When His Get Home Saved The Day

Brian Calvert's Selene 48 Ocean Trawler,  Furthur . The boat is currently in the Philippines in the Western Pacific.

Brian Calvert's Selene 48 Ocean Trawler, Furthur. The boat is currently in the Philippines in the Western Pacific.

I keep an eye out for real life experiences with the systems we talk so much about. The "Get Home" topic has been much discussed over the years, yet I know of few instances where they get used and in what circumstances. We did a survey years back, and at the time could find few situations where a get home saved the day. But that was years ago, and we have many more boats, some getting older, out there cruising. So I want to share this from Brian Calvert's furthuradventures.com. He only needed his get home this once in over 6,000 hours, but was very glad to have it.-BillP

One gets complacent about weather in SE Asia, as it is nearly always perfect. Sailors complain about no wind, seas are rarely anything but a gentle lullaby. All this if one keeps in the proper side of the equator at the proper season, if not, the story is different. This year, in Indonesia, has been a bit of a change from the norm, the summer Northeast monsoons never did build consistently with interruptions from the south constantly.

Just before our epic voyage north around the east side of Borneo there was a series of huge typhoons in the northern Philippines and Hong Kong areas. These events cause disruptions for hundreds of miles as the vacuum in the center of a massive low sucks wind from all around. We rode this condition north with 800 miles of unexpected following seas, one of the few times in SE Asia a sailboat would had the advantage. I had dreaded pounding into the seasonal NE winds expected at this time of year so the switch was welcome.

All the positive effects ended as we rounded the end of Borneo. We got bounced a good one our first night at anchor in Tawau with 40 knots of wind. We hit squall after squall on our way around the land mass, finally making it into Kudat where several cruisers where hanging out, also waiting for weather.

We rested one night and headed out early the next morning to round Tg Simpang Mungyam, the cape at the far end of Borneo. When one is at the far end of Borneo, you are about as remote as life on earth gets. Borneo is a huge island with three countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, dividing up the land, most of which is wilderness. We launched off and soon came back with our tail between our legs. We rounded the corner, hit a massive squall with confused seas then consistent 30 knots on the nose, so I turned around when I saw this was going to be how the day played out. Back in Kudat I got serious about weather forecasts, they come from several places but all use the same skimpy data. I subscribe to Bouy Weather and like their forecast system. It reported 30 knots for two days then a window of reasonable weather. I looked at GRIB files and got the same message. Malaysia Meteorological continues its "forecast for fishermen" but it always reads 30-50 km of winds, and rarely changes.

Not wanting to miss the weather window which would close again in two days, we departed at 0300 to round the corner at first light. We passed by the cape and I was glad to see good visibility and about 25 knots of wind, all doable. Then a dark cloud closed around us, the wind howled up to 45 knots and sheets of rain hit Furthur like driving through a carwash. I could see the end of the squall in the radar and it was passing north fast, so I hoped things would calm down as it passed. My hopes were well founded and soon we were in nice swells and less than 20 knots of wind.

As I have said many times, my Cummins engine has been absolutely trouble free, and the electronic brain and electronic controls have performed flawlessly. I recently noticed that the electronic engine panel, the SmartCraft digital display, occasionally blinked and sometimes the engine would sputter when it did. I intended to look into this as soon as I could find a Cummins dealer. God knows I have no idea how to fix it, nor would anyone else in Indonesia, I suspect. This had just been a minor annoyance up to now.

We rounded one for the many rugged points the protrude from the island still in 2-3-meter seas but gentle ones. Just as we passed the point, the engine just stopped. We could not pick a worse place for this to happen, as the swells now hit us on the beam, sending things flying about the boat as we were being swept back onto the rocky point.

I woke Sam and had her watch the helm as I got the Wesmar Auxiliary Propulsion Unit (APU) auxiliary drive running. I had this installed just before l left Seattle, at a pretty penny I might add. I made the comment a few days earlier to a curious cruiser that I spent a bundle on this system and half way around the world it had not yet been used. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut! The APU got us away from the rocks and held into the seas while I pondered the electrical world I had no place in.

About the time I was contemplating all the bad scenarios, the engine lights came back on and she fired up. Whew! I disengaged the APU and we headed off once more. An hour or two later the engine died again, so on goes the APU and away we go, making 3 knots in opposing wind and current. Again, after a while the lights came on and the engine started. This cycle got shorter and shorter so by the end of the 40 remaining miles on the voyage we had a system going; light off, start APU, light on, start engine. We finished the long, tiring 16-hour trip and were extremely glad to finally tie up at Suteri Marina.

I took the girls out for a well earned dinner that night. They were fantastic, no panic, no whining, all work. I am blessed with a great crew. I also am blessed with a great boat, as this was my first failure in over 6,000 engine hours, halfway around the world. With such a backup system we were able to successfully deal with a serious problem with little fuss.

This was clearly the worst day at sea I have had in this four-year-old adventure, yet at no time were we in danger or even uncomfortable. Furthur road out the high winds and seas with no effort, the Intrepid Jerry Garcia doll never moved from his perch. This was a great day to be in a pilothouse trawler!


We have been enjoying the luxuries of a modern, five-star resort and being in a marina is great. Excellent Wi-Fi, amazing swimming pool and exercise facilities, and a great town just a hop away. This gave me the chance to chip away at "the list" of work on the boat, a list that grew exponentially during the last voyage. It was also a chance for some personal "me" maintenance, some long overdue.


We isolated the electrical problem on the engine to a short somewhere between the engine and the master ignition breaker. Finding the short was not possible but rerouting the power source cured the problem. There is still a problem with the SmartCraft display unit as it does not receive any engine data. When I ordered the boat, I decided not to put in the optional analog gauges, something I had not missed until now. Cummins is looking into the glitch and I am sure it will be resolved.