TYPHOON IN MANILA BAY BY BILL BUTLER

TYPHOON MANILA BAY-1967

          Elsie and Susan have provided in vivid detail what it was like out there in Manila Bay as Typhoon Welming burst upon us. Here is the story from the skipper's point of view, written 30 years after the fact.

Siboney, fully laden for sea, sailed out of the Manila Yacht Club early Wednesday morning, November 1, 1967 headed for Corregidor and the South China Sea. Seas were calm thus we motored until just before noon when the traditional Southeast wind piped up to 18 to 20 knots to push us along at about 6 knots. By 2 p.m. we had cleared Manila Bay.  Corregidor and Bataan fell astern as we jibbed around for our run south to White Sands Beach, a traditional anchorage for all who headed South out of Manila. By late afternoon we had anchored in 15 feet of water, not far off the beach, and at once launched our dinghy. The entire crew headed for shore, one of the most pristine in the area. Much of the sand along nearby beaches is dark gray, the result of volcanic ash and sediments deposited over millennia, Somehow this beach had been spared, hence its label. Anchored nearby were three other boats.

Thursday we spent on shore, swimming, picking up an incredible variety of sea shells, eating a picnic lunch or ensconced in the shade of one of the many coconut palms that graced this ideal anchorage. The children had wanted to listen to the radio but the racket was too much, what with loud examples of the latest craze in music such as the Beatles. I stowed the radio. We had sailed out here for peace and quiet.

Friday was another day in paradise. For a change of pace, we lifted anchor and sailed for Fortune Island, some 8 miles to the West. After lunch and a swim we headed back to White Sands Beach. Surprised that the anchorage was empty, we nevertheless proceeded to anchor and fix supper… steaks on the grill, sweet peas and mashed potatoes. Just as we sat down to eat, along came a lone man in a banca, the native Filipino outrigger canoe, who rowed alongside and politely inquired if we had heard about the typhoon. We exploded with surprise and quickly put on the radio. Every channel spoke of nothing but of typhoon Welming, with winds of 120 knots now over the island of Mindoro and forecast to pass 100 miles south of Manila.

Dusk would soon be upon us and we had to move. I started the engine, asked Elsie to clear the food off the table, and ordered the boys to haul up the anchor. I headed towards a shortcut to Manila that led through a series of reefs that I could only traverse with daylight. As we cleared the decks, the boys and I changed the mainsail to our storm main, set the small jib onto the forestay, then proceeded to haul up the dinghy. Just as we had it over the rail it dropped and a stanchion punctured a hole in the bottom. Jim and Bill, Jr. lashed it to the deck. Under full power and a reefed main we proceeded up the coast as night set in. We came upon several fishermen in their small boats off shore to whom we hollered “Typhoon.” They waved and continued fishing, obviously aware and prepared for the coming storm.

Once inside the Bay we continued to motor for several hours. The night was relatively clear, so much so that I had a bearing on the light atop the Customs House in Manila, the Corregidor Light and the Light on Sangley Point, unusual for a storm of this type. I raised a jib, and further reefed the main. Under power and sail, we proceed in a generally Eastward direction. By 9 p.m. we were deep into the Bay, my objective, for in the worst of cases, we would be surrounded by land and could not be blown out into the depths of the China Sea.

Wind blew constantly out of the Northeast. At 10:00 p.m. the anemometer indicated 35 knots and the barometer, as read to me by Bill, Jr., was down to 29.3 inches, deep into the range of a severe storm. At midnight wind speed was up to fifty knots. I had lost one jib which I hauled down and set the second.. Close hauled and with minimum sail, we motor sailed as best we could into ever increasing wind and waves. The wind remained steady out of the Northeast which precluded our clearing the tip of Sangley Point and reaching our anchorage in Manila. When we were four or five miles west of Sangley Point I jibbed  and headed back to Corregidor expecting the wind shift to the South if the typhoon continued on its projected track. Waves continued to wash over “Siboney” and though the companionway was tightly closed, lots of water filtered into the cabin and onto the motor. Soaked, our gasoline engine suddenly stopped. When I went below to re-start it I received a shock that threw me across the cabin. The hot side of the magneto was obviously soaked and shot its spark about the cabin. I decided to forgo the engine. Better to stay alive than to fry.

My second jib blew out and the third shredded before I could get it hoisted and cleated for the wind had now exceeded 50 knots. I had secured the mainsail to the boom and had lowered the boom on deck where it lay tightly tied to starboard. We shot through the water under bare poles easily doing 6 knots .Both Elsie and I, roped securely to “Siboney”, slumped low in the cockpit with hopes of missing the main impact of the breakers that continuously washed over the boat. Elsie on several occasions looked after the children who were locked below, hanging on as best as they could. The boys kept busy working the manual bilge pump. Wind speed was now up to 65 knots and Billy called out the barometer reading at 28.9 inches. At 2 or 3 in the morning, as we crossed St. Nicholas shoals, a bank with 20 feet of water, a gigantic wave broke on “Siboney”. Tons of water held us in an iron fisted grip, picked us up, dragged us, mast down, until it broke and passed on to its final destructive show of energy on shore. Within minutes a second wave propelled us again, the mast this time dipping into the sea for long seconds. With the cockpit full of water, Elsie and I struggled to breathe.

Never have I welcomed a dawn more fervently. I could now see the coastline of Cavite, 7 to 8 miles off. I continued to hope for a wind shift. It wouldn’t take much, 20 degrees or so, to allow us to sail into town. Wind speed was up to 85 knots as we sailed back and forth between Corregidor and Sangley Point. I considered the entire coastline as hostile but as time passed, it became obvious that if were to be saved, it would be on that shore. All three major indicators were against us. The barometer plummeted, wind speed continued to increase, and wind direction remained steady at Northeast. There is no better indicator that the typhoon was headed our way.

As we sailed back and forth, I had spotted a large white building on shore, hopefully the home of someone who would come to our aid. The next move was obvious. Beach the boat in front of the White Building. Elsie had been below for a while with the children, praying and preparing them for the unknown. I crawled over to the hatch and called down, “We’re going to shore. Get shoes and life preservers on.” Many minutes later, I opened the hatch and asked if they were ready. “Yes” was the reply. We were about 5 or 6 miles from shore at the time. I reached over to the main and untied the lashes. It filled like a spinnaker. We rocketed off, my eye fixed on the white building. Wind now at 90 knots by anemometer, we must have reached a speed of 11 or 12 knots. Several hundred feet from shore we hit a sand bottom once and again but the energy in “Siboney” couldn’t be stopped. We hit shore with the starboard bow and plowed ahead upon the beach until we had but a foot of water under the boat. I called below for all to jump out.

A dozen people awaited us, all dodging flying galvanized iron sheets and coconuts. Two ladies grabbed Elsie and the children and whisked them away. I stayed aboard, in shock, unable to abandon my boat which had fulfilled its mission so admirably. I remained mesmerized for a long time. The pleas of several men convinced me to join my family. And what a surprise I received. All were showered, had dry clothes, hot chocolate and sat around telling sea stories. I remained in shock. When Dionisio Gilbert, the Superintendent of the School of Fisheries, the white building that became my target, asked me if I had any valuables on board the boat, I replied, “My valuables are all here. When I made the decision to head for shore, I wrote the boat off.”

An hour passed, perhaps more. Dionisio continued to insist about the valuables aboard. Typhoon winds were now much stronger than when we went to shore.  Shock wore off and I at last said yes, there were valuables aboard. He said, “Let us go retrieve them.” On our knees we crawled to the boat, he and I and several students. When we were about thirty feet from the boat a dozen men erupted from the cabin, each carrying as much as they could. I honestly felt nothing. Let them go. During the next two hours, with the anemometer clocking winds of 105 knots, we hauled sails, anchors, and the hundreds of items that make up a cruising sailboat. We filled three classrooms with our stuff, all full of sand and dripping.

The eye passed at noon and by four in the afternoon the sea was quiet and calm. “Siboney” lay 20 feet from Manila Bay, high and dry. A gentleman, whom I have always referred to as the “Chief,” came to visit with sincere deep felt apologies for the way the boat was looted. In 1967, barely 20 years after liberation, Filipinos continue to love Americans, grateful for their liberation. Wherever I traveled throughout the Philippines, children and young men would invariable smile and say “Hi, Joe.” Well, the “Chief”, for in most remote places in the Philippines, law and order is in the hands of the local residents, asked me to make a list of everything we had lost in the looting. I argued long and hard with the “Chief.”  I told that him I did not know what I lost, did not want it back, had written all that stuff off five miles out, etc. There was no way he would accept anything but a LIST. Elsie and I, reluctantly, put together a long list that included her gold watch, binoculars, sextant, clothing, and a bunch of other stuff. We slept well, breakfasted and about 9 in the morning, the “Chief” returns with 80% of our belonging!!!, including the gold watch. I, jokingly, have told a story how the “Chief” went up to the first guy in the barrio and asked if he had our belongings. When he denied having any, he pulled out his pistol and shot him. Then he went to the next group of people and promptly got it all back. It didn’t happen that way, but almost so.

The “Chief” had hired his brother to watch the boat which with our ropes and bamboo sticks, was now fenced off. Out towards the Bay, beyond “Siboney”, ugly coral heads sprung out of the water covering the entire shoreline except for a two hundred foot section in front of the school; obviously the reason the site was selected. We still had the problem of how to get back to town. Sally and our friends had to be worried. At the Manila Yacht Club no doubt bar sales had skyrocketed as all drank to the demise of their Commodore. Fallen poles and trees blocked all roads into Manila. There was no electricity or telephones. We needed to get back. Through Dionisio we located a young man with an outrigger dugout canoe, about 12 feet long, with a lawn mower type engine to propel it. I promptly hired him, piled my family into the banca and headed to Manila, some 18 miles to the East.

Past Sangley Point, with the Manila Yacht Club less than 6 miles distant, the motor stopped. Having jousted with Briggs and Stratton engines for years, I joined our captain in his struggle to get it going. An hour passed as all four males yanked the starting rope, plugs were cleaned, fuel checked, to no avail. The boat had a short “mast” which I grabbed on to as I searched the horizon. Two more hours passed as we remained once again, castaway. Suddenly, I see emerging from the MYC a sailboat, and it is heading our way. I take off my T shirt and wave as it approaches. It is Van Bloemen, the Vice Commodore, in his big Dutch Ketch. As he comes alongside he looks over and says “Butler, what are you doing here?” I could only shrug. Towed into the Club, we received a warm welcome.

My good friend, Don Marshall, owner of Luzon  Stevedoring Company, offered me the use of a 20 ton floating crane with the proviso that no typhoons brewed. Three weeks passed until he sent one crew by land to dig under the boat to place two large rope slings, and the crane and tugboat left early in the day. High tide was at 11 that night. I sailed with Sanderson, the Lloyds agent, in his high speed motorboat for Cavite to spot the boat on a totally obscured shore still without power. The complex problem was eased by his high powered searchlight as we scanned mile by mile. We located “Siboney”, steered the tugboat captain into shore, and then headed in ourselves in his inflatable. All was ready. The tug pushed the crane onto the shore, the boom dipped, the foreman placed the slings into the hook and with a sharp order up popped “Siboney” and onto the deck of the barge.

Back at the Manila Yacht Club, “Siboney” rested for a month, until I at last decided to go ahead with its repair, coaxed on by my good friend and master carpenter, Cadion. The starboard side was totally crushed and had to be replaced. I searched Manila for adequate lumber. Most wood I found was kiln dried, which tends to be brittle as the custom is to over fire the ovens. Friends put me on to a yard which had 18 to 20 foot long, 12 inch wide, 3 inch thick mahogany, all air dried. I bought his entire inventory for under $400. He split the 3 inch widths into 1.5 and 1 inch boards. At another yard I found palusapis, as good as ash, for the frames. In Chinatown I located ¼ by three inch ex-GI bronze bolts for use as fastenings.

Cadion went to work right after New Years Day. 17 carpenters, without power tools except for a drill which was mostly used to generate wood plugs, worked 12 hour days. Cadion pleaded, “Sir, you fix the starboard side only, you will have half a new boat and half old. You have bought enough wood to rebuild the entire boat.” And on that same tack, he talked me into redoing the deck and cabin. We ended up with a new boat. Cadion produced two 12 foot lengths of 8 inch pipe, filled them with water for use to bend frames. Utilizing lumber coming off the boat, he boiled the water with six 2x3 inch frames in each tube. Through experience he found that after boiling for four hours, the frames turned spaghetti-like. Thus the new boat emerged. He fastened the new frames to the existing planks, then replaced the planks from the garboard on up. When it came time to caulk, 12 caulkers turned the club into a machine gun range. I was sure I would be impeached.

At high tide at 11pm, February 15, surrounded by a hundred friends, we launched “Siboney. ” On February 28, with my China Sea Crew, we sailed the Lubang race, with an empty interior and no engine, and won the Wilkinson Trophy. Cadion said, enuf is enuf.. “I need the boat to finish the interior if you want to go to Hong Kong in April. When we sailed to Hong Kong, wood shavings still littered the deck.

I sailed “Siboney another 20 years, but then, that’s another story.

Bill Butler, July, 2000