January 1, 1968 found Siboney at rest atop its cradle on the hard at the Manila Yacht Club yard, the starboard side severely crushed, the result of a month on a volcanic sand beach near Naic, on the South shore of Manila Bay, Philippines, where I had beached her to save my family.(full story)

Thanks to a 20-ton floating crane loaned by Don Marshall, owner of Luzon Stevedoring, Siboney was picked off the beach and delivered into its cradle at the Club. During the next seven weeks I debated whether to junk the boat or to repair it. My China Sea crew, five friends eager to participate in the XIII annual running of the Race from Hong Kong to Manila, hoped that we would yet sail. One man pushed me over the edge. Pacífico Cadion, a wiry master carpenter, came up to me in mid-December as I, depressed, inspected the broken planks imbedded with sand and debris and said, “Sir, we can fix. She’s a beauty of a boat. She can’t be left to die.” His words set me thinking.

As the new year dawned and the fog began to clear after a rowdy party at the Manila Polo Club, I made up my mind. Siboney would sail again. On Monday I stopped by the MYC on the way to work, told Cadion I had decided to repair the boat but shared with him my concern regarding obtaining good air-dried lumber. Most local lumber is dried in a high temperature oven that produces planks that splinter. Cadion edged over and said, “Sir, I know where there is good air dried mahogany.”

Days later we walked through a lumber yard owed by an old time WW II GI who had stayed behind and raised a large family. The pile of mahogany planks stacked in the far end of his yard was impressive: planks more than three inches thick, 10 to 16 inches wide, and 15 to 22 feet long. Perfect. How much for all of it? Nine hundred pesos, two hundred dollars. We closed the deal, which included splitting the three-inch thick planks into two, inch and a quarter planks.

By the time the lumber reached the MYC, Cadion had 8 carpenters at work knocking out the starboard side of the hull. As I inspected the job, Cadion sidled up to me to say, “Sir, what a shame.” Startled, I look him in the eyes and reply, “Shame, what’s wrong?” “Well, sir, do you want for me to build one new side and then leave the other old side.” My eyes opened wide, a fact not lost to Cadion who continued, “Sir, we bought enough lumber to do the entire boat!”

This thought disrupted my master plan and I needed to meditate. With no better place than the Manila Yacht Club bar, I asked Banny to set me up my usual. It took three ‘usuals’ before I chased Cadion down and gave him the order to proceed as he suggested, redo the entire boat. He leaped with joy.

Cadion and I drove to a second lumberyard. I hid in the shade as he picked through dozens of planks of palusapis, wood similar to oak, where he picked the best 14, all two inches thick and 12 to 17 feet long. He would turn these planks into the frames. We then picked up two six-inch diameter, six foot long steel water pipes. A welder at the club joined them into a single pipe and closed off one end.

Filled with water they were placed at a 45-degree angle on the breakwater. Old lumber from Siboney fueled the fire. Into the tubes were placed four 2 x 2 inch frames each 10 feet long. After a few days of experimentation, Cadion found that 3 hours would leave the palusapis frames completely flexible, like giant pieces of spaghetti.

Taking measurements from the ‘good’ side, Cadion placed frames along the big hole on the starboard side. With the planks on the port side still in place, new frames were inserted, fastened to the old planks until all frames, port and starboard, were in place. They then proceeded to replace planks, from the garboard on up to the deck. What most astounded me, not one power tool was being used. All frames and planks were hand sawed, planed and fitted.

Finding the proper fastenings in the quantities required took me on a scavenging expedition in Old Manila. Narrow streets, flanked by dingy dark mini warehouses, were all run by Chinese. I did all my business with the use of sign language as none of these people spoke English. It took a lot of rummaging but I found the mother lode: 3000 bronze machine screws with nuts and washers, US Army surplus, they said.

By January 28, the entire hull had been completed, 17 carpenters working simultaneously. Cadion was one hell of a boat-builder foreman. He convinced me to scrap the old deck and cabin, bought high-grade mahogany, and produced a beauty. The hull complete, we scheduled the launch for high tide, 11 pm, on February 16, 1968.

The launching party started at 7pm. At 9, six carpenters were still hard at work. Tarpaulins and scaffolding surrounded the boat. At 10 nothing had changed. I gave Cadge a quizzical look. He winked back. Friends and crew questioned whether this was to be the real thing. At 10:45 a mobile crane drove into the club. By 10:55 the boat had been cleared away and the crane moved in, grabbed the cradle, lifted Siboney over the water, lowered it 10 feet and stopped.

Thereupon my crew and all of our friends joined in to watch my wife Elsie crack the ceremonial champagne, carefully wrapped in a heavy home knitted sock. Seconds later, Siboney once again was afloat. (pictures)

© William A. Butler, 2004