 plus humid degrees in the confined space of the engine room which is under the pilot house, Mr Choo and his workers took everything apart. The impeccable state of the motor, cylinders, pistons, etc was a pleasant surprise. This Ford 72hp, 4.2 litre, 4 cylinder is fantastic… if it hadn’t been for our negligence! The only part that had been somewhat affected and had started to seize was the crank shaft and some of its bearings. Mr Choo had the crank shaft re surfaced by a specialist and installed new bearings.

While the motor was all in pieces we used the opportunity to replace some of its parts which could have still worked perfectly but who knew when we would have such an opportunity again. Naturally enough there were hiccups. We were waiting for one part to come from the UK but when it arrived it was the wrong size. Choo had to reorder it. We are now waiting for the right one before the assembly can be completed. The engine will then be as good as new.

We also explored the local area and started to make friends. If one has to be marooned anywhere this is a good place; facilities are very good with pool, gym, and well- kept marina with shops and warungs within easy walking distance. We have experienced nothing but kindness from everyone we have encountered.

So although this has been an unexpected pause in our plans we have learned to relax and adjust to Malaysian time. After all the word Caesura means ‘A pause in a line of poetry which is an integral part of the overall rhythm’. What have we learned from this pause? To carry out more rigorous checking of gear and more frequently. To ‘Think outside the box’. To be patient and enjoy the ‘Now’.

We plan to sell Caesura soon and buy a boat with more cabins so we can enjoy having more friends and family stay but we shall be sad to see her go, our strong old girl.

Lucy HargraveComment