A Failed Sailing Adventure From Palau

Several weeks had passed since my initial meeting with a Guam-based sailboat captain, who was searching for a crew to help sail his beloved “Khamsa” from the island of Palau to Guam (Western Pacific). The sailing vessel (SV), an Outremer 43′ catamaran was sailed from the Subic Bay Yacht Club well over a year-and-a-half ago and was destined for Guam, where a contracted delivery was to be made to the boat owner. After the contracted crew departed the Philippines, certain circumstances yielded an unintended outcome and Khamsa was left abandoned on a mooring buoy in Palau. Palau is a sovereign nation under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. The boat had suffered minor damages and the trip was aborted and now the SV was left stranded at the Sam’s Tours Dive Center on Malakal Harbor in Palau.

Sam’s Tours, Palau

After several meetings with Khamsa’s captain (Capt’n Larry) on Guam, I agreed to join him as his crew to bring the SV back to Guam. After all, it was an all expenses paid adventure and was a hard to ignore opportunity of an open ocean passage. During several initial planning sessions with the captain, we would assess details and capabilities of the SV, weather, as well as our intended track to Guam which would possibly include a visit to Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) with another sightseeing (snorkeling) opportunity along the way at Ulithi Atoll and Falalop Island, also in the FSM. Overall, it was to be an 850 nautical-mile trip from Palau to Guam, all depending on winds.


Dive Boat Docks at Sam’s Dive Center


After arriving in Koror, Palau late in the evening on November 15th, we cleared customs with our luggage and our extra cargo of provisions, and were picked up by our hotel transportation. It was after 10pm when we checked in to our hotel and after establishing a few more expectations and plans, we retired for the evening. We would be up bright and early the following morning where we found freshly brewed coffee just across the driveway at the Palm Bay Bistro (which also happened to be home to the Palau Brewing Company where Palau’s Red Rooster beer is brewed… oh, how convenient). Just after finishing our coffee, our rental car was delivered to us at the hotel where we anxiously awaited. We loaded up the car and headed out to Malakal Harbor to find the boat.

It was just a short 3 minute drive to the site of Sam’s Tours, the islands premier scuba diving and eco-adventure company. It was here on Malakal Harbor that we found the boat safely moored in the middle of the bay.  We enjoyed another cup of coffee as we waited for our transportation to the boat to arrive. Mr. Steve, who resides onboard his trimaran here, has been acting as the primary caretaker of Capt’n Larry’s SV since it arrived here, and would soon show up to ferry us to the catamaran with his manually-powered dinghy (row boat). After a few minutes, Mr. Steve arrived, we loaded up, and headed for Khamsa.

Khamsa on a bouy at Malakal Harbor

Before we even reached the boat, Mr. Steve provided a short briefing to Capt’n Larry on the condition of the boat – and it didn’t sound very upbeat. Upon arriving at the mooring, it was clear that Khamsa was showing her sufference, from a severe lack of attention. Even though Mr. Steve was providing security for the vessel and some much needed repairs, it was easy to see that the full-time care and maintenance that a boat this size requires was definitly lacking. After all, Mr. Steve had his own boat to take care of which, in and of itself, is definitely a full time job. He had already replaced the two bow trampolines on Khamsa that were damaged during transit, and he ensured that the engines were started and run on a regular basis. He also made daily pass-by inspections of the SV’s mooring, sails and rigging and overall condition, occasionally coming aboard for a more visual inspection to make sure the boat wasn’t taking on water and such. He even arranged with other workers to do a much needed bottom cleaning several months ago. And it needed another cleaning again, along with a myriad of other maintenance issues that were promptly needed.

Once on the boat, we made a topside inspection, carefully examining her exterior and sailing components. All lines and halyards were severely mildewed and needed cleaning. Some halyards were missing. The topping lift (major component) for the main sail boom was missing. The electric anchor windless had a poor electrical connection and needed work. The rudders were stiff and almost inoperable and needed attention. The sails needed to be unfurled and inspected. All the clutches were tight and tough to operate (clutches are designed to hold highly loaded lines that can be hauled in and released with or without the aid of a winch. The clutch holds the line firm yet allows for quick and easy adjustment when needed).  They were all covered in mildew and bird droppings and they all needed to be cleaned and lubed.  Actually, the entire cockpit area looked like it had been a bird sanctuary during the course of the last year-and-a-half. If that wasn’t all bad enough, it should be noted that the port side Main Stay (one of the stranded heavy cables that secures the main mast) was frayed with at least 5 broken strands. This was almost a no-brainer! If this boat were to find it’s way into heavy winds and become “overpowered,” losing a main-stay could prove to be disasterous at sea. It definitely needs to be replaced before Khamsa could get underway safely. At least with me onboard anyway.

Just some of the clutches used for lines and halyards.

An inspection of the interior came next. What was found in the main salon explained away all the difficulties the previous delivery crew claimed they had in reaching their originally planned destination of Guam. We discovered several nearly empty, and a few yet unopened bottles of liquor. From our assessment, plenty of Gin, Tanduay, Absolute Vodka, and who knows what else was consumed on the voyage. The evidence was all there – including the empty case of Gin. It was obvious that partying was part of the previous crew’s ‘fail-their-sail’ plan, where all that consumption was likely responsible for the damage that was caused to the SV while enroute to Guam. While Guam was the originally intended target, the crew missed big time. The boat suffered damage to a forward hatch and definitely took on water and caused some interior damage to the bow and a forward head (bathroom).  One of the bow trampolines had a hole in it. The remainder of the cabins were cluttered and mildewed. The main salon was a disaster. Oh… and the missing outboard motor for the dinghy? It is purportedly somewhere at the bottom of the Philippine Sea, resting peacefully.

After a full day-and-a-half assessing Khamsa’s condition, I suggested to Capt’n Larry that this boat was not in any condition to sail. It would take the better part of 10 days to get her ready, and I (still recovering from back surgery) was not up to the task of putting this boat back together. Neither was Capt’n Larry. Reaching the same conclusion that I did about the condition of the boat, Capt’n Larry concurred with this old sea-going Chief that this adventure was over. Also, the winds had become really unfavorable for this NE passage, and if we were to depart Palau, it would be under the power of the SV’s motors and not her sails. Winds would be directly on the bow for this entire passage, and consultations with other sailors at the Marina concluded that this 850 nm trip could easily turn into a 1,200 nm trip (or more) because of the back and forth tacking that would be required to make headway.

We spent the next 4 days on Palau doing what we could do to the boat. We took out the trash, cleaned the cockpit and some lines, cleaned and lubed some clutches, lubed the rudders, inspected the sails, run the engines, checked out some electronics, loaded our provisions, did some boat laundry, and drank a few beers. Then when we were done, we hit the Palau Brewing Company and drank a few more (I recommend the Red Rooster Amber!).  And before this ‘almost-an-adventure’ came to a close, we disguised ourselves as a couple of tourists and drove north to the large island of Babeldaob to a quiet spot on the ocean where we both enjoyed a fresh-caught Red Snapper sandwich and fries for lunch, with a relaxing ocean view of course.

And our return to Guam? It was a carbon copy of the way we got to Palau – by plane.  Here in paradise I will remain, until the next sailing adventure presents itself.  And maybe as soon as Khamsa finds her way home.

Lunchtime view from beachside cafe in Melekeoke State, Palau.

Watch the Video Here  (and watch to the end!)

Cover Image: The Palau Siren Dive Boat


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6 thoughts on “A Failed Sailing Adventure From Palau

  1. Man I feel like the skipper of that boat. Enjoyed your story. Never been to the island but heard it was nice. Did you hear they opened up space A to Guam? Hope that back adjust. Will shoot you a message about the back tricks I have learned over the years.

  2. Owning a Boat is just as bad as owning house in the Philippines both are nothing but money pits needing constant maintenance. Before I retired use to do some work on Boats in the harbor and would BS with owners on what it cost for them to maintain their boats. Just renting a mooring slip for their Boats can cost as much as monthly payment of mortgage on house which they will never own. The Larger the Boat the more it cost because they charge by the Foot for rent on slips. Even just tying up to Mooring Buoy in the harbor will cost 4 hundred dollars a month.

  3. I lost touch with your blog retired in Samar. I never knew you’d started a new blog. How do I subscribe to this one? Maybe this message will do the trick. Thanks

  4. Hey Steve, It’s the same blog, I just renamed it. If you were subscribed before, you should still be subscribed, or you can scroll down to the comments section at the end of a post and you’ll see a “Notify me of new posts by email” checkbox. Maybe you haven’t realized a new post from me because I haven’t been posting much lately! Thanks for letting me know though!

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