MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM MANILA


1967 has been quite a year. We spent the month of May with Bill’s parents in Miami. In June Bill was elected Commodore of the Manila Yacht Club. This promises to be exciting with the China Sea Race from Hongkong scheduled for March, 1968.

Bill bought a comfortable 38-foot sailboat built in England about 15 years ago and during the past 6 months we have enjoyed many family outing to coves near Manila Bay. Our latest trip, from November 1 to 4, may interest you. The children had a long week-end from school; Bill took three days vacation and Susan 12, Billy 11 and Jim 10, Bill and myself sailed from the Yacht Club at dawn Wednesday. Sally 6, and Joey 2, stayed at home. Billy and Jimmy are our sailors. They put up and took down sails, tighten jibs, tied down halyards, pulled ropes around winches while Bill gave commands and handled the tiller. Susan and I went along, as usual, to cook, wash dishes, and relax.

Arriving at White Sands Beach in the South China Sea 8 hours later, we anchored “Siboney” about 250 feet from shore, took down the dinghy and sailed to shore to swim and collect sea shells. In the evening we sat on the boat watching the spectacular Pacific sunset while cooking steaks on the charcoal grill suspended over the stern. This tranquil island life continued all day Thursday, until Friday evening. We swam, collected sea shells and coral rocks from various uninhabited coves, marveled at the calm, sunny weather and an ideal family outing. For once, we had remembered all necessary equipment, such as matches, charcoal, salt and even the can opener. It was just perfect…..too perfect.

Bill an I were guilty of one vital neglect…. Not once did we listen to the weather report on our transistor radio. Bill had checked the sky for cloud formations and he noted nothing unusual. I repeated to children the old sailor’s verse “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight/ Red sky in the morning sailor’s take warning.” A barometer reading was taken each day. The barometer, recently calibrated by the Bureau of Standards, remained steady.

Friday night as we were eating dinner and watching a glorious, red sunset, a Filipino rowed out in his boat and informed us that a terrible typhoon was coming straight for us. We were anchored in a cove unprotected from the West which is almost like being in the open China Sea. Bill said that we had to leave immediately and make a course for Manila. With that news, I start below with a big box of soda crackers, miss a step and spill them all over the cabin. Bill gives a stern command, “Elsie, don’t panic!” I then swallow a marzine seasick pill and give one to Susan. Best pill ever invented! Susan and I are the only ones on the boat who kept dinner down that night. And no one panics again for the next 14 hours.

All five of us work furiously. The awning is taken down, cushions are stored below, ropes tightened, Yankee jib put up and we prepare to motor out. As the boat moves, Bill, Billy Jimmy and I lift the dinghy out of the water. It weighs a ton and we knock a hole into it, but we get it up and secure it over the cabin.

We are off into the South China Sea as darkness falls. Bill follows the chart and shines our high powered searchlight on shore to make sure that we are far enough from land to miss projecting reefs. The night is suddenly very dark. We pass close to a little fishing boat and Bill yells, “TYPHOON’.  The word appreciate echoes back and we move on. By eight o’clock we are out of the China Sea and entering manila Bay but we have trouble making it around Limbones point and lose precious time tacking back and forth. Finally we make it. As we enter the bay, stars in the sky overhead and lights of Manila can be clearly seen thirty miles in the distance. (if we had known about the typhoon 3 hours earlier we would have made it. We were that far ahead of the storm. The lights of Manila fade as clouds and rain envelop the sky. As the storm progresses, lights on shore are blocked at intervals by waves and rain. The only friendly light during that long night is the strong beacon from Corregidor.

Far in the distance towards Manila I saw a moving light, ask Bill what it is and he tells me that it is a boat. I have always been curious about that boat and have never found out who it was. However, they gave a report to Manila radio station that they had sighted “Siboney” between Ft. Drum and Cavite at 10 pm Friday night. This is exactly where we were at that time and they could identify us because the masthead light was on and we were the only sailboat at sea. This report, I believe, may have been the basis to a later radio report that “Siboney” had sunk. Any boat in that location at that time should almost certainly have sunk, had it not been for the sailing ability of Bill Butler.

By 10 pm the children go below into the cabin with orders to stay there. Billy and Jimmy are sea sick but take care of themselves all night. Children are calm and give us absolutely no problem. All of us are wearing life jackets by this time. Bill is tied down with a rope lifeline which is fastened to the metal railing surrounding the boat. I am tied with a makeshift rope around my waist. Bill and I are in the cockpit all night. For the first six hours Bill did all the work and I pulled jib ropes around winches. About midnight Bill decided that he needed to conserve energy and took a nap. He handed the tiller to me. I’m not a sailor, but let me tell you, there is no quicker way to learn to handle a boat than in a typhoon in the middle of Manila Bay at night!

The Commodores instructions were to steer to the left of Sangley Light. Sangley’s light kept disappearing under the waves. When it became visible I found the boat headed to the right and towards land. I pushed the tiller away from me and aimed again to the left. As I steered the boat, I prayed like I have never prayed before in my life. I prayed that God would see this family safely through the storm and home again. I prayed that the wind would change course. It was coming straight out of Manila. (If it comes from the back we would go flying into Manila). The wind continued to blow out of Manila and into our faces all night. I prayed for the typhoon to veer away from Manila. Many do. This typhoon maintained the rigid course. I talked to God all night long while sitting in that boat bouncing around on the watery graveyard of Manila Bay but God didn’t seem to hear a word I said.

The storm continued to build up force. After midnight the force of the wind was too much for the 25 horsepower auxiliary motor. For every three feet gained towards Manila we were being pushed back two feet towards the China Sea. It was evident that we weren’t going to make Manila, that we couldn’t even get so far as Sangley. “Could we try for Limbones Cove?”, I asked. This is the only protected cove inside the bay. Bill said “No!” he was right. The cove is protected by arms of coral reefs and cannot be entered after dark. “Could we try Bataan twenty miles across the Bay and tie up at the Esso dock?” “Not with this wind,” was Bill’s reply. There was no place to go and our only hope was to sail up and down Manila Bay until we got a wind shift or ride out the typhoon.

A flopping, banging noise came from the bow. Howling winds had ripped the Dacron jib horizontally into three pieces. Bill went below and got another. Then, fastened with his lifeline, he went forward to take down the torn jib and to put up the new. I was left with the tiller and tried to miss the bigger waves, but Bill was doused more than once. The jib finally went up, lasted about two hours, then it, too, was torn by the wind. Bill went below and found the last storm jib and put it up. By now the bow was bouncing 10 or 20 feet out of the water and I don’t know how he managed up there all alone.

The boat remained secure all night. Last March Bill had gone on a 150-mile race with four men and one man had to be stationed at the bilge pump continuously. Two months ago the boat was taken out of the water and repaired and strengthened so well that water never went above the floorboards in the cabin all night. The cockpit, equipped with a self bailing device, drained quickly after each wave.

The worst part of the night was from three a.m. until dawn. The motor went dead when we ran out of gasoline. Water in the electrical system caused all of the lights to go out. The sky was a roof of blackness. Rain was howling down upon us. “Siboney” rode over the crest of one giant wave, through another, then wallowed in the trough of the next. The wind, which had begun as a soft, low whistle, then had increased to a moaning wail over the waves, was now howling and screeching all around us. As the keel boomed against the force of the sea beneath, waves crashed over our heads, down our necks, freezing and blinding us with cold and dirty salt water. If dawn would only come…. Surely everything would be better if only we could see something besides black waves.

Dawn finally came and with it nearly the full force of the typhoon. Now it was difficult for Bill and me to hold on to the boat while sitting on the floor of the cockpit. Waves were going over the entire boat. One wave I can never forget….A force from the sea beneath seemed to go under the port side of the boat tilting us to about 80 degrees. I could clearly see the mast dipping further further, further toward the left side. Then a solid wall of water thundered from starboard like a direct broadside, totaling obscuring everything. The boat hung suspended on its side 10, 15 perhaps 20 seconds (it seemed an eternity) then righted itself.

Shortly after Bill told us, “I am going to beach the boat. Go below and prepare the children. Don’t come up until I tell you”. This seemed the end. The shoreline, as I knew it, was all coral reefs, rocks, or jungle. The boat would hit a reef 30 or 40 feet out, break, fill with water and all would drown. No one could have swam ten feet that day. I went below and was amazed how safe and secure the cabin felt. To go from the cockpit to the cabin was like going from a raging blizzard to a warm, cozy house. I carried Bill’s last command out to the fullest. I prepared the children for survival and for death. First I told them to fasten their life jackets, whereupon Susan remarked, “I don’t have a life jacket.” Billy tossed one to her. Billy said, “Mine only inflates on one side”.. He found another good one under the bunk and put it on. I told them that we were in the midst of a terrible typhoon and that their father was doing all that he could to save them that they must obey his commands instantly and without hesitation or argument. I told them it was possible that not all of us would live, that this must be part of a Greater Plan which we were not supposed to understand. With that I recited the 23rd psalm to the children, told them to pray and turned everything over to God with the words, “Thy will be done.” Then I sat on the bunk and ….. After a few minutes I got up, walked over to the porthole and now….. coming up very fast…. A white, sandy beach and a cement block house! It was a Miracle! We were going to live! God had been in His heaven over Manila Bay last night after all!

Bill beached the boat perfectly. He had unfurled the mainsail from the boom, letting if flap to starboard side and “Siboney”, like a speeding surfboard, rode the waves toward shore. Hitting the beach with a soft thud, the boat continued on another thirty feet and stopped well out of the ocean. We climbed quickly out of the cabin, walked to shore in knee deep water. People from the barrio had seen the boat coming and a Filipino helped us ashore. Dripping with sea water all over our hair, faces and life jackets, Bill and I look like drowned rats but all were joyously happy to be on solid ground.

In a short time we were inside the home of Mr. and Mrs. Dionisio Guilbert. They gave us dry clothes, hot coffee and sheltered us all of that day and night until the storm abated. They were most kind, fed us banquet meals and shared the best of Filipino hospitality. People from the small barrio came with blankets, food and someone found candy for the children’s breakfast. Mr. Guilbert is superintendent of the Cavite School of Fisheries where boys are taught fishing as a livelihood. He said that his American name was given him by missionaries who adopted and raised him. He and his wife spoke excellent English and we enjoyed the time spent with them.

Bill beached the boat at 8 a.m. Saturday. The last barometer reading was made by Billy at 7 a.m. and was then 29.4 (severe hurricane). Full force of typhoon Welming (Emma in the USA) seemed to hit Naic, Cavite, about 10 or 11 a.m. A lull came about noon with weaker storm following. The storm was stronger than most with winds up to 220 kilometers per hour.

Sunday morning the weather was calm again. We went out to see the boat. “Siboney”, lying on her side in the sand, looked more like a giant whale than a pleasure sailboat. Over 100 adults and children from nearby barrios came to see the boat and the shipwrecked Americans. I told Bill that he could not have chosen a better place to shipwreck and that after last night I would sail with him to the ends of the earth. Anyone who can handle a boat like he did in that typhoon, turn it around without capsizing,  put up and take down jibs practically hanging on by his toenails while the boat is bouncing around like a cork, is a real Skipper.

The highway was blocked by trees, so we returned to the Manila Yacht Club by motorized banca.  As we neared Manila a plane circled above us. It is Dick Bartlett, Jr. who lost the roof from his house during the typhoon, but is out looking for the Butler family. We have, by this time, been listed with the missing and dead in radio and newspaper.

With Mr. Sanderson and his motor boat, Bill went each day to Naic, returning with loads of sails, cushions, rope, pulleys and otter yachting paraphernalia. Luzon Stevedoring crane picked the eight-ton “Siboney” from the beach, put her on a barge and carried her to the Yacht Club. There she is now undergoing repairs to the starboard side which was damaged when she was beached.

Otherwise we’ve had a rather uneventful year. We hope you are all fine and that you will drop us a line sometime soon.

Merry Christmas
The Butler family 
1967

  Susan 12, Billy 11, Jimmy 10, Sally 6 and Joe 2