Surprised by a typhoon



Three months after we escaped Castro’s Cuba in August 1960, the Butler family, my wife Elsie and Susan 5 plus I. Bill Jr. 4 and Jim 3, landed in Manila, ready to carry on our lives in an entirely new unknown hemisphere. It wasn’t long before I joined the Manila Yacht Club and soon after bought my first boat, a 21-foot Star class sail boat. Two years later, I traded the Star for Monsoon, a 30 foot Hong Kong class sailboat. However, each time I left the marina, my eyes were glued on a sailboat that had stolen my heart at first sight. Its graceful long low cut sleek lines filled all of my criteria for a high seas sailing vessel. When it came up for sale in 1966, I made an offer to buy it contingent on my taking it out for a serious sail. Its owner agreed and approved my joining a scheduled race from Manila to the main buoy at the Esso Refinery, on the Batman peninsula, 22 miles away, and back.

The race committee started the race even though typhoon signal ONE had been raised early that morning. Aboard I had four friends who had raced with me aboard Monsoon and the owner’s deck hand, Abelard. Not knowing the boat nor wanting to over exert a boat not mine, we rounded the Batman buoy next to last and into strong head winds. The twenty-mile tack to windward was wet and slow. Night came upon us when we were still seven miles from the port of Manila. Pouring rain blinded me and cut visibility to less than a half mile. The radio announced that the typhoon had intensified and would be heading closer to Manila than previously expected. Typhoon warning THREE was now in effect.

With only a compass to guide me, I kept the boat close to the wind and as far above Manila as I could, calculating that the wind would hold and that we could always easily sail down wind to our mooring. Three fully lit large freighters at anchor outside the Manila breakwater led me to the outer harbor entrance through which we skidded at close to hull speed. In the relative calm behind the breakwater, I luffed up, started the engine and lowered the mainsail. I had the anchor made ready. Winds were now gusting forty knots. With the storm jib full, we headed across the south harbor opening and towards our mooring inside the crowded Manila Yacht Club anchorage.

We literally flew towards the Club breakwater. Two hundred yards from the entrance I had the jib taken down. With the engine in neutral we were still doing 6 knots. The anchorage was jammed with boats, all with storm anchors out. Lights from shore blinded me. My crew on the bow cried out every time I had a boat on the bow. With their help I spotted our mooring buoy, swerved down wind around three boats then pulled the tiller hard over. We flew past the buoy, too fast for my crew to hook and hang on to. Once our speed slowed I ordered the anchor dropped as the crew fended off boats on both sides. Slowly we drifted back to our buoy, easily picked it up, and our adventure was over.

I met the much relieved owner of the boat at the Club bar, and sealed the deal right there. Mysterious, a Robert Clark 39 foot cutter built in Sussex, England in 1939 was now mine. I renamed her Siboney for one of my favorite Cuban ballads and with good friends and my two older sons as crew, I got to better know my new boat while racing around Manila Bay... and some of her faults.

Whenever we hit heavy weather, she’d leak like a sieve. On a race to the island of Hermana Mayor, 100 miles north of the entrance to Manila Bay, it took all five of us aboard to continuously man the manual bilge pump to keep her from sinking on us. Hauled, chief carpenter Pacifico Cadion inspected all of the frames and planks and decided the problem could be solved with sister frames. these are frames bent to the curvature of the hull fastened two feet on either side of a cracked frame.

The fix worked fine and was one of the key reasons the boat held together during that epoch night under the wrath of Typhoon Dading.